Monday, May 31, 2010

Puerco Pibil

Puerco Pibil is a slow roasted pork "butt" from the Yucatan in southern Mexico and it is my signature dish. The pork "butt", which actually comes from the shoulder, is slowly roasted in orange juice, vinegar, tequila and a homemade blend of spices on a low temperature for hours. I first learned about this dish from a movie, back in 2003, and have spent the last 7 years perfecting this recipe. It is so good that my vegetarian-friend will eat it every time I make it! If you like spicy food, this recipe is a must. I am happy to share my 7 years of trial-and-error with you. Call all your friends, have some tequila, and enjoy my favorite dish in the entire world!

INGREDIENTS - This recipe makes 10 pounds of pork

10 Tbsp. Annatto Seeds
4 tsp. Cumin Seeds
2 Tbsp. Black Peppercorns
20 Allspice
1 tsp. Whole Cloves
5 Habañeros, fire roasted (use all the seeds and all the veins)
1 C. Orange Juice
1 C. White Vinegar
1/4 C. Salt
16 Cloves of Garlic, roasted
5 Lemons, juiced
10 lb. Pork Should (Boston Butt), cut into 2" pieces
Banana Leaves or Turkey Bags

DISCLAIMER - This recipe is extremely spicy! If you don't like spicy food, you should stop reading now. You can control the amount of heat by removing the seeds and veins from the Habañero peppers or by using fewer of them, but this recipe packs a punch.

STAIN DISCLAIMER - The Achiote rub, especially in liquid form, as per later in the recipe, will stain anything it touches! If you spill a small amount of this bright red liquid on your counter-tops, clean it immediately. Annatto seeds are unforgiving and will stain your kitchen, so use care when handling them.

The first task is to create an Achiote rub. You can find Annatto seeds in the Ethnic section of your grocer. I found mine at Bloom (which is a subsidiary of Food Lion). You can also search a Hispanic shop if you know of any. I went out and bought a coffee grinder that I use only for spices. I suggest you do the same. You want to pulverize the annatto, cumin, peppercorns, allspice, and cloves into a fine powder.

Next, we want to roast our garlic and Habañeros. Place the garlic cloves on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Use the broiler setting to begin coloring the garlic cloves, shake often to mix the cloves. Remove from the oven when the cloves have become the color of honey. Slight charring is okay. Place the Habañeros in the oven using the broiler setting until the skin begins to blister. Rotate each pepper so that all sides become blistered. Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let cool.

[Latex gloves really help for this next step. If you don't have any powder-free latex gloves, just be sure to wash your hands afterward and DO NOT TOUCH YOUR EYES. And, gentlemen, don't use the bathroom.]

Once the Habañeros are cool, peel off the black skin and discard. All the heat of a pepper is stored in its seeds and in the veins. If you want to cut back on the heat, you can simply remove the seeds and veins or use fewer of the peppers, but the roasting process diminishes the heat from the peppers slightly, so I used all the seeds from all these Habañeros. Combine the Habañeros, vinegar, orange juice, salt, garlic, lemon juice, and tequila and puree. I add about 3 shots of tequila for the whole dish. And get the good stuff! None of that cheap tequila. You're going to have a lot of tequila left over, so cook with what you like to drink.

Once the mixture is pureed, using a food processor, blender, or stick mixer, combine with the Achiote rub.

Cut the pork into 2" pieces, discarding NONE of the fat.

Place the pork into a turkey bag and pour the liquid Achiote mixture over the pork. Mix well, keeping in mind the stain disclaimer. Place the turkey bag into a baking tray and securely seal the bag. Poke ventilation holes in the bag to prevent exploding (I'm not kidding). Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Serve over a bed of white rice.

[I've never found Banana Leaves, but if you have them, line the pan with the leaves, place the pork on the leaves, pour the mixture over the pork, and wrap the leaves over the pork again. Increase baking time to 3-4 hours instead of 2 hours.]

OVERCOOKING DISCLAIMER - Thanks to improved feeding techniques, trichinosis in pork is now rarely an issue. Normal precautions should still be taken, however, such as washing anything (hands, knives, cutting boards, etc.) that comes in contact with raw pork and never tasting uncooked pork. Cooking it to an internal temperature of 137 degrees will kill any trichinae. Let me say that again... Cooking it to an internal temperature of 137 degrees will kill any trichinae. However, allowing for a safety margin for thermometer inaccuracy, most experts recommend an internal temperature of from 150 to 165 degrees, which will still produce a juicy, tender result. The 170 to 185 degree temperature recommended in many cookbooks produces overcooked meat.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pico de Gallo

There are all kinds of salsas, but my favorites have always been the simple salsas like Pico de Gallo. If using fresh ingredients, Pico de Gallo can be one of the most flavorful salsas imaginable. I like to serve this side dish as an appetizer for Mexican dinner parties. Next week's blog will be Puerco Pibil, and this Pico de Gallo was a great compliment to the spicy pork of Puerco Pibil.

1 White Onion, 1/4" dice
4 Jalapeños, minced
4 Tomatoes, 1/4 dice
1/4 C. Cilantro, chopped
1/4 C. Lime Juice
1 tsp. Salt

I remove the over-powering onion aroma by rinsing them under cold water. Combine the onion, jalapeños, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime in a bowl. Toss well to combine and season with salt.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fondant Potatoes

This recipe is a great alternative to the traditional mashed potatoes. The process is much like potatoes au gratin, but instead of cream and butter, you'll use chicken stock. Salted butter foams more readily and fries at a higher heat than unsalted butter so the food caramelizes more quickly. Parboiling the potatoes in stock before sauteing enhances the flavor. This is one instance where it is quite acceptable to use a fresh stock substitute because the stock isn't as much of an integral part of the dish as it would be with other recipes.

2 lb. Potatoes
4 C. Chicken Stock
6 Tbsp. Salted Butter
5 Cloves Garlic
2 Sprigs of fresh Thyme
1 Sprig of fresh Rosemary
Salt & Pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into thick slices (as big around as your finger - 1/2 ") Place in a pan with the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. You want the potatoes to be tender when pierced with a knife, but still firm and not breaking apart. Drain well. Save the stock for future use in other dishes. Never waste flavor.

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet until it starts to foam. Add the potatoes with the garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 5 minutes. You want the potatoes to be golden. Discard the garlic and herbs. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Minestrone w/ Pine Nut Pesto

I've said it many times before - "this recipe is so simple". Well, this time it isn't. You need a lot of ingredients, a lot of time, and a lot of patience. There is a lot of prep involved with this soup. If you take the time to do ALL of your prep before you begin you'll be able to make this dish by simply adding ingredients when the time is right. I recommend taking two days to make this soup. The first day will be set aside for prepping only. The second day will be the actual cooking. If you do everything that is laid out in this recipe on day one, then day two will be "so simple".
[I will be making this dish 100% from scratch, but many of the raw ingredients can be substituted for canned products. These ingredients will be marked with an asterisk (*) for those who wish to follow the canned version of the recipe.]

4 Tbsp. Butter
3 Carrots, diced (6 oz. wt.)
3 Celery, diced (6 oz. wt.)
3 Onions, diced (6 oz. wt.)
1/4 C. Garlic, minced
8 C. Vegetable Stock
1 Tbsp. Basil
2 Tbsp. Oregano
1/2 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper
1/2 tsp. Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1-1/2 lb. Tomatoes, diced, skin removed*[1]
2 C. Cannelini Beans*[2]
1 C. Garbanzo Beans (also called Chickpeas)*[3]
2 C. Idaho Potatoes, diced
3/4 C. Parmesan, grated
2 Tbsp. Pine Nut Pesto [recipe follows]
TT Spinach

Pine Nut Pesto
2 Tbsp. Pine Nuts
1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Pepper
1 oz. wt. Parsley
2 oz. wt. Fresh Basil
3/4 C. Olive Oil
3 Tbsp. Parmesan, grated

Day One - Heavy Prep
For the pesto, I use a stick-mixer, but a food processor or blender will work as well. Place all the ingredients except for the oil into the process and pulse. Once the the ingredients are coarsely chopped up, puree them on a high speed while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Continue blending until everything is well incorporated. Place in the fridge to set overnight.

Removing the skin from the tomatoes can be a tricky process. Boil a pot of water large enough to hold all the tomatoes. Prepare a container of ice water as well. I prefer using romas whenever I have to skin tomatoes. With a paring knife, cut out the stem on the top by inserting the blade at a forty-five degree angle and rotating the tomato all the way around. On the bottom of the tomato carve an "X" (approximately 1/4" deep). Drop all the tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch for 90 seconds. Quickly remove the tomatoes and place them in the ice water for later use.
*[1] If using canned tomatoes, skip this step. Buy two 28oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes and dice them.

Place 1 Cup of cannelini beans in a container and cover with cold water. Place in the fridge overnight. The beans will soften and double in size to produce about 2 cups of beans. If you don't have enough time to soak them overnight, you can boil the raw beans for about 30 minutes before adding them to the soup. If you can't find Cannelini beans, you can substitute Great Northern White kidney beans. They're part of the same family.
*[2] If using canned cannelini beans, skip this step. Buy two cups of beans and add them to the soup when specified.

Place the garbanzo beans in a container and cover with cold water. Place in the fridge overnight.
*[3] If using canned garbanzo beans, skip this step. Buy one cup of beans and add them to the soup when specified.

Dice the potatoes until you have about 2 cups and place in cold water to prevent browning. Hold them cold in the fridge overnight.

Dice the mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) with the garlic and place in the fridge overnight. You can put them all in the same container.

By this time, the tomatoes should be ready to peel. Remove one tomato at a time and, using your fingers, peel back the skin. The skin should come off easily and require very little effort. Some of the tomatoes may slip out of the skin on their own. Once all the tomatoes have been skinned, either dice them (saving all the juice) or hand-crush them into a container and hold in the fridge overnight.

Combine all of your spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Day Two - Mise en Place
In a heavy bottomed pot, over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and spices and saute until soft (about 12 minutes). Be sure to stir frequently. Don't be afraid if the bottom of the pan starts to become spotty with brown "cracklin". This is called fond and fond = flavor. All of this fond will be released from the pan when liquid is added.

When the vegetables are soft, add the stock to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Add the cannelini beans, garbanzo beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. Simmer everything for about 30-40 minutes to blend all the flavors.

When the potatoes and beans are softened, turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese and pesto. Finish the soup with fresh spinach.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Marinara Rustica

Marinara is a staple red sauce in Italian cuisine. What follows is a basic recipe for the sauce. I like to flavor my sauce with mushrooms, sausage, whatever I'm in the mood for. If you like your sauce smooth, simply cut your vegetables smaller. I like a chunky and rustic flavor to my sauce, so I like to add large pieces of vegetables. Once you make this sauce a few times, it'll be like second nature and it's actually much cheaper than buying Ragu at the store.

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Each Carrots, medium dice
2 Each Celery, medium dice
4 Each Onion, medium dice
1/4 C. Parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1/4 C. Flour
6 oz. Tomato Paste
1/2 C. Red Wine
1 C. Pasta Water, reserved from cooking pasta
1-3/4# Crushed Tomatoes, or 28 oz. can
1-3/4# Whole Tomatoes, or 28 oz. can, large dice
TT Basil
TT Oregano
TT Thyme
TT Salt & Pepper

Boil the pasta in salted and oiled water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and set aside. Shock the pasta in cold water, oil and hold in the fridge.

Heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Saute the mirepoix [carrots, celery, and onion] with the garlic and parsley until the vegetables are soft. Add the flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Once the tomato paste has caramelized, deglaze the pot with the red wine and reserved pasta water. Cook for 3 minutes.

Add the crushed and diced tomatoes and heat until boiling. The tomatoes should break down and become well blended. Season with basil, oregano, thyme, and pepper. Add salt as needed, but the pasta water should provide enough salt, so be careful not to over-season the sauce. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.

In a separate saute pan, heat sauce to order and toss in the desired amount of pasta. Serve topped with parmesan cheese and parsley.