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from the Essential Cuisines of Mexico, pp. 275-76.

Ever since I bought half of a slaughtered pig, I’ve promised myself that I would venture into the world of Diane Kennedy’s cookbooks on Mexican cuisine. No time felt right. Too busy, too hot, too distracted.

Last night, I went to hear Slaid Cleaves perform his heart-wrenching songs at the Palms in Winters. Something about his sad Texas stories, punctuated by aphorisms in foot-tapping folk-country twangs, created the mood for puerco en adobo. Then again, maybe it was the acordion.

At any rate, this afternoon, I rounded up all the ingredients and got to work:

Serve 6 to 8

3 1/2 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 1.8 kg) stewing pork with some fat, cut into 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) cubes

1 pound pork neck bones

1/2 white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves

8 peppercorns

1 tablespoon salt

Shadowcook: One of the reasons I first set my sights on this recipe were the neck bones it called for. One of the benefits of buying half a pig — I got half the neck. I imagine a meat counter at a Latino market would have neck bones. Another reason to get out there and investigate those markets you always pass and wonder about.

The Adobo:

6 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed

10 pasilla chiles, seeds and veins removed

1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick, crushed

5 whole cloves, crushed

6 peppercorns, crushed

6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

6 sprigs fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoon mild white vinegar

The Final Stage:

1/4 cup (65 ml) lard

2 Mexican bay leaves

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 cups (750 ml) reserved meath broth

salt to taste

2 cups (500 ml) thinly sliced white onions

Put the meat, bones, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and salt into a large saucepan and barely cover with water. Bring the meat to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer it until it is just tender — about 35 minutes. Let the meat cool in the broth.

Shadowcook: The amount of bones and cubed pork on hand required a bigger pot than I expected. When it came to a boil, I skimmed off as much of the scum as I had patience for.

Drain the meat, reserving the broth. Set them aside.

Toast the chiles lightly, turning them from time to time so that they do not burn. Cover them with hot water and leave them to soak about 10 minutes. Transfer the chiles to the blender with 1 cup (250 ml) of water. Add the rest of the adobo ingredients and blend to a fairly smooth texture.

Shadowcook: It pays to organize yourself ahead of time. Seed and devein the chiles before you start. The chiles burn easily, so they bear watching closely. If this was a Rick Bayless recipe, he would advise straining the adobo paste through a medium-meshed strainer once you’ve blended it to a paste. Now that I’ve tried the end result, I’m inclined to think it would be better if I had done so. Regarding the spices for the adobado, I put all the dried spices in a coffee grinder I reserve for spices and ground them very lightly by pulsing the blade a few times.

Melt the lard in a large casserole. Add the adobo sauce, bay leaves, and sugar to the dish and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring most of the time to avoid sticking. Keep a splatterproof lid handy. When the sauce becomes a very dark red and thickens so that it will barely slide off a wooden spoon, it is cooked. Add the cooked meat.

Shadowcook: I do not have a splatterproof lid, but I did take care when I poured the adobo sauce into the hot lard. Step back as you pour, because it will splatter at first. Once it settles, there is no danger. I also found 15 minutes a trifle long. I would say 10 – 12 minutes is sufficient to darken and thicken the sauce.

Gradually stir in the broth and add salt as necessary. Add the meat and continue cooking the adobo over low heat for another 10 minutes.

Shadowcook: The “add the meat” direction here must be an extended typo — unless I’ve missed something. I boiled it for about 20 minutes to reduce the liquid and thicken the sauce.

Serve topped with the onion rings.

Note: The sauce can be made 2 or 3 days ahead — in fact it improves in flavor — up to the point of adding the broth. the pork can then be cooked the day you are going to use it. If there is any left over, the sauce freezes very well and makes a very good filling, mixed with shredded meat, for tacos.

Shadowcook: The pork came out exceedingly tender; the sauce deep, rich, and smoky. The chiles supplied heat, but not so much that it obscured their slightly sweet flavor. My only reservation concerns the fat. Defatting the sauce would diminish the richness, Im sure. Still, some might prefer to store the stew overnight and scoop the fat off the surface before reheating it the next day.

And while you’re at it, buy one of Slaid’s CDs. As well as deserving support, the poor guy looks like he needs it.

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