Alice Waters’s Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles

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from The Art of Simple Food, p. 139.

Chiles continue to fascinate me. Their flavors vary more than I expected, but I’m still experimenting to learn which ones I prefer. This recipe by Alice Waters delivers a jolt of dried chipotle in the midst of a broader field of ancho flavor. As my friend Sherry says, however, it’s not Mexican. I don’t know enough yet to make that judgment. I will say that I didn’t find the sauce complex. Later this week I’ll be cooking another shoulder roast, this time from Diane Kennedy. For the moment, I liked this recipe without being wowed by it. I suppose how the dish strikes you depends on your preferred chile flavors.

Alice’s steps are pretty simple:

4 servings

Make a dry rub by mixing together:

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile

Use the dry rub to season, the day before if possible:

  • One 4-pound, bone-in pork shoulder roast, trimmed of excess fat

Shadowcook: I used fresh oregano from my garden. I also decided to employ one of Alice’s variations. Into the dry rub I crushed several cloves of garlic. I didn’t use olive oil.

Cover and refrigerator until 1 hour before cooking.

Put in a heavy baking dish or roasting pan that just fits the roast.

  • 2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 dried ancho chiles, split and seeds removed
  • 1 dried chipotle chile, split and seeds removed
  • 1 large head garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • A few black peppercorns
  • A few fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place the seasoned meat on top of the vegetables and pour in:

  • 2 cups chicken broth (or water).

Check the level of the liquid; it should reach about one quarter of the way up the roast. Add more if needed.

Shadowcook: My 6-quart oval Dutch oven was too big to hold the pork snugly, which meant that I needed more chicken broth to reach a quarter of the way up the roast. The liquid amount is important: too much and the meat will be boiled; too little and the meat will dry out.

Cook in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the roast over and cook for 30 minutes, then turn again. Check the level of liquid every once in a while, adding more broth or water if it gets too low. Cook for another 30 minutes and test the meat for doneness, continuing to turn and cook until done.

Remove the meat from the pan. Strain the sauce and skim well.

Shadowcook: I didn’t skim the sauce, because the strainer I used was fine-meshed. No visible particles passed through.

Pass the vegetables through a food mill and return to the skimmed sauce.

Shadowcook: The food mill produces a smoother paste. A food processor will produce a rougher paste. In other words, the issue here is texture more than flavor.

Remove the bones, slice the meat, and arrange on a warm platter. Serve with the sauce poured over or pass it around in a pitcher or sauceboat.

Variations:

  • Use any combination of dried chile varieties.
  • Sprinkle with chopped fresh marjoram or oregano before serving.
  • Pound 4 garlic cloves and stir into the dry rub with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Rub this on the roast to season.

Final Thoughts: If I make this again, I’d cook the roast longer at a lower temperature in order to dissolve the connective tissues. I’d rather braise the pork to the point at which the meat becomes fork-tender and can be pulled apart. Good dish, though, for a big group.

Rick Bayless\’s Chile-Seasoned Pot-Roasted Pork

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from Rick Bayless\’s Mexican Kitchen, pp. 378-79.

The decision-making process I use when I consider buying a new cookbook involves finding a chair in the bookstore and counting the number of recipes in the candidate book that I would make. If I find ten, the deal is clinched. Rick Bayless\’s new book turned up far more than ten. In addition to a variety of salsas, I intend to try, among other, the Chilied Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chard, Slow-Simmered Fava Bean Soup with mint and pasilla chile, Smoky Shredded Pork Tacos, \”Drunken\” Pintos with Cilantro and Bacon, Oaxacan Green Mole with Pork, White Beans and Mexican Vegetables, Chile-Glazed Country Ribs, Tangy Yucatan Grilled Pork with Roasted Onions and fresh Garnishes, and so on.

The chiles are what appeals to me. I like toasting and rehydrating ancho and guajillo chiles. The smokiness is deep and rich. And now that I have finally sorted out which is the best grocery for all the ingredients I might need — and it turns out to be the store closest to me — I am determined to explore these recipes and some from the other Bayless book I own, Authentic Mexican, but have seldom used.

In spite of what I just wrote about toasting chiles, Bayless makes a point in this recipe of not toasting chiles. \”For pork that\’s cooked this long, you won\’t notice much difference in flavor between toasted and untoasted.\”

So, here we go with the recipe and my comments:

Makes 6 servings (enough meat for 20 good-size tacos)

2 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

4 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 small white onion, roughly chopped, plus a couple of slices (broken into rings) for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (such as marjoram, thyme and Mexican oregano)

A scant 1/4 teaspoon allspice, preferably freshly ground

A pinch of cloves, preferably freshly ground

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-lasting lard

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

3 pounds lean, boneless pork shoulder or (Boston) butt roast

or 4 1/2 pounds fresh picnic ham with the skin on (for classic crispy skin)

8 leaves romaine leaves, for garnish

3 radishes, thinly sliced, for garnish

Shadowcook: Because I had only a bone-in pork should roast, I followed the one or two stipulations for the picnic ham.

1. The chile paste. Place the chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let stand 30 minutes to rehydrate, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving 2/3 cup of liquid, then transfer chiles and reserved liquid to a food processor or blender.

Shadowcook: I used a blender in order to ensure a smoother puree.

Pulverize the bay leaves in a spice grinder or a mortar, then add to the blender, along with the vinegar, onion, garlic, mixed herbs, allspice and cloves. Process to a smooth puree (adding a little more water if needed to keep the mixture moving through the blades); press through a medium-mesh strainer into a small bowl.

Shadowcook: Here I had to omit the straining. Both of the strainers I own were too finely-meshed for the puree. All that came through was the liquid without any of the pulp. As it happens, the unstrained puree cooked down fine. I tasted miniscule shreds of the chile skins, but not enough to notice much or mar the taste. However, I intend to add a medium-mesh strainer to my kitchenware.

Set a large (6-quart) pot with a lid (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat and add the oil or lard. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree really sizzle, add it all at once. Stir constantly as the puree sears, concentrates and darkens into a spicy-smelling paste, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

Shadowcook: I found this recipe very forgiving of salt. Ok, I\’m from New Jersey, where salt is one of the major food groups. Still, the sauce can stand a good dose — particularly if you use kosher salt, like I do.

2. Seasoning and pot-roasting the meat. Turn on the oven to 325 degrees. If you are using pork shoulder or butt, cut it into slabs roughly 3 inches thick (try to get them all about the same thickness so they\’ll cook evenly); leave a picnic ham whole, but make 1-inch-deep incisions every few inches all over the meat. Lay the meat into the pot with the chile paste, then flip it over to cover with the chile (slathering with a spoon or spatula to give an even coating). Pour 1/2 cup water around the meat, cover tightly and place in the oven.

Shadowcook: I left the roast whole. The size of the pot makes a difference here. My Dutch oven is seven-quart, which meant that the sauce and 1/2 cup of water barely came up the side of the roast an inch. A six-quart would have immersed the meat in liquid to a higher point, more like a braise. That, I think, would have been preferable.

Baste the meat every 30 minutes with the liquid and rendered fat that accumulates around it. After about 2 1/2 hours (the fresh ham may need another 1/2 to 1 hour), the meat will be fork-tender and will have darkened to an appetizing and crusty, rich, red-brown. If all the liquid evaporates during the cooking, leaving only chile paste and fat, dribble a little more water into th epan so you can go on basting. If time allows, let the pork stand, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes to reabsorb juices before serving.

Shadowcook: I roasted the meat for three hours and let it sit covered on the counter for 30 minutes. That last 30 minutes is crucial to the moistness.

3. Serving the meat. Line a serving platter with the lettuce leaves. With the help of tongs, spatulas or meat forks, transfer the meat to the platter, then taste the pan juices and add a little more salt if necessary. Spoon the juices over the meat, then scatter the onion rings and radish slices over all, to create a riot of color and texture.

Shadowcook: Bayless doesn\’t suggest tortillas, but maybe it\’s a given. I heated a couple and wrapped them in a towel. But next time I\’m going to follow a suggestion he makes in another recipe: wrap the tortillas in foil, stick them in a bamboo steamer over simmering water, and steam them until really warm. I like that idea a lot.

Advance preparation: The pot-roasted pork holds well in a low oven for an hour or so before serving. It can be done ahead and rewarmed in a 350-degree oven, though the texture of just-cooked pork is the best.

Final Thoughts: The chile paste is so deep and smoky that I\’d like to use in other ways. Maybe it would work as a marinade for pork chops.

Food Alone: Ham Awry

dsc04258Last night, a break in the rain motivated me to fetch the hibachi out of my garage. Three defrosted boneless pork chops were languishing in a brine in the fridge. If a window of cleared-sky opportunity was cracked even briefly, how could I pass up a chance to grill over coals my very first fresh pork chops?

Although I prepared the brine last night, I still wasn’t fully prepared for the recipe I chose to inaugurate the fresh pork in my freezer. I had exactly 20 brickettes of charcoal, no newspaper in the house, and I hadn’t cleaned out the hibachi from the last time I used it 3 or so months ago. However, I had most of the ingredients. My first fresh pork chops were about to be martyred to my lack of forward planning.

But I made the most of 20 brickettes. Coming up with the paper to light the coals in the chimney was a little harder, but tonight’s venture reinforced a lesson I learned last summer: you really don’t need as many coals as you think. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that  20 brickettes suffices for any chop on a hibachi.

The recipe I decided to make, Grilled Pork Porterhouse with Apple-Maple-Ginger Sauce, came from the NYTs. In the end, I was disappointed with it. Too many ingredients that resulted in a brine not nearly as  flavorful as Thomas Keller’s much simpler basic brine for poultry, in a coriander-infused oil that was overwhelmed completely by the sauce, and said sauce that ninety-percent of the population would have found too sweet. Apple juice plus maple syrup plus vanilla bean = too sweet. I should have left out the vanilla altogether. Whoever it was that devised that recipe was obviously shooting for a Laotian or Thai effect, but the recipe is too busy to focus.

I grilled the 1 1/2-inch thick chops for about 7-8 mins a side over the 20 coals. The meat was moist and tender, the flavor of the charcoal was smoky, and the fat was flavorful. Pretty good, but it didn’t make me sing. I saved a third chop for lunch today. At the risk of drying it out, I warmed it in a 325 oven. To my surprise, the meat was still tender and moist. I swear the flavor or the meat improved.

So, all right, we’re off to a good start.