Hay-Roasted Pork with Yucatan Achiote Marinade

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Pork shoulder or pork butt is  one versatile piece of porcine goodness. It is infinitely flexible and can be at home in any cuisine. It can be roasted, braised, cut up and stewed, barbecued or smoked and of course it is the main ingredient in sausage. On top of all that I love how it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. I use it often and this time it was Mexican cuisine I turned to, specifically that of the Yucatan peninsula.

Yucatan-Pork

I’ve been reading through David Sterling’s awesome book, Yucatan. It is an amazing piece of work about the lovely food of that region, many of which we enjoy but maybe do not know that it is from the Yucatan specifically. One of the most well known Yucatecan (I love that word!) dishes is the Cochinita Pibil. Piib is an oven/pit that is dug in the ground. Foods cooked in it acquire the acronym Pibil. The food cooked in it is usually covered with banana leaves so they slowly tenderize, smoke and steam as well as acquire a lovely herbal aroma.

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Since I did not have any banana leaves lying around and no Piib dug in my yard I am not calling this Cochinita (pork) Pibil but that does not mean it is any less delicious or special.  The main flavor in this preparation is from the marinade. It’s called Recado Rojo and consists of plenty of ground Achiote (aka Annatto), allspice, black pepper, white vinegar, seville orange juice (I used a mix of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices since seville oranges are not in season now), charred garlic and Mexican oregano. I marinated the pork with this mixture overnight before cooking.

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I put the pork in my large clay baking dish. At first I was simply going to cover and bake gently for a few hours. As I mentioned before Pibil foods are usually covered in banana leaves to gently steam. I had none but I did have clean organic hay that I use for cooking sometimes. It works great to add flavor and aroma to all kinds of dishes like these potatoes. So, I soaked a large handful in water and added it on top of the pork. It would be a pain to pick a bunch of hay from the meat after cooking, so I laid a thin cheesecloth between the meat and hay.  I covered the baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil and cooked it in the oven at roughly 300 F for several hours until the meat is tender and flakes easily. This process  worked great and I will certainly be baking with hay again with one small change.

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While the aroma from the cooked meat, marinade and hay was spectacular I think next time I will put most of the hay in the bottom under the meat. This will ensure more flavor in the sauce and permeating the meat. Traditionally, lightly pickled red onions go with a Cochinita Pibil. This is very easy to make. I  blanched red onions in boiling water for a few seconds and tossed them with lemon/lime juice along with a bit of white wine vinegar, orange juice and dried oregano. I had small sweet peppers on hand so I added those in with the onions as well. A few slices of habanero added a good spicy kick. I served the flaked meat on fresh corn tortillas with avocados, sour cream, the pickled onions and crumbled queso fresco.

The Big Short (Adam Mckay – 2015) B+

It’s scary that the events in this movie only happened a few years ago yet somehow it feels like a period piece not events from a very recent history. The movie takes place in the years preceding the 2008 real estate economic crisis when a small group of investors who saw the pending collapse coming and bet on it. Through these characters we learn a lot about what went wrong and how it went wrong. Adam Mckay keeps the pace clicking along and infuses a lot of levity and different story-telling techniques to transform what could be a very dull topic into something coherent and fun. The actors do a very good job overall, especially Steve Carell whose character I actually cared about and liked watching him evolve and change. The remaining characters are mostly one-dimensional, fun, but not much beyond what we see on the screen. The Big Short is a very good movie, it does what it intends to do with wit and style and keeps us engaged while we learn about synthetic CDOs.

Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro – 2015) C-

It’s a very nice looking movie and not a bad thriller. Did we need ghosts here though? Sure they look cool and creepy but not sure they serve any purpose at all. They just happen to make frequent appearances in a film about a young bride, her mysterious new husband, his creepy sister and the creepier old estate they are trying to maintain.

NOMA: My Perfect Storm (Pierre Deschamps – 2015) B-

Interesting and a good double feature with For Grace. This is more about the philosophy of chef Redzepi, the struggle to have a balance between running the restaurant, keeping his “Best in the World” title and his personal life. The problem is that along with the wonderful food and hard work on the screen I mostly got the impression of Redzepi as very angry and high strung. I think it could’ve been a better doc with a bit more direction and refinement.

For Grace (Mark Helenowski, Kevin Pang – 2015) B+

I knew of chef Curtis Duffy and his 3 star restaurant in Chicago, Grace, and I’m a sucker for chef/restaurant docs so I checked this one out on Netflix. I expected a well made and beautifully shot film with some background about Duffy and plenty of awesome plated food shots as he struggles to open Grace. Well, I got some of that but i did not expect the tragedy in his background and how much it influenced him. This ended up more of an emotional human story about tragedy and its aftermath. Some face tragedy and can never move on, others do their damndest to get over it and build something better against the odds. I’m glad Duffy is in the latter category.

Inherent Vice ( P.T. Anderson – 2014) A

Crazy, weird and after two viewings I am not sure I know exactly what is going on or what is real vs imagined. I know it is somewhat of a cliche but really this movie needs more than one viewing. At first you were like “am I supposed to follow this story?”, you try and fail. On the second viewing you KNOW that the plot -as dense and convoluted as it is- does not matter. So, you let go and just go with the flow of the insane path that Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) starts following after Shasta tells him that her rich boyfriend’s wife and her boyfriend (the wife not Shasta’s) are planning to throw him (Shasta’s rich boyfriend that is) into the loony bin and take his money…and that’s in the first 10 minutes of the film.

This is another of those style and mood over plot. From the character names (Shasta? Amethyst? Sortilege?) to the solid 70s clothing, cars and beach-bum-hippie culture. We get a crazy beam of colors, words and settings that total up to a very immersive experience. The interesting thing is that on top of all the ridiculousness and the drug-addled atmosphere there is a sweet hopeful humanity here and a sense of loss. I am not a child of the 60s or 70s but the film oddly enough made me feel nostalgic to these time and made me feel for the sense of loss of a certain culture, neighborhood and way of life. It’s a funny film most of the time, very funny at times. It’s a movie about relationships about being with the one you love while knowing it’s not a good idea and it will end bad.

The characters are real and surreal at the same time, I’m not even sure Sortilege, our narrator even exists. As for the relationship between the oddest of odd partners, that of Doc Sportello and Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen? It’s fascinating and Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin go all in for those roles delivering fun, energetic and memorable performances. Big Foot is an actor turned detective (or he could be both at the same time I suppose). He abuses Doc, thinks very little of him or his life-style but also seems to listen and depend on him all the while towing the line between square white-shirt detective and bat-shit crazy.

This is obviously a very polarizing movie and P.T. Andersen’s most inaccessible work yet. It is not for everyone’s taste and that makes sense. I am glad I gave it another viewing and for me it worked very well.

Coppa e Cavatelli: Pork Collar in Whey, Ricotta Cavatelli, Onions and Peas

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Pork collar is normally cured and dried and is the delicious coppa that I’ve posted about before. Chefs figured out that this cut can be more versatile than just a salted and cured coppa. I’ve seen several recipes in books and restaurant menus recently that treat this marbled cut like an awesome pork loin. It has a great meat to fat ratio making it ideal for slow roasting or even braising. In this recipe I cooked it sous vide in whey, sliced it and pan-seared it.

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I prepared some good ricotta a day or so before using Jenn Lewis’ recipe from her Pasta by Hand book. It’s a really great book for all things pasta that require no machines or rolling. They are mostly referred to as “dumplings” in her book and she has a fascinating collection of pasta shapes and recipes from all over Italy with ingredients ranging from potato gnocchi to grated “pasta” and 100% semolina pasta.

Ricotta cavatelli

I had pasta in mind to go with the pork and the ricotta became the main ingredient in ricotta cavatelli. The dough is comprised of the homemade ricotta, eggs, flour and a little milk. It comes together quickly in the Kitchenaid mixer and is pretty simple -if a bit time consuming- to roll and form into ridged cavatelli on the little gnocchi wood board I have.

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I hate wasting when it comes to food, I try to use as much of my odds, ends and trimmings as possible. The whey produced by the ricotta making process (I also use Lewis’ recipe from the same book made with half and half, milk and buttermilk) is really tasty stuff and there’s quiet a bit of it. Typically, I mix it with about 1% salt by weight and put it in the fridge to use for cooking, baking or drinking. It lasts a couple of weeks with no problem. Lewis recommends using the whey to slow cook pork in the style of maiale al latte (pork in milk), a classic Italian recipe from Emilia-Romagna. I’ve done that before to cook a chunk of pork shoulder and it was delicious. I refined the same process for the coppa and bagged it with salted whey, thyme, lemon slices and garlic cloves. I cooked that sous vide for [[TEMP/TIME]] and allowed it to cool in the bag.

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For a tasty garnish I went with whey-cooked shallots. This is just whole peeled shallots and an onion simmered slowly in a mixture of whey and butter along with some thyme. The mixture cooks until all the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden meltingly soft and a bit caramelized. To serve, I sliced the pork and used a biscuit cutter to make neat disks. I browned them in a hot pan till crispy on the outside. The cavatelli were tossed with peas and butter. I plated the meat with the pasta around it and topped with the shallots.

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