It was so hot here in L.A., last week, I couldn’t bear to go outside. Then, quite abruptly, the heat went away and this morning I found myself turning off the A/C early, chilly under our light summer blanket. A change of season is afoot–especially in places that aren’t L.A.–and mood-wise, that might be kind of depressing, but food-wise? This is my favorite transition, from light summer salads to hearty winter braises. Consider this particular recipe, adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, the perfect transitional tool.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time you may remember this stew as the one featured in one of my disaster posts: Plastic Pork Shoulder. Back in 2007, I eagerly made this recipe and followed the instructions to put a piece of plastic wrap on top of the pot before covering with foil and the lid and popping it into the oven. When I took it out, hours later, the plastic had melted into the food. I was so embarrassed, especially since I was trying to show off to my old roommate who hadn’t been convinced, yet, that I was a great cook.
It took six years to get over the trauma, but six years is a long time. This time around I knew that if I followed all of the other instructions, I’d be in good shape. First things first, you coat the pork shoulder in spices and then brown it (you should marinate it for a long time, I did for an hour or two at room temperature):
What I like so much about this recipe is that even though it’s packed with flavor, most of those flavor components are things you already have around the house: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cayenne. Even with the other herbs/spices, you can use the dried stuff from your spice rack instead of buying the fresh stuff (thyme, oregano). Really, then, all you need to buy is garlic, onion, carrot, fennel, white wine, stock, a lemon, cilantro and–of course–the pork.
Aromatics get cooked in the rendered pork fat, as you work up the browned bits:
Then, as with all great Suzanne Goin recipes, you layer in the flavor. You add bay leaves, crumbled chile, garlic, more spices, white wine, stock, cilantro, oregano, and lemon zest. Then add back the pork before bringing to a simmer, covering and braising in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
There’s a whole to-do at the end with straining the liquid and putting the meat back in the oven. I kind of did that, only i just lifted the meat out with a spider on to a foil lined cookie sheet and roasted at 400 degrees while reducing the liquid without straining it. Worked fine.
As for the polenta, I made instant using 1/4th milk and 3/4ths water, adding some butter at the end. I also made a casual gremolata by chopping up a few cloves of garlic, lots of parsley, with lemon zest. To plate: pile on the polenta, meat goes on top, spoon over the sauce and sprinkle with the gremolata.
It’s feisty enough and spicy enough to still feel like a summer dish, but fatty and rib-sticking enough to be right for cool weather. So put away your beach chairs, and take out your braising pot. The time for good eating is now.
Recipe: Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta
Summary: Adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-to-2-inch chunks
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 tablespoon oregano leaves, plus 3 whole sprigs
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1/4 cup diced carrot
- 1/4 cup diced fennel
- 2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
- 1 chile de arbol, crumbled
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cups veal stock (I just doubled the amount of chicken stock and didn’t use veal; but if you can find it, use it)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 lemon
- 4 sprigs cilantro
- Cooked polenta (for serving)
- Gremolata (made by chopping 4 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, and zest of 1 lemon together)
- Pour the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds into a small skillet. Turn up the heat to medium/low and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Pour into a mortar and pound with a pestle until coarsely ground.
- Place the pork in a large bowl with the spices you just pounded plus the cayenne, smashed garlic, oregano leaves and thyme. Use your hands and toss the pork and spices together. Cover and refrigerate overnight; or, if you want this same day, cover and leave at room temperature for an hour.
- Take the meat out of the refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. After 15 minutes, season it on all sides with 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper. reserve the garlic and any excess herbs and spices.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in the olive oil and wait a minute or two (NOTE: that’s going to be a VERY hot pan, but that’s good…don’t be scared) until the pan is hot and the oil is almost smoking. Place the meat in the pan, being careful not to crowd it (best to do this in batches). Sear the meat until it’s well-browned and caramelized on all sides; it should take at least 15 minutes. Do this well and you’ll be rewarded at the end. Transfer the browned meat to a plate.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot and fennel. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the tasty crusty bits left in the pan. Stir in the bay leaves, crumbled chile, and reserved garlic and spices. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables start to caramelize.
- Pour in the white wine and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stocks and bring to a boil.
- Use a vegetable peeler to pull long strips of zest from the lemon.
- Turn off the heat, and add the pork to the pot. Tuck the cilantro, oregano sprigs, and lemon zest around the meat. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and a tightly fitting lid. Braise in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
- After that, carefully remove a piece of meat and test for tenderness. It should fall apart easily with no help from a knife. Taste here: mmmmmm. Good, right?
- At this point, you can call it a day but if you want even more flavor, pump the oven up to 400, lift the meat out on to a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes to caramelize. Meanwhile, you can strain the liquid and reduce it or just reduce it with everything still in there (that’s what I did). Taste as you do and adjust with salt.
- To serve, spoon polenta on to plates, top with the roasted meat, lots of the liquid and gremolata. Welcome to fall.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s)
Cooking time: 2 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4