Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pork Estofado

This is a pretty simple (and very tasty) Filipino dish. I did look around for ways to complicate it, as is my wont, but I couldn't find any variants. Or rather, there were a lot of recipes by the same name--the term "estofado" is actually pretty generic--but the biggest variation of pork braised in sugar I found added a garnish of scallions to the recipe I had. I ended up making the cooking process more exciting by knocking my glass measuring cup over (with a quarter cup of soy sauce in it) to smash on the floor and then, rattled by the first mistake, over-adjusting my adjustable measuring cup and splooshing out half the sauce ingredients all over my kitchen counter.

The recipe I'm working from is Reynaldo Alejandro's The Flavor of Asia, a cookbook I have mixed emotions about. It has a great range of recipes from China in the North all the way down to Indonesia and it was my first introduction to many of the cuisines in between, but as I learned more about cooking and about those cuisines I discovered that many of the recipes have been over-simplified and there are a lot of areas of confusing vagueness. In this particular recipe Alejandro doesn't specify if the plantain garnish is supposed to be ripe or green. His previous cookbook was Filipino; He knows what it's supposed to be, he just doesn't say. In my research I think I found that it's supposed to be ripe and that it's substituting for saba bananas, whatever they are. I've used ripe before and it turned out well, but I'm using green today to compare and contrast. Luckily, the same skills that let me notice the cookbook's shortcomings also allow me to compensate for them so it's still usable. Here's how I figure this recipe ought to go.

* 1/4 cup vegetable or corn oil
* 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or 2 Tablespoons crushed)
* 1 pound lean pork, cut however you like (the low slow cooking will tenderize any meat. If the pieces are over an inch and a half cube add an extra half hour cooking time)
* 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
* 1/4 cup soy sauce
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 bay leaf
* 8 peppercorns, crushed
* 1 carrot, cut into 1-inch strips (It's not really a strip if it's 1 inch thick so I think this means 1/8-inch thick strips, 1-inch long)
* 2 ripe plantains, cut 1/2 inch thick diagonally and fried at medium high until cooked through and browned
* 2 pieces French bread, cut into 1-inch squares and fried at medium high until browned and crisp (that seems like a lot more plantain than bread so I think saba bananas must be smaller than the plantains you can get around here. Or maybe they cut their French bread into larger pieces. I use equal amounts of bread and plantain for each serving.)
2 scallions, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Add garlic and oil to cold dutch oven. Turn on medium heat, cook until garlic starts to brown. Remove.

3. Add pork cubes and brown in batches, about 3 minutes on each side.

4. Remove from heat. Let cool briefly and carefully add vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, water, bay leaf and peppercorns.

5. Cover. Place in oven. Cook for 1 hour.

6. Add carrots. Cook for another hour.

7. Remove dutch oven from oven. Remove pork and carrots from sauce. Reduce sauce on stovetop over high heat until it's reduced in volume by 3/4 and starts to get syrupy. Return pork and carrots and heat through.

8. Meanwhile, fry plantains and bread (a sprinkling of salt boosts the flavors nicely here) until crisp and brown.

9. Serve garnished with plantains, bread and scallions possibly over rice depending on just how much starch you want with your meal. But if you do make sure the croûtons have a chance to absorb some sauce before the rice sucks it all up.

At the end the meat should be fork tender, the carrots about to fall apart and the sauce richly sweet and vinegarly tart. The croûtons and plantains (Definitely go with ripe. The plantain chips I ended up making this time weren't nearly as good.) add extra flavors and crunch as well as bursts of the sauce as they release what they soaked up. It's an unusual combination of flavors and textures for many American palates, but very accessible so I've found it a good introduction to Filipino cuisine for the folks I've fed it to.

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