Monday, September 29, 2008

Pork and tomatillo stew

Most foodies, looking at that subject, will expect a recipe for chile verde. This certainly isn't a traditional version. It seems to have mutated through a chili-cooking competition, possibly in Brazil. Any chili recipe you find with "award-winning" in the description is bound to have a half dozen random ingredients added to the standard meat, chiles, onions and tomatoes. I've seen weirder additions than what's in here. I found this recipe in my files while looking for a more standard one that I was sure I had. From what's on the front of the sheet of paper it's written on the back of, it looks like I found it on-line around 1994. I've found it again on the Web but that doesn't really help. This site says it comes from a restaurant where Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet, used to waitress. This one says its from the L.A. Times. I suppose both could be true and I'm making some changes so it probably doesn't matter much. Here's my version:

1 bottle dark beer
12 ounces orange juice
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 head garlic, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
2 pounds pork butt, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

3 medium onions, sliced
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cumin

4 10 oz cans Ro-tel tomatoes with peppers
1 14-ounce can black beans or same amount of soaked dried beans
1/4 cup corn meal (masa if you've got it)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

sour cream
flour tortillas and/or rice

1. In a dutch oven, bring beer and orange juice to a boil. Add tomatillos, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat but keep near the stove. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan on medium high heat. Add garlic and cook two minutes. Turn heat up to high and begin browning pork in batches. Remember to season the pork now or it'll be bland at the end. Remove each batch to the dutch oven. I had four batches and, as the pot warmed up I got progressively better browning, but the garlic got progressively closer to burning. I removed some garlic with each batch so I got a range of flavors and textures of both. Probably a better idea to just remove the garlic, turn the heat up, wait a minute or two and then start browning the pork.

3. Drain oil from pan if you want, but that's garlic-infused pork fat so I certainly didn't. Turn heat down to medium and add onions, peppers and seasonings. Cook until softened. Try to get some browning, but if you're using chili powder you won't be able to tell by looking. When ready, remove to dutch oven.

4. Drain two of the cans of tomatoes, but keep the liquid from the other two. Add tomatoes (and the juice from two cans) and half the cilantro to dutch oven. Stir and put in oven. Cook for two hours.

5. Add beans and corn meal. Because the heat is low the sauce won't have cooked down at all. Judge if you want to add any of the bean liquid. Cook for another half hour.
6. Theoretically that should finish the dish, but you'll notice that the sauce is quite thin and the vegetables haven't really broken down. So enough of this newfangled stew cooking methods and onto the stove for a half hour of uncovered high simmering (with occasional stirring).

That certainly helped the texture a good deal, thickening the sauce into more of a gravy. And generous extra helpings of spice and salt helped the flavor along. But despite all that, I still can't call this dish a winner. It's fine, but the tomat(ill)o to everything else ratio is just too high for a really good flavor balance. Maybe fresh tomatoes would have helped, but Ro-tel canned are a standard ingredient in many fine chilis so it wasn't an unheard of change to the recipe. Some reviews of other versions of this dish complained about the orange juice, but I thought it added some interesting notes. It could have asserted itself a bit more, really, as could have the beer. I may have just chosen poorly in that regard, though. But my previous chilis and southwestern stews have improved while sitting in the freezer so there's every chance this stew will too. And also on the plus side, it turns out that the low slow cooking in the oven immunizes meat from toughening up during boiling. That's good to know.

Next time, though, I've really got to get back to basics and make a proper chile verde with just pork, chiles, onions and tomatillos.


kat said...

I'll have to show this one to my husband it looks like the type of thing he likes to play with.

billjac said...

If he can do something with it, do please let me know. I suspect there's a decent recipe in there somewhere but I can't quite bring it out.