Diane Kennedy’s Puerco en Adobo (Pork in Adobo Sauce)

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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.

Nigel Slater’s Seared Beef with Mint and Mustard Dressing

from The Kitchen Diaries, p. 271.

I returned late Saturday night with abundant evidence of my friends’ generosity. My basket barely held the mound of eggplants and tomatoes that I collected from their vegetable patch before dinner. From their patch to their house, from their house to my car, from my car to my house, tomatoes rolled off the mound and split when they hit the ground. I picked them up and piled them back on.

I must do something with all these tomatoes. This morning, I took out of my freezer a flank steak from grass-fed beef. Charcoal. Definitely a night for charcoal.

Nigel supplied the framework for my steak.

Dressing:

grain mustard – 1 tablespoon

the juice of half a lemon

mint – a small handful (about 20 leaves)

egg yolks – 2

olive oil – about 4-5 tablespoons

To make the dressing, put the mustard, lemon juice, mint leaves and egg yolks in a blender and whiz for a few seconds. Pour in the oil slowly, stopping when you have a dressing the consistency of double cream.

My version:

I had a feeling that this dressing would come in handy for much more than sliced beef. So, I doubled the amounts. I followed the directions carefully — even counting out forty leaves of fresh mint from the jungle around my peach tree. I used kosher salt, of course. I wish I had had some really high quality extra-virgin olive oil, because I think this sauce is only as good as its foundation. Still, what I made was pretty damned good.

I lit a chimney filled with hardwood charcoal. While that burned, I soaked some wine barrel oak chips in water. This is the first time I’ve used them. Meanwhile, I sliced a big tomato and arranged it on my plate, because I knew I wasn’t going to leave the flank steak long on the grill.

In a small bowl, I mixed together 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 tsp of garlic salt, and several grinds of black pepper. I thought I still had some good chili powder, but I was wrong. The flank steak required little attention. I scored it lightly on the diagonal, but waited to apply the salt mixture.

Before heading outside to put the whole act together, I drained the wood chips, even though they had been soaking only fifteen minutes. I piled up in my arms the steak, the bowl of salt, pepper and garlic salt, tongs, and chips.

When the coals were glowing, I poured them over half of the lower grate and put the upper grill in place. I then sprinkled on the sodden wood chips, which I feared would lower the heat too much. But hardwood charcoal burns hot, so I needn’t have worried. The bottom vents were fully open. I closed the vents on the lid half way. To allow the kettle to heat up, I put the lid on for a few minutes, then raised it to place the flank steak on the grill.

I put the steak directly over the coals, which were smoking heavily. If my nice neighbor
hadn’t distracted me, I would have been careful to let the steak sear on one side a full two minutes. But I figheted and turned it too soon. In all, I cooked the steak about five minutes in all. I would have preferred another two minutes.

I took it off the grill, still chatting to my neighbor, placed it in the pan and covered it with foil. Now I could chat for another few minutes with impunity. The meat settled in its juices.

A dollop of the dressing, a few thin slices of the flank steak on the slant, a glass of rosé from Corbières and I had a delicious meal that required a lot of discipline not to continue with extra helpings.

Steven Raichlen’s North Carolina Pulled Pork with Vinegar Sauce

from The Barbecue! Bible (by way of Epicurious.com and Gourmet Magazine, May 2008).

This summer, I have dedicated myself to learning how to grill over a charcoal fire. My only guides are Raichlen’s big, fat How to Grill and the advice in the Gourmet Cookbook, and a very useful podcast I downloaded from The Splendid Table‘s website. My first attempt to make barbecue baby back ribs a few days ago ended in a charry disaster. It became immediately obvious that controlling the heat of the coals was the key to success. Raichlen has a lot of useful information and so does Gourmet. But, after the ribs fiasco, I learned the most crucial bit of information from Lynn Rosetto Kaspar’s interview with the executive editor of Gourmet Magazine, John Willoughby. The most common mistake in barbecuing is putting too many brickettes on the fire.

So, before I tell you what I did, here’s Raichlen’s instructions:

Grilling Method: Indirect grilling

Advance preparation
3 to 8 hours for marinating the meat (optional); also, allow yourself 4 to 6 hours cooking time

Special equipment
6 cups hickory chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained

For the rub (optional)
1 tablespoon mild paprika
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the barbecue
1 Boston butt (bone-in pork shoulder roast; 5 to 6 pounds), covered with a thick (1/2 inch) layer of fat
Vinegar Sauce
10 to 12 hamburger buns
North Carolina–Style Coleslaw

1. If using the rub, combine the mild paprika, brown sugar, hot paprika, celery salt, garlic salt, dry mustard, pepper, onion powder, and salt in a bowl and toss with your fingers to mix. Wearing rubber or plastic gloves if desired, rub the spice mixture onto the pork shoulder on all sides, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, preferably 8.

If not using the rub, generously season the pork all over with coarse (kosher or sea) salt and freshly ground black pepper; you can start cooking immediately.

2. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and place a drip pan in the center.

If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips in the smoker box and preheat the grill to high; when smoke appears, reduce the heat to medium.

If using a charcoal grill, preheat the grill to medium-low and adjust the vents to obtain a temperature of 300°F.

3. When ready to cook, if using charcoal, toss 1 cup of the wood chips on the coals. Place the pork shoulder, fat side up, on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and smoke cook the pork shoulder until fall-off-the-bone tender and the internal temperature on an instant-read meat thermometer reaches 195°F, 4 to 6 hours (the cooking time will depend on the size of the pork roast and the heat of the grill). If using charcoal, you’ll need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour and toss more wood chips on the fresh coals; add about 1/2 cup per side every time you replenish the coals. With gas, all you need to do is be sure that you start with a full tank of gas. If the pork begins to brown too much, drape a piece of aluminum foil loosely over it or lower the heat.

4. Transfer the pork roast to a cutting board, loosely tent it with aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 minutes.

5. Wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves if desired, pull off and discard any skin from the meat, then pull the pork into pieces, discarding any bones or fat. Using your fingertips or a fork, pull each piece of pork into shreds 1 to 2 inches long and 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide. This requires time and patience, but a human touch is needed to achieve the perfect texture. If patience isn’t one of your virtues, you can finely chop the pork with a cleaver (many respected North Carolina barbecue joints serve chopped ‘cue). Transfer the shredded pork to a nonreactive roasting pan. Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the vinegar sauce, enough to keep the pork moist, then cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it on the grill for up to 30 minutes to keep warm.

6. To serve, mound the pulled pork on the hamburger buns and top with coleslaw. Let each person add more vinegar sauce to taste

Here’s the Vinegar Sauce:

VINEGAR SAUCE
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, or more to taste
5 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
4 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Combine the vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and white pepper with 1 1/3 cups of water in a nonreactive medium-size bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt dissolve. Taste for seasoning, adding more brown sugar and/or salt as necessary; the sauce should be piquant but not quite sour.

Now, my efforts went something like this:

The one piece of equipment I contributed to the recipe is a pizza stone. I kept it close to the kettle and on it I kept a chimney of hot coals. Perhaps I learn to judge better how long it takes to start coals in the chimney, but far more coals were consumed than I used on the fire. I wanted to be sure always to have ready hot coals to add to the kettle over the five hours.

With a plan to put the pork butt on the grill at 2 pm, I prepared the rub early in the morning. I smeared the meat with it and then put it in the fridge for hours.

I followed the directions exactly, including soaking the hickory chips, up to the point that the coals were ready to put in the kettle. I closed the vents on the cover half way, but left the bottom vents fully open. Mindful of Willoughby’s advice, I put about 8 coals on each side of the drip pan. I threw on handfuls of hickory chips. Then I put an oven thermometer on one side of the grill, the pork on the grate and the cover on. Hickory scented smoke billowed out of the sides and vents.

I confess I lifted the lid about every 20-25 minutes, but that had the beneficial effect of allowing me to control the heat, which never rose above 350. I settled for that. Every half hour, maybe less often, I tossed in an equal number of glowing brickettes on either side, no more than 2 or 3 to a side at a time. After the first two hours, I noticed that from then on, the internal temperature of the meat rose about 10 degrees an hour.

After four and a half hours, I grew impatient. Within fifteen minutes, I had it off the grill and settling under aluminum foil. I kept the vinegar sauce at room temperature, so that after I had hand-shredded the meat (the rubber gloves are a big help with the hot meat), it didn’t changed the temperature of the meat much when I poured it over it in the rectangular pyrex baking dish. I put it back on the kettle grate over the dying coals and returned the lid. Meanwhile, I got the cole slaw ready.

To summarize what I learned from this process, first of all, I never had more than 8 to 10 hot coals on either side of the roast on the grill at one time. It’s true: it takes a lot less fuel to keep a fire at 300, 350 degrees, than I expected. Second, you use up a  lot more charcoal than you actually use on the fire just to make sure that you’ve got coals when you need them. Third, I got over my hangup about taking the lid off and releasing heat. Taking the lid off is a good way to manage the temperature — not that I ever went over 350 degrees. Fourth, I went easy on the soaked  hickory chips after the first big handfuls. I didn’t want too heavy a flavor. But they’re essential.

And the recipe’s guideline of shoot for 195 degrees is perfect.

The upshot: a 6 and 1/2 lb bone-in pork butt, grilled steadily at 350 degrees or a little below takes 4 1/2 to 5 hours.

Last thoughts:

Easily, one of the best meals I’ve made. Excellent recipe. I have friends coming over next weekend. This will work very well for four adults and four kids. The good news is that I won’t have to heat up the house with cooking. The bad news is that the temperature outside is supposed to reach triple digits. Grilling really is a sweaty job.

Next time, I think I’ll make a cole slaw with a light creamy dressing. After listening to the root vegetable piece on the same Splendid Table show, I like the idea of a creamy dressing running into the vinegar sauce and pork.

I’ll probably update this after I make it the next time, but my next big grilling adventure will be lamb. I’ve got to starting using up some of the thirty-five pounds of frozen lamb in my freezer.