Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oooof, followed by The Pig, Again

I am finding myself gone all topsy-turvy in reacting to the looming presence of Thanksgiving tomorrow.

While I am deeply grateful for the chance to sit and eat a home cooked meal with all of my immediate family this year, I find I am also chafing at the wretched excess I found over the past weeks as I wandered the the food blog interweb.

The hype around this one meal has outdone the H1N1 virus in terms of reaching fever pitch. I am reacting to it as I would any holiday incarnation of a toddler caught mid-tantrum. I long for nothing more than the chance to gently lead my holiday back out of the public eye, calm it way the hell down, and reduce the histrionics until it is manageable and enjoyable again, for both our sakes.

That out of control sense is (cough!) probably coming from inside out, so rearranging my own attitude will be just what the doctor ordered.

With that in mind, I am heading into the kitchen with renewed determination to be more wabi-sabi as I put together the reasonably simple sides and desserts my family designated as "required".

The main course, the dressing and an appetizer will be the focus of attention for tomorrow's cooks, whoever ends up holding the spoon. My goal is to seek the opposite of perfection this go-round. I want to celebrate any and all imperfections and let them be Just Right.

So for the moment, while I head off to wrestle with my perfectionism demons, let me leave you with something of an Anti-Turkey post and rather share with you another recent foray into the realm of Porky Wonderfulness.

Without further ado? Ladies and Gentlemen, the Pig, Again....

Cochinita Pibil is a family favorite I was determined to reproduce at home.

The result of a citric braise with an achiote centric marinade, cochinita pibil is typically served with pickled onions and rice, often eaten simply folded into a heated tortilla. This simplified technique, using a shoulder roast of whatever size you wish, can yield enough for a small family (with great leftovers) or a small crowd. Your call.

Chef Son had assured me he could guide me through the easy technique, and once I located a source for Achiote that came with a recipe for the marinade right on the packet, he reviewed it and pronounced it as very close to the one he'd used in a restaurant setting. I gathered my ingredients and laid out a three day game plan.

Madrecita Achiote Marinade
4 tablespoons achiote (one small package)
2 cups orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground pepper
pinch ground cumin
pinch ground coriander
pinch oregano
(I added a pinch of cinnamon)
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt to taste

Marinate seafood, pork or chicken from 3 hours to overnight
. (printable version here).
"Pibil" reportedly refers to a stone lined pit and "cochinita" is an entire baby pig, so calling this dish cochinita pibil is taking liberties, clearly. I suppose to be more accurate, we'd have to dub it Puerco a la Pibil or something like that, but a need for accuracy was off the table as long as we ended up with a delicious dinner in its place.

The Strategy:

Day one was to make the marinade according to the Madrecita packaging and let it sit overnight for the flavors to speed date, fall in love, and hastily marry.

Day two I cut a Niman 2-3 pound half pork bone in shoulder roast into four smaller chunks and placed it into the marinade for an overnight steeping.

The third day, I made a half recipe of the pickled onions, refrigerated them, then put the meat and the marinade into a dutch oven for a long slow cook at 325 degrees.

As advised by ChefSon, I put a bit of water into the pan to make sure the liquid level came 3/4 quarters of the way up the meat.After several hours in a low oven the meat was fork tender as required - all ready to go. I siphoned off as much of the fat as I could out of the pan, shredded the pork and spooned the defatted pan liquid on top. It can hold in a warm oven at that point until needed.
Pickled Onions, or Cebollas Curtidas

(Rick Bayless)
 Makes 7 cups
4 large (about 1 1/2 pounds) red onions, peeled and cut in half
2 cups fresh lime juice

Thinly slice the onions (this can be done using a food processor fitted with a thin slicing blade). Scoop the onions into a heat-proof, non-reactive bowl. Pour boiling water over them, wait 10 seconds, then pour the onions into a large strainer. Return the drained onions to the bowl, pour on the lime juice and stir in the 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cover and place in the refrigerator until serving time. Before serving, taste and season with additional salt if you think necessary. (printable version here).

I didn't make a habaƱero salsa as is often featured as companion piece for this first go round as nobody at the table was much of a pepper head. I do have habaƱero peppers finally set on our plant out back, so when they ripen I will make another batch of the puerco pibil and add salsa as a table condiment. Alternately you could set out a bit of Sriracha or jar salsa for anybody that wanted to lively up their tacos.
The results were delicious and not at all tricky, though it did require juicing a small mountain of limes and oranges as part of the prep. If you have any recipes calling for piles of citrus peel, dig them out for sure. You will have peels in abundance after making the marinade for the meat and onions.

Also, Annato is quite a tenacious dye, especially when combined with rendered pork fat, so you will want to take a bit of care not to paint yourself or your counter with any of the pan juices. That tendency put this dish into the sartorial "No Whites!" category for me already populated by barbeque, Rotel dip, and anything with potentially drippy staining propensities. You may have better luck than I have historically experienced eating messy sauces without staining light colored clothing. I know my limits and while this dish doesn't need bibs, it does require attention. You've been warned....

The final moist and smoky slightly sweet pork was its own reward for the requisite sticky time with the juicer. I'm not sure Johnny Depp's Agent Sands character from Once Upon A Time in Mexico would have shot me over the results, but you never can tell. I sat facing the front door, just in case.
Once you hit the point of Turkey/Pumpkin Palate Fatigue, get yourself a pork shoulder roast and try some Cochinita Pibil as delightful antidote, won't you? ¡Adios, amigos! And, Happy (relaxed) Thanksgiving!


Iris said...

Oh wow oh wow oh wow! That sounds DEElicious. I don't think I've ever cooked anything that took three days to complete! You rock. Happy mellow Thanksgiving.

texasdeb said...

Happiest long weekend to you/yours as well, Iris!

Truth: it doesn't have to take three days to make cochinita pibil, but it does enhance the appreciation (I think) to have waited for it.

Anonymous said...

Glad I stopped by today Deb, that looks amazing!

I love pork shoulder, probably one of my favorite cuts of meat and happily my grocery store sells it for .99 cents a pound every three weeks! :D

And, um, I like the heat so habanero salsa will be in order!

Kathleen Scott said...

Cool recipe. I'm tickled to find the secret to Cochinita Pibil, and personally, I believe in taking liberties whenever you can; you're entitled to call your food whatever you want.

PS I found your blog from a comment you made on Pam's blog Digging.