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Archive for the ‘Pork’ Category

This charmingly candid photograph shows the chiles en nogada that I made for a backyard pot-luck last month. Chiles en nogada are in essence peppers stuffed with pork and fruit, covered in a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. The recipe is said to be almost 200 years old, comes from an area just southeast of Mexico City called Puebla, and is traditionally served around Mexican Independance Day, in a tribute to the red, white and green of the flag. The particular occasion for us was a luncheon wishing some Parisien friends au revoir, but as it was the weekend before Mexican Independence Day and the party’s hosts were Mexican, I decided to give this dish a go, thousands of kilometres from its natural home.

The distance matters: the chiles of chiles en nogada are meant to be poblano peppers, and these are impossible to find in the UK, at least out here in not-London. So I substituted grilled and peeled green bell peppers instead, and incorporated a few small diced green chilies into the filling to try to recreate the slightly picante flavour of the poblano, if not the shape. The filling is a saute of diced cooked pork, onion, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, almonds, apple, and diced dried apricot (again, faking the candied innards of a cactus that I couldn’t find locally). The walnut sauce is not a bechamel, but a no-cook mixture of creme fraiche, quark, sour cream and sugar (a crazy combination to mimic the proper queso fresca), ground walnuts, and (gluten-free) bread crumbs. Pomegranate and cilantro to finish, for the patriotic flourish.

So my Mexican friends very graciously ate this version of chiles en nogada, which was more improvised than authentic, and proclaimed it accurate. ¡Such good manners! For a study in contrasts, behold the bowl of mole sauce in the upper left corner of the photo: it’s makings were transported by suitcase to the UK from a market in Mexico City. Now that’s impressive dedication to the real thing.

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Here is a stack of black sticky sweet-and-sour ribs, not terribly different from those in the buffet tray. Proper Shanghai ribs would be short and straight, but mine are long and curvaceous tonight. I lacked the foresight to have them them sawed at the butcher’s, and I am irrationally scared of my whop-ass Chinese cleaver.

Wuxi ribs these are not, because I was in a hurry, and Wuxi takes a while. Nor are they the much-copied deep-fried ribs of Eastern China: these are a quick stir fry in only a few tablespoons of oil. I disassembled my baby backs the easy way, between the bones, and shallow-fried them like any bit of meat in a wok. (BTW, any such meat is improved by sitting a few minutes in a little salt and a splash of booze, then blotted and tossed with a big pinch of cornstarch). The black-like-tar sauce is the classic for deep-fried ribs, a simple sauce of asian vinegars, soy sauce, and sugar thickened with cornstarch, cooked in the wok after the ribs had been taken away. Scallion scatter on the platter.

These were good, but the best sweet-and-sour ribs I have ever had were made by my Shanghainese roommate one snowy afternoon in Newfoundland many years ago. As we say about all the good stuff in life, I wish I had paid better attention at the time.

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babkacopy500.jpg The indigenous name of this one is a bit confusing. Before researching Belarusian food I thought that a babka was always a bread-type dessert, but in Belarus it also refers to a meat pie with a potato crust, remarkably similar in taste to the Quebecois tourtière. In fact, if I needed to make a gluten-free tourtière for this Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t mess-about with gluten-free pie crust; I would make Belarusian babka with slightly different seasonings, and joyeux noël to all. Another way to think of this tart is as a giant stuffed latke, albeit a very treif one stuffed with both pork and dairy and as such rather violated. But the best advice for making a coherent latke is the same as for making a good potato babka crust: use a higher-starch variety of potato and squeeze the shreds as dry as you can.

The first time I made this babka, I used a very traditional farmhouse recipe, assembling the pie with raw pork mince in the centre and baking it until it registered safe on my instant-read thermometer. This worked fine, except that the interior was a bit low on flavour, being just salted and peppered ground pork and onion. So this recipe builds up the filling’s intensity by browning the meat, deglazing the pan, adding sliced mushrooms and summer savoury and thickening with sour cream. The “new” flavours are perfectly in keeping with Belarusian cuisine, and with pork, and probably are not in the least bit new. I expect that lots of babkas in Belarus are made this way because it’s really an obvious way to do it; I just didn’t find a precedent for it written in English last week. As for equipment, I used my bigger cast iron fry pan as the pie mold, but I think that any thick ceramic pie dish would work as well. I’d caution against a thin metal mould though, or your crust might scorch. Speaking of which, I was very happy with this crust, which didn’t stick to the pan, didn’t fall apart, wasn’t goopy, and browned nicely on top. I wasn’t expecting such good behaviour from a potato.

This homey meat-and-potatoes dish is a meal in itself, although a green vegetable side of some kind wouldn’t go astray. Nor would a beaujolais.

Belarusian Pork and Potato Pie (Babka)

100 minutes, including sixty baking and ten resting; serves four.

butter for greasing
1 onion
3 lbs medium- or high-starch potatoes (eg. Yukon Gold, Maris Piper, Russet)
1 /2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
8 oz lean ground pork
1/2 tsp dried summer savoury (may substitute thyme)
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz mushrooms
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp sour cream (may substitute full-fat yogurt)
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sour cream (may substitute full-fat yogurt)

1. Grease your 10″ cast iron or ceramic pan and preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Grate one of your onions with the large holes of a box grater and place it in a large bowl. Shred the potatoes with the same side, tossing the sheds in the bowl with the onion as you go, which will protect them from oxidation (turning brown).
3. Squeeze (clenched fists are most efficent) the potato-onion mixture over a sieve, letting the juice run into another bowl. Get the shreds nice and dry, and set it all aside.
4. Sautee the onion in the oil over medium heat, and once it starts to soften add the ground pork and brown it. Add the summer savoury and the salt.
5. Slice the mushrooms and add them to the meat. Sautee until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Deglaze the pan with one tablespoon of milk. Repeat.
6. Mix in the sour cream and continue to heat the meat mixture to dry it a little. Taste for salt and pepper.
7. Decant the reserved potato liquid off of the settled potato starch and discard the liquid. Mix the starch and 1/2 tsp salt into the dried potato-onion shreds.
8. Press 1/3 of the potato mixture into the bottom of the greased pan. Place the meat mixture on top of this base, leaving the outer 1″ bare all around. Press half of the remaining potato mixture around the sides of the meat filling, and them top the tart with all of the remaining potato.
9. Spread the last 2 tablespoons of sour cream over the top of the tart. Bake for one hour. Let cool ten minutes before cutting to serve.

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