Thursday, October 21, 2010

Picadillo de Puerca a.k.a Cuban Pork Hash

Picadillo is a traditional Latin American dish that usually features ground beef but you can easily substitute "puerca" or ground pork. The word derives from the Spanish word picar which means "to mince or chop" as well as small bits and pieces. Hash is a bunch of ingredients tossed together, mixtures of meat, vegatables, spices mashed into a coarse paste and then cooked.

Many countries have their own versions of hash. This Cuban version features a combination of sweet and savory ingredients: raisins, pimentio-stuffed green olives along with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and spices. A traditional side of Cuban black beans and rice accompanies the dish.

I like the concept of Hash dishes as you really don't need a recipe. Grab what is in the pantry and chop it up and mix it together and cook it up. Serve it with rice or tortillas, stuff it between bread or in an empanada, mix it in with scrambled eggs. Varieties are endless but I enjoy experiencing the authenticity of the dish.

Here we go, lots to prep in the kitchen. I started out cooking the rice because when it is done, the rice can sit for awhile. Plan ahead for the beans. They need over two hours to cook because they are not the canned version. I usually chop up all my vegatables and arrange my mise-en-place.

Cuban black beans with Rice (Frijoles Negros)
  • 1.5 lbs of black beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, split
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 12 green onions, finely chopped
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • salt and pepper
Wash the beans and place in large pot. Add bay leaves and oregano and 1 tablespoon oil. Cover beans with water by 3 inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours until beans are tender.

Taste check the beans after 1.5 hours for tenderness. Near the end of cooking time for beans, start cooking the sofrito. In Cuban cuisine, sofrito is a combination of garlic, green bell peppers and onions. Much like the French's mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) or New Orleans cajun/creole's Holy Trinity (onions, celery, green bell peppers), these versions are bases for stews/soups, etc..

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on low-medium heat and add a tablespoon of cumin with the onions, garlic, and peppers. Stir often and cook it low and slow for about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add it to the beans.

I don't like my beans watery so I drained out some of the bean water but kept about a half cup to a cup of water in the pot. Mix sofrito into beans. Cook for another 10-15 minutes stirring often. You can keep the rice and bean separate on the plate but I usually mash them together so I added the rice to the pot of beans.

Keep taste testing the rice to check for seasoning. I added a few extra sprinkles of salt and cumin to get it at the right point. Damn, I have a pot half-filled with frijoles negros!

Now to the main dish.

Picadillo de Puerca a.k.a Cuban Pork Hash

With about 30 minutes left with the rice and beans, I started cooking the hash. I wanted time for the rice and beans to cool slightly while the hash was fresh and hot out of the pan. My mise-en-place:

  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 lbs of ground pork
  • 3/4 cup of raisins
  • 1/2 cup of slivered almonds
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup of green pimiento-stuffed olives, halved (not pictured, forgot to include in photo)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil over medium heat and add onions and peppers. Cook 10 minutes or until soft. Next, add cinnamon, oregano, cloves, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Be careful on the amount of the ground cloves, 1/8 teaspoon doesn't seem like a lot but the taste is powerful and you sense its aroma as soon as it hits the heat.

Add ground pork and cook for about 10 minutes.

Be sure to mix it all around to brown the pork and incorporate all the spices. Season with salt and pepper and add the raisins, olives and tomatoes. Cook until the liquid has evaporated, 20 minutes or so. At the end, add the almonds and red wine vinegar.

It looks really good at this point but cook it until most of the liquid is gone. You don't want a soupy hash on the plate.

Ah, finally done! Kitchen smells awesome, a few beers aided me along the way, have a ton of rice and beans, and cuban food begging to be consumed. You could go the easy, fast route and use canned black beans and just cook the sofrito into them but I had the time and wanted to take the more authentic route. I recommend it as the beans were super.

Picadillo isn't beautiful on the plate but damn does it taste great. I haven't been to Cuba but tasting this dish gives me at least a small impression. Bold, blasting flavors mixed with pleasant surprises. The tomato was very prevelant as the base to the dish, it kept the ground pork in line too. But I was entertained by the competition between the sweet raisin flavor versus the salty-briny green olive. There are a great match! Maybe not for a Blue Sapphire martini but for this cuisine, yes! And the crunch from the almond really made I think. It added a nice texture to the slow-stewed hash. The spices really take stage too. The cinnamon and clove are quite noticable but at the good amount. It will a few more workings of this dish to nail the exact amount of cinnamon and clove but be sure to not over season. The cuban rice and beans were a great accompanment too. Great cumin flavor seasoned the tender beans.

The meal was a bit filling from the meat and starchy quality of the rice but after all the effort, I needed to fill myself up. This is a great example why I love ethnic foods, simple yet big flavors. Sure, it takes a lot of time and but sans rice and beans, the picadillo shouldn't take you more than 30-45 minutes of prep and cook. Don't be afraid, buy a big pot and get to work.

Comer Bien!!

I enjoyed it so much I had some for breakfest!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pork & Apple Stew

Recently, I went to a German restaurant to celebrate my brother's 34th birthday. My mother ordered the special, Pork and Apple stew. I overlooked that for the braised lamb shoulder but I kept it in my mind as it would be a perfect meal to make a few weeks down the line.

It is full-swing Fall here in Milwaukee and I am full-swing into my autumn comfort foods. Slow-braised pork combined with apples and fennel does it for me. You really can't beat that combination for a meal on an October night.

Peeled and cored Granny Smith apples are the apple of choice. They are crisp and hearty and will hold up well in an hour-long simmer. Fennel pairs well with Granny Smiths and after a long stew, the fennel softens up, like onions, and flavors the broth. It really emits the essense of autumnal weather.

You  will need:
  • 3 lb pork butt, cut into 1" cubes
  • 3 tablespoons vegatable oil
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • small head of cabbage, chopped
  • 1 cup of apple cider
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • salt and pepper
Heat oil in a heavy pot. Season pork with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the pork on all sides. Transfer to bowl. Add fennel, onions and the cabbage and saute for about 5 minutes. Add cidar to deglaze pan. Make sure to scrape up all the browned bits. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Return pork to the pot along with chicken broth, apples, bay leaves, rosemary and parsley. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1-1.5 hours until pork is tender. Remove rosemary, bay leaves and parsley before serving.

The stew was done after about an hour. The pork was at the right amount of tenderness. It simply melted in my mouth. It can be easy to stew the crap out of the pork and dry it out so moniter it closely. It makes all the difference. The pork should be just as tender as the onions and fennel.

The apples cooked down and became part of the broth. It oozed its sweety, tartiness into the stew but it tempered well and was not too sweet. The rosemary and parsley gave it a nice herbacous touch.

The pork and apple stew is an easy stew to make and you should consider making it a staple during the October month. It is hard to restrain myself from eating more right now but I need to make it last a few days!
A good brew is the beverage of choice.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ham and Proscuitto sandwiches

Find yourself a great deli in your town, one that offers steamy corned beef, pastrami, hot ham, great Italian cured/smoked meats and one where you can have confidence in knowing that when you go to this deli, all that you want will be waiting for you.

Delis usually offer the classic sandwiches and there is no problem about that. I want...I need a great pastrami sandwich every so often. I want to have a sandwich with fresh baked bread that transcends a simple ham sandwich to delicious realms.

But with a lot of restaurants, cafes, and bars opening here and there, competition to gain patrons becomes high. Places offer eating challenges or rely on a specialty food item to set themselves a part from the rest.

So here are two sandwiches; one is a classic deli-type sandwich and the other, is a sandwich you may not see on deli menus.

Panini - Mozzarella, Ham, and Basil

Paninis are a staple in delis. Ciabatta bread bookends the guts of the sandwich together and grilled or pressed to melt the innards for gooey goodness. This ham panini satisifies on all levels: crunchy fabulous-tasting bread, juicy tomatoes, herbacous basil, bite from Dijon mustard, sliced hot cherry peppers, balsamic vinegar, creamy, melted mozzarella cheese and hammy goodness from deli-sliced ham.

Mustard is brushed on bottom on sandwich while the vinegar is brushed on top slice. Layer mozzarella, basil, ham, peppers, and tomato. Cook in pan or grill or panini press for a few minutes a side. Done.

Classic sandwich that packs a lot of comfy, homey flavor. Good, quality ciabatta is key here, fresher the better. The mustard and vinegar paired together gave the sandwich a little sting to it but it only added to the overall pleasure of the panini. The melted cheese rounds out the flavor quite well.

I was a little shy with piling the ham on. Delis are known for stacking meats several inches high, usually half pound to a pound of meat. Shame on me but I needed to reserve some ham for the rest of the week lunches! But I would recommend adding a ton of ham.
Proscuitto, Pear, and Blue Cheese
This sandwich leans more to the trendy side. Paper-thin proscuitto intertwined with Bosc pears and blue cheese is a little more sophisicated then peanut butter and jelly. Peppered lettuce and shallots mixed in red wine vinegar adds a crispness to it Multigrain toasted bread wraps it all together.
The blue cheese and proscuitto lend its salty and fattiness while the pears' sweetness combat those flavors. It put the sandwich is a savory/sweet category but the ingredients all makes sense together. Similar to the panini, creaminess from the cheese pairs well with the crunch of the lettuce and toasted bread.

The proscuitto pear blue cheese sandwich was good and different but I am going to side with the classic panini. Melted cheese and smoky ham is a winner for me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fried Rice-True Fast Food

Yes, fried rice is true fast food. Well, basically anything cooked in a wok. Blazing, searing high heat cook meats and vegatables in mere minutes. Traditionally, woks are placed over a pit stove where wood or coal is burning hot and high. But here in my small kitchen, an electric burner will have to do. It is not ideal for high temp stir fry because it doesn't provide quick even heating to properly stir fry.

Traditions and proper equipment aside, you still can whip up a quick stir fry and have it taste wonderful. Just go to any Asian restaurant or take-out and you can see how many variations of fried rice are out there. Of course, I've always loved pork fried rice. It can be a side dish or featured as a main dish compiled with more ingredients.

The key way to make fried rice is to use previously cooked, cold rice. It will not work if you use rice that you just steamed. So make rice a day ahead or hours before and chill until cold.

Fried rice lends itself to whatever style of cuisine you want. Any type of meat or vegatable works well as do various garnishes and sauces. That is what I really enjoy about it. You can make fried rice out of most things in the pantry.

Ham and Egg Fried Rice
  • 2 cups of cold, cooked white rice
  • 1.5 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup sliced green beans
  • 12 oz. diced ham
  • soy sauce, to taste
  • sesame oil, few splashes
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • sliced green onions, for garnish
The rice may clump up so make sure to break it up before stir frying. Also, allow ingredients to warm to room temperature if possible. When cold ingredients are added to a hot wok, it will kill your wok temp and you basically have to start over to get a high heat.

Heat a wok over high heat and add oil. Add onion and garlic and stir fry 1 minute or until onion browns. Add ham and green beans. Fry for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add rice. Constantly stir around the ingredients. Fry for 2 minutes and then add soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Make a well in the middle of rice mixture and add in the eggs. Cook until eggs set.  Garnish with green onions.

Pork Fried Rice
  • 1.5 lbs pork, I used thin-sliced pork chops cut into small cubes
  • diced celery, carrot, onion, I don't measure out amount per say, I use what I think looks right
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • cooked cold rice
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • sesame oil, few splashes
  • dark, heavy soy sauce, for marinating
  • light, low-sodium soy sauce
  • black pepper
Marinade the pork overnight in a dark, thick soy sauce. I used Pearl Bridge soy sauce. It is a dark soy and worked awesome for a marinade. After a day, bring to room temperature about an hour before cooking. Heat wok over high heat and add canola oil. Place onions and garlic in wok and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add carrots and celery. Fry for 2-3 minutes. Add pork and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add rice, additional soy sauce and sesame oil. Fry for another 2 minutes. Done.

Fried rice may seem elementary but I think it takes time to really perfect the dish. It takes practice to cook the vegatables at the right heat to keep a crisp, crunchy snap to them, to get that right amount of fry into the rice, and to achieve a right flavor mixture.

These two examples of fried rice were pretty basic but I love the simplicity. Yeah, you could throw some prawns in the wok and amp it up with exotic vegatables/spices but I like the humble fried rice.

The ham and the green beans go well together, juicy, slightly smoky ham mixed with crunchy beans. The eggs add a nice creamy touch. I'll admit that I poorly handled the eggs. I got too excited and mixed the eggs into the rice instead of allowing them to cook in the middle well until set. But nonetheless, do not omit the eggs.

The pork was the feature in the second dish. The marinade really built flavor into the chopped pork. The dark soy sauce provides a real deep base flavor. It matched up well with the carrots and celery. The vegatables retained a nice snap and crunch to them. It was hard to keep the spoon away from bowl-to-mouth.

And the rice? Previously simmered in chicken broth and bay leaves, refridgerated overnight, it fried up well. I have tried to fry rice right after boiling it and it doesn't work at all. The rice needs to be cold so it will develop that fried flavor.

I know fried rice won't show up on any fine dining restaurants or won't make any Top Food lists but I am a fan of comfort food and quick and simple huge flavor foods, so fried rice ranks high for me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pork as a Team Player: Lentil Soup

A week or two ago, after many beers, I was hungry. I scoured through my food pantries and found a bag of lentils. I immediately recognized that I have had this bag of lentils for over a year and never knew what to do with it. But at this time, I wanted to get rid of it. I had some leftover mirepoix-carrots, onions, celery, and some chicken stock, plus various aromatic herbs. So I melted some butter, added some oil, sauted the vegatables, added stock, simmered, seasoned, and woooot, I had Lentil soup.

Perhaps it was my drunken state or just an introduction to lentil soup, but I was hooked to the simplicity of ingredients, quality of flavor, and overall satisfaction of the soup, a very tasty vegatarian soup. So I did a little research on lentil soup and combined a few recipes to create a lentil soup that exhibited pork as a humble ingredient to a recipe that features multitudes of ingredients.

Smoked sausage stands in line with many ingredients here, a team player, a blocker on a special teams unit in football or a penalty kill forward in hockey, but it remains an important part of the whole system, key to its to purpose. Sure, yeah, it is just smoked sausage, but I don't think it would be the same without it.

Sharpen your knife, clean your cutting board, throw on some music, because most of this soup is all prep work.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegatable oil
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 4stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • bunch of fresh thyme springs, tied
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2.5 cups dry lentils
  • 6 cups chicken broth plus 2 cups water
  • 4 cups spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 lb smoked sausage, cubed
  • salt and pepper, to taste
In your favorite large soup pot, melt butter and add oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery; cook and stir until onion is tender, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add bay leaf, oregano, and bunch thyme and cook for 1 minute.

Add lentils, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for at least 1 hour. Stir occasionally. After 30 minutes, add potatoes and smoked sausage and cook for 30 minutes more. Remove from heat and let rest. Stir in spinach and let residual heat wilt the spinach. 
This lentil soup is very hearty and chunky and very fulfilling. All the flavors meld very well together. You really get the smoke flavor from the sausage while the thyme, bay leaves, and oregano add a herbaceous tone. The spinach acts like a condiment/topping, wilted and done just right, I really enjoyed it. With all the ingredients, the lentils do not get lost in the crowd. Their grainy texture is noticed on every bite providing many amounts of protein, fiber, and iron. The legumes really absorbs a lot of flavor from the stock.

I am a lover of soups and stews, meaty or vegatarian. Maybe I am nerdy or something but I love prepping for soups and I love a pot simmering for several hours. Life seem more right during these moments. I usually make more than I need to but I enjoy having a huge pot stewing and simmering. This soup does well as a leftover and after a simple reheating, you have another tasty meal.

Please, don't be afraid of vegatables. If you are, add PORK!!!!!!!!!!