Monday, August 8, 2011

(Not So) Secret Ingredient

I have to give hat tips to the New York Times and the Food Network for the wonderfulness of this dish. Coinciding with my search for the perfect taco in California, posted a delicious looking entry that could very well win top honors. So when I returned to NYC, I gathered all the ingredients from Trader Joe's and drew up battle plans. The second nod goes out to The Food Porn Network. Unless the Rachel Maddow show is on, it's always at low volume in the background. I think I was updating my Facebook status for the umpteenth time one day when I overheard someone mention cocoa powder. For once, my short-term memory served me flawlessly, because when I racked my brain for a new recipe for the portion of pork loin leftover after the Times' tacos, a light bulb went on, and the rest as they say is... Well see for yourself.
Braised Mexican Pork - a Blog O. Food recipe
  • 1½ lb pork loin roast
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 medium white onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground Ancho chili pepper
  • 1 tsp ground Chipotle chili pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
  • Chicken stock, enough to cover pork loin half way
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
By now, my loyal minions, you should have all mastered the rudiments of braising. If not, shame on you! But I'm here to help.
Sear the pork loin on both sides in a little cooking oil (bacon fat for us shameless Mexicans) in a large heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven, anything with a tight-fitting lid. Don't fuss with the cut of meat. Place it in the hot oil, then leave it alone. Allow it to develop some good color.
Remove the pork from the pan, reduce your heat slightly and sweat your onions, stirring occasionally. At the point where they're gonna start caramelizing, add the garlic and cook for one more minute, just until the garlic is fragrant.
Here's where the alchemy begins. Bump up the heat again, add the tomatoes, spices and cocoa, and let everything cook quite through - seven to eight minutes I'd say - before adding any cooking liquid. Stir the contents of the pan, but don't worry if the bottom of the pan starts to get sticky and brown. That's where the magic lies.
Jack the heat up to high and add the chicken stock. Use a wooden spoon to loosen up all the fond (the brown stuff) on the bottom of the pan. You're releasing intense flavors by doing so. Nestle the pork in the center of the broth and vegetables, reduce the heat to it's absolute lowest*, cover and simmer for hours.
Two hours in, I flipped the meat over, gave everything a gentle shake, covered and simmered for another couple hours. By the end, the meat needed little in the way of persuasion to fall apart of its own accord. Just for kicks, I cracked the lid on the pan to let the sauce reduce a bit.
I had some extra red bell peppers lying about, taking up space. I tortured them over an open flame until the entire outter skin was charred black. Adding insult to injury, I smothered them in a brown paper bag for 10 minutes so that their 3rd degree burns would peel right off, leaving nothing but sweet, tender flesh for me to eat with my pork. I'm a monster, I know.
You have to be a little careful with Mexican spices and  hard experience is really the only teacher when it comes to combinations and proportions. I can caution you that Chipotle chili has an INTENSE smoky flavor, with the ability to overpower just about anything it's added to, so take care there. With the fieriness of the Ancho powder, some tempering influence was called for. Hence the cocoa powder. It was just the counterbalancing force I was looking for, and elevated my chili sauce to new heights. Characteristically, I was the first to compliment the chef. Now it's your turn!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*Most gas ranges cannot achieve real simmering temperatures without the flame going out. I use the low-tech method of creating a sort of halo with a piece of aluminum foil wadded into a strand and curved into a circle. I put it between the heat and the sauté pan, That elevates the food away from the heat, thus reducing the temperature. It's failsafe.

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