Weather, this February, has been capricious. As I write from my 2nd story home office this morning, I hear birds in hearty song, as if in full knowledge of the promised 70Âº day.
But last week saw a brash and frigid world.
Then, I was preparing a dinner for my bookclub: a Santa Fe inspired meal with this gorgeous rack of pork, browned in a savory spice rub, braised with Hatch chilis, as its centerpiece. Rancho Gordo “Yellow Indian Woman” beans, rice, corncakes, and an avocado-grapefruit salad would be the fitting accompaniments.
I began the slow braise mid-morning. The forecast had called for snow, to begin late in the afternoon, but our group felt that many of us would be still able to brave the elements. With a prediction of just 2 inches, how bad could it get?
At 3:15pm, the snow made its grand entrance. I looked up from my little office perch to see my backyard become enveloped in a whorls of white. By 5 o’clock, streets had a treacherous blanket of snow, both powdery and glazed. We Nashvillians don’t do well with this, and rush hour traffic became both panicked and strangled. Bill called, from a point halfway to our home—typically ten minutes away–to let me know that it had taken him an hour to get only that far. It could easily be another hour before he would make it to our door.
And, the snow showed no signs of letting up.
We cancelled our bookclub meeting. What to do with my rack of pork? Sure, I had my dinner. I sliced off a slab, spooned it with rich juices, scooped some rice and beans. Then, I sat down alone with my plate of food, to consider this meal, and its future.
Foremost, the meat was incredible–moist, tender, full-flavored. The sweetness of the pork was bolstered by the sweet pungent heat of the spice rub and the Hatch chilis. What a shame that I was the only one enjoying it!
I decided to take a chance with freezing the rack. Surely some delectable purpose for it would emerge, soon. The next morning, I placed the chilled pork and its braising juices into a large Hefty bag, sealed and plunked it into the freezer.
Its delectable purpose came to light in a matter of days: A Santa Fe-styled stew for our potluck!
I could envision a crock of this sweet pork, cut from the bone into bite sized pieces, warmed in its braising juices thickened with roux, enhanced with vegetables, some corn and beans perhaps.
The frozen block of pork thawed, revealing meat that retained its moist texture and terrific flavor.
With ease, I concocted a savory pork stew, and made a big pot of basmati rice, infused with sliced leeks that had wintered over in Gigi’s garden. It was simply delicious.
This experience underscored the benefits of the braise. I have roasted myriad pork loins, and found them to be fabulous in the moment, but rather lackluster as leftovers. The meat loses something in texture and flavor.
Not so with braising. Nothing was lost. A terrific meal was rescued–and readily transformed.
Praise for the Braise!
SANTA FE BRAISED RACK OF PORK
1 T. Chili Powder
1 T. Cumin
1 T. Hungarian Paprika
1 T Ground Coriander
1 T. Kosher Salt
2 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Granulated Garlic
1 5-6lb. Rack of Pork Loin
4 Hatch Chili Peppers (can use other peppers, such as poblanos or anaheims)
1/2 can Beer (optional)
equipment: dutch oven or doufeu
Rinse the rack and pat dry. Coat with spice rub. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or doufeu, and brown the meat on all sides. Pour in a cup of water (or half water-half beer) and add chopped chilis. Cover and simmer, occasionally checking on the rack, rotating it in the braise. Continue to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. You can turn off the heat and let the rack rest in the juices until serving time.
SANTA FE PORK STEW
(using leftover braised pork–see **starred directions below, if using fresh uncooked pork)
Mirepoix: 1 large Onion, diced; 3 Carrots, sliced; 3 Celery stalks, sliced
4 cloves Garlic, minced
4 T. Olive Oil
1/4 c. Flour
1 c. Tomato Puree
1 can of Red Beans
2 c. frozen Corn
Cubed Braised Pork
Salt, Pepper, Crushed Chili Peppers
Heat olive oil in a large pot and saute mirepoix and garlic until translucent. Stir in flour and let it coat the vegetables. Continue to stir this, allowing the flour to cook. Add braising liquid, and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot, and sides. This mixture will become somewhat thickened. Taste for seasoning, and adjust for salt, spice, and heat. Add cubed pork, frozen corn kernels, canned red beans. Cook on gentle heat. You don’t want the cooked pork to toughen–just enough heat to warm it thoroughly, as well as the corn and beans.
Serve over rice. Serves a Big Group!
***For Uncooked Pork
Cut the meat (from a pork loin or shoulder) into cubes and toss in spice rub recipe above.
Saute mirepoix, garlic, and Hatch chilis in olive oil. Add meat and brown on all sides. Add liquid to cover–water, and some beer, if you like. Stir in 1 cup of Tomato Puree. Cover and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
Add beans and corn. Thicken the mixture with roux. Cook for another 20-30 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust. Serve over rice.