Do you, like me, have a love-hate relationship with social media? To the extent that it replaces real life interaction, does it present a problem for us as individuals and society? Is the way it taps directly into the primitive reward system of the brain causing us to put ourselves in harm’s way?
I’ve had moments of engagement, enchantment, often followed by disappointment, sometimes even anger or hurt. Like any form of human interaction, group behavior can have aspects of magic, but can also bring out the worst in us. The anonymity of the format has the effect of making it all the more seductive to our baser feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
One corner of social media that has had my respect, affection, and attention lately is a Facebook group for members of America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated, and Cook’s Country. It’s a closed group, so consists of people who are really serious about food. And to belong, you have to agree to a few rules; this tends to keep things focused and prevent much unpleasantness from happening.
To my delight, I was challenged recently to a throwdown. My opponent suggested a dish that we would both create, and post pictures and a written description of our experiences. The dish in question was the one I am sharing here, a rich pork stew containing a full-flavored, lightly spicy sauce made from dried chilies. Since I am not generally a lover of dried spices and chilies, I probably would have skipped this one had I not been given this interesting invitation. But far be it for me to back down from a duel!
As you, my beloved readers know, this has not been an easy year in my life. To my slight surprise, this opportunity captivated my imagination, my energy, and got me motivated. I had a lot of fun, and for that I am extremely grateful. It was wonderful to be engaged in a project. And, as a bonus, we all really enjoyed the results!
This recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated with only minor modifications to my taste.
3-4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (butt), trimmed, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
4 oz. dried New Mexico Chilies, wiped clean, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1 inch pieces
4 cups boiling water
2 tbs. honey
2 tbs. distilled white vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. cayenne
Place pork in a large bowl and toss with 2 tsps. salt. Refrigerate for an hour.
Place chilies in medium bowl and pour water over to cover. Preheat oven to 325°.
Drain the chilies and reserve 2 cups of the soaking liquid. Place the chilies, honey, vinegar, garlic, cumin, cayenne, and 1 tsp salt into blender and process to a paste. Add one cup of soaking liquid and blend until you have a smooth, thick liquid, adding up to ¼ more liquid to maintain a vortex. Add remaining liquid and blend for 1 more minute.
Place pork in a Dutch oven and pour chili sauce over, stirring to coat all the meat. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, and place in the oven for 2 ½ hours, until the meat is very tender. Stir well and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
This is terrific with rice and beans. Or make tacos using store bought or homemade corn or flour tortillas (yes, I made my own corn tortillas). Pile on all the fixins and don’t forget the pickled onions!
I used the leftovers to make the best empanadas ever!!! They were irresistable!
Shortly after these were devoured, we made our annual trip to the orchard for apple and veggie picking with family. When I saw the wonderful bounty of hot chilies, I decided to make a fresh chili variation. Subbing in stemmed, seeded, hot and medium chilies for roughly the same volume as dried, I added a couple of tomatoes and a peach, and proceeded with the recipe, no need for added water. The results were fabulous! The pork was tender, well seasoned, and flavorful, with good, but not overpowering heat. We liked this fresh version even better than the original!