Monday, March 21, 2011

Taking the Slow Route to Mexico

I'm one of those people that retailers hate. First, I despise shopping unless it's for food. Clothes, jewelry, even books. And forget makeup counters. All those women just standing there with their faces made up like sad clowns give me the willies, not to mention the cologne samples they're armed with, spraying innocent bystanders with live fire in a battle for scented domination.

Give me a farmers' market with smiling vendors, their tables loaded with produce, ready to talk about the weather, the latest gossip or the best way to prepare their purple carrots, Savoy cabbages and parsnips. And that includes the produce aisle in a local supermarket, brimming with local produce, along with a well-stocked butcher's case. Pork shoulder for $3.29 a pound? I'm in!

That's just how I ended up with a four-and-a-half pound hunk of some pig flesh the other day, and since I was in the mood for a taste of Mexico I pulled one of Diana Kennedy's books off the shelf. With some ancho chiles in the pantry, it made perfect sense that the book would fall open to her extremely simple recipe for pork braised in a red chile sauce.

This would be perfect for a slow cooker*, and walking in the door after a long day's work would be like stepping into a beach cafe in Mazatlan or PV. Make a little rice, heat some tortillas and pull up a seat under the nearest palapa. A squeeze of lime juice over the top (or splashed in a margarita) would make the scene complete. (Can you tell I need a vacation?)

Carne de Puerco en Chile Colorado
Adapted from Diana Kennedy's Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico

Sra. Rosa Margarita J. de Mejía, a talented cook from Chihuahua who has introduced me to many of her regional dishes, gave me this particular recipe. It is made with the chile de la tierra, which has a wide distribution and a variety of names.

2 1/4 lbs. boneless pork, with some fat, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
3 1/2-3 3/4 c. water, approximately
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/8 tsp. cumin seed
1/4 tsp. oregano
8 chiles de la tierra [a mild chile - I used ancho chiles - New Mexican chiles would work as well. - KAB]
2 Tbsp. peanut or safflower oil, approximately
2 tsp. all-purpose flour

Put the meat, salt and 1/4 c. water into a heavy pan in which the meat will just fit in two layers. Cover the pan and cook over a low flame, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent sticking, until the meat is just tender, all the liquid absorbed and the fat rendered out—about 45 minutes, depending on the cut of meat and how tender it is. If it becomes too dry during the cooking time, then add a little more water. Remove from pan and set aside.

Remove the stems from the chiles (leave in the seeds and veins), cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the skin is soft. Drain and transfer to a blender jar, along with 1 c. of the water, the garlic, cumin seed and oregano and blend till smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil and fry the meat lightly, turning it over from time to time. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and keep turning and frying until it browns slightly. Add the chile sauce and fry for a few minutes longer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining 2-2 1/2 c. of water—the sauce should be rather thin—and cook for 1-2 hrs. Smash the cubes of meat (they should basically fall apart on their own) and stir.

* If you're doing this in a slow cooker, cube the meat and make the chile sauce the day before and refrigerate, briefly fry the meat and add the flour in the morning, then put the meat and the sauce in the slow cooker and cook on low.

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