Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Venezuelan Pernil con Arepas

This is my version of Venezuelan-style of slow roasted pork. It is served with Arepas, which are small Venezuelan corncakes. Arepas can be stuffed with all sorts of fillings, but in this version, they are stuffed with aromatic pork.

The pork shoulder was placed in a brining mixture for 72 hours. Brining is basically water saturated with salt, which is used to perserve foods. The brine was a combination of water, vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaf, rosemary, chipotle sauce.

Simply mix all the ingredients together and place the pork in the pot and refridgerate for three days.

After the 72-hour brine, the pork is almost pickled. You can really sense the biting aromas of vinegar and rosemary.

Seasoning the shoulder follows the brine. I used toasted cumin, garlic and onion powder, black and white pepper.

Season all sides of the pernil generously. Place it in a roasting pan and add water to the bottom.

The pernil should be in the oven for about 6 hours. Starting with an oven temperature of 250 degrees, I covered the pan with foil and roasted for 3 hours. Then i removed the foil and roasted for another 3 hours. You want to gage your roasting time based on the temperature of the thick, middle part of meat. 180 degrees internal temp seems done to me. You can see the pork fat has rendered out and the meat is rip apart ready.

Let the Pernil sit and rest for 10 minutes or so to let juices redistribute. The brine solution is still aromatic, the sweet smell of vinegar, earthy whiff of rosemary, smokiness of toasted cumin.

It is time to prepare the AREPAS! The key ingredient for making arepas is Harina Pan cornmeal. It is a precooked cornmeal type. It is also called masarepa or masa precocida. It can be found in Latino Markets but I purchased my Harina Pan on Ebay. Masa Harina, other type of cornmeal, can not be used as a substitute.

All you need is Water, Salt, Pepper, and Harina Pan cornmeal.

i just eyeballed the measurements of each ingredient. You want enough water to mix with the cornmeal to create a mushy, moist dough. Too much dryness, just add more water.

The Venezuelan corncakes are small, about a 5” disc. Form a ball between your palms and compact it to make a disc.

Arepas can be cooked in many ways, placed in a deep fryer, baked, pan fried, grilled. I choose to start cooking them by a quick cast-iron pan sear to create a crispy crust on the outside of the cakes. About 4-5 minutes per side on a hot pan.

After the pan-searing was completed, I threw them in the oven and baked at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. The Arepas came out smelling fresh similar to hot-served cornbread.

To fill the Arepas, split them in half like a bagel, or what I like to do, is cut out a nice pocket, scoop out a little of the soft dough middle, and stuff it like a pita sandwich.

Pernil-Venezuelan Roast Pork served in Arepas with a side of salsa verde.....done.

A true tasty adventure, one that is pleasing to the mind, heart, and soul (and belly)!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Grillin': Pork Ribs

There is nothing better to do during summer than hanging out on the back porch with friends, drinking beer, listening to music, and eating great food. The grill is the perfect centerpiece to it all.

St. Louis-style Pork Ribs with grilled potatoes and grilled corn-on-the-cob will leave no one unsatisfied.

There are many ways to prepare ribs. I started with a simple, basic, dry rub paste to marinate the ribs. The combination of garlic/onion/chile powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, with lime juice and apple cider vinegar gave it a good base to flavor the meat. The ribs were marinated for four hours.

It was time to prep the grill. Use a charcoal chimney starter to get a jump start on the burning of coals. Add some crumbled newspaper in the bottom and layer coals to about an inch from the top. Ignite the paper in a few spots.

Let it get hot and burn for about 10 minutes. When it is good and smoky, its ready.

When the coals are fiery red hot, dump the coals in the grill and spread them around the perimeter of the grill. The ribs should be placed in indirect heat.

Basting the ribs while grilling is important. It keeps the ribs nice and moist and adds flavor. My basting juice was a thrown-together mix of water, beer, apple cidar vinegar, lime juice, ready-made BBQ sauce, and a tablespoon of the dry rub. Baste every 20-30 minutes.

After about an hour, the ribs should be tender and juicy. The temperature was kept around 350 degrees.

Prepare grilled potatoes and corn to finish at the same time as the Ribs.

The Pork Ribs should be fall apart ready while the bark, the charred outside of the ribs, is crispy and crunchy. The aroma is perfect for a summer evening on the backyard porch.

St. Louis-style grilled Pork Ribs with potatoes and corn-on-the-cob=the Perfect Summer Beer-Drinking Meal!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cabesa Puerca: Pig's Head...Roasted

The roasting of a Pig’s Head is a joyous culinary adventure. It takes a certain thrill-seeking eater to venture into this type of meat. The head offers a different taste and texture than a pork chop or rib would. Those who let down their pre-conceived feelings will be greeted with a special and pleasurable foodie experience.

The head was purchased at a local Mexican mercado. It was priced very reasonably.

Please use surgeon’s gloves when cleaning the head and be sure to wash it carefully. Rinse out the nasal cavities, wash behind and in the ears. Pat dry.

Rub the head gently with crushed garlic cloves and coat lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper. Add any other seasoning if you like. I shoved the garlic and sprigs of rosemary into the mouth and other cavities. I placed a lime in its mouth.

I set the oven at 375 degrees and roasted for 1. 5 hours. Every 30 minutes I basted the cabesa with a honey/water mixture. After the first roast, I lowered the temperature to 300-325 degrees for an additional two hours to cook meat all the way through. I wrapped foil around the ears and nose to prevent burning.

If you are cooking for the first time and have never tried Cabesa Puerca, it is smart to make a backup meal. I slow-cooked some boneless pork spare ribs for 6 hours on high, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and menudo.

After roasting the Pig’s Head, cover with foil and let sit for 30 minutes or so. When that is completed, time to cut it up.

The aromas are quite pleasing! I couldn’t help but pick at the skin and munch on the crispy delight of pig’s skin.

The Pig’s tongue was also a delight. Meaty and firm, much like a pork chop.

After the meat was removed from the head, I prepared standard Pork Tacos. The meat of the face and cheek is quite different from other cuts of pork. It is more moist and tender. It literally melted in your mouth. It may not be for the occasionaly pig eater but a special experience nonetheless.

All in all, a roasted Pig’s Head is for a special occasion. Maybe not for daily/weekly consumption. It takes a little gall to clean and handle a Head but the flavors are worth it in the end!