Well, that didn't take long.
School hadn't been out more than a couple of days when Boyfriend stepped into my little home office last week and asked a rhetorical question: "Wanna cook something with that pork shoulder?"
Yeah, I don't do much cooking. I used to cook a lot, but with a boyfriend who runs two food blogs, the kitchen pretty much belongs to him. I've actually developed learned helplessness in the kitchen - when he doesn't feed me, all I can think to do is eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.
So every summer, when I suddenly have lots of leisure time, he tries to lure me back into the kitchen. And this time, the bait was good. Read more...
When I went hunting with Phillip the weekend before last, I didn't get a pig. But far be it from Phillip to send me home empty-handed: I came home with some backstrap, the heart, the liver and both shoulders from the pig he killed.
Mmmmmm. Pork shoulder.
When anyone says the words "pork shoulder" to me, one thing instantly comes to mind: cochinita pibil. It's a lovely dish from the Yucatan region of Mexico - slow-cooked pork in a tangy - but not spicy - sauce of citrus juice and achiote, or annato. It can drive you to eat way more than you should.
If you've seen the movie "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," you may remember that cochinita pibil is the dish Johnny Depp's character would seek all over the country, and whenever he found someone who cooked it too well, he'd kill the cook. You know, to bring balance back to the country.
But this would be tricky. One of the things that makes cochinita pibil so good is the enormous amount of fat you find in domestic pork shoulder. That's something you don't find in a wild hog.
"Do we have any lard?" I asked Boyfriend.
Actually, we had a half-empty bucket of two-year-old store-bought lard, but that stuff is hydrogenated and nasty for your heart, so I didn't even consider it.
Aw, hell, I'd have to improvise.
The good news is the thought I put into improvising was about the hardest part of making this dish. While it takes a long time from start to finish - 6 hours - half of that is marinating time and half of that is baking time. Give or take a few minutes of prep.
When it was finally done, it came out pretty well. Click on the photo above if you want to see the details.
I won't lie - I think a half-pound of lard would've made it better, because I like my meat ridiculously juicy. But Boyfriend liked it just the way it was.
And it was all the better because it wasn't made with some grocery-store mystery meat - I knew exactly where this pork came from.
Adapted from Mexican Border Flavors: The Beautiful Cookbook
4 lb. wild hog pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4-3 oz. achiote paste (see below for where to buy)
1 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. canola oil (or 1/3 to 1/2 pound cubed fatback)
Place cut pork shoulder into a non-metal dish. If using fatback to supplement lean pork, place this in the dish as well. If using domestic pork, there's no need to add fat!
Combine orange juice, lime juice, achiote paste and salt in a blender. If using canola oil, add oil as well.
Pour mixture over the pork shoulder, cover and marinate for at least three hours, if not overnight.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Line a casserole dish with enough foil form a packet that completely seals the meat during cooking. (I could go into greater detail here, but then I'd embarrass myself by displaying my Germanic-Virgo-anal retentive tendencies to the world. My packets are beautiful and airtight. You? Just make whatever packet makes you happy.)
Add the meat and marinade, seal and place in the oven. Check for doneness after 2 hours - it may take as much as 3 hours to become tender.
When done, remove the dish from the oven. If you like, shred the meat for a pulled pork effect. Serve over rice and garnish with onions. Or cilantro. Or whatever you like to garnish things with.
Boyfriend wanted to top it with queso seco - a crumbly, dry Mexican cheese - to counteract the acidity of the dish. I thought that was blasphemy.
Whatever you put on top, though, prepare for gluttony.
Achiote paste is a mixture of annato seed (which provides the intense red color), cornmeal, flour, vinegar, garlic and other spices.
If you live anyplace that has a sizable population of Mexican immigrants, you probably have a Mexican market where you can find it. If you don't, you can order it through Amazon.com - for real!
Just be prepared: People will take one look at the brilliant red sauce it produces and think they're in for something hotter than blazes. But there isn't even a shred of chili in this paste, or anywhere in this dish. All you'll get is savory, tangy goodness.
If you try it out, let me know how you like it!
© Holly A. Heyser 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Well, that didn't take long.