“Life itself is the proper binge.” – Julia Child
Left to my own devices I would blithely live the rest of my days imagining new recipes and tweaking old ones, absent iteration, on a quest to discover new-found flavor harmonies and techniques. This affection of mine is both a blessing and a curse because while it enhances my culinary pursuit, it also reduces the probability of cooking the same thing twice, which, for my husband can be a slight tragedy when he’s expecting something in particular, though is being a sport and rolling with the punches anyway.
To exacerbate things further, on many nights I will lay in bed, awake for hours, mind running amuck with ideas on how to recreate things in the kitchen. This is spurred naturally but it’s even more magnified if I read a cookbook in the evening. It’s reached a point where I’ve had to implement a 5 p.m. curfew for all food-related lit to curtail my stomach-growling and midnight wanderings to the kitchen. I’m not the only one afflicted by this, right?
During one of my nightly contemplations I started to tweak my old recipe for jamón del país, a traditional Peruvian pork sandwich. The original method consists of simmering the pork for a couple hours until just cooked through and tender. But while this style of preparation produces a very tasty slice of meat, I sought a different technique, one that would inject more flavor and character to the pork.
The two main adaptations: I upped the seasonings two-fold and braised the pork low and slow, letting it baste in it’s own fat, until meltingly soft and succulent. I found that browning the pork on the stove before braising in the oven not only gives it gorgeous luster but also seals in the juices. If you leave the layer of fat on the pork (I do) and put it right side up as it cooks, the fat will slowly render and drip it’s glorious juice all throughout the pork, guaranteeing a moist, sumptuous slab of meat come dinner time.
Hey, I never said I did diet food.
Butifarra sandwich // Braised pork shoulder with red onion relish
This is my homage to a classic sandwich found in neighborhood delis throughout Peru.
Makes a huge amount of pork, enough to nourish you all week long
1 – 7 pound pork butt/shoulder, bone-in, preferably with a layer of fat still attached
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons achiote or paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Farm bread rolls, halved, insides plucked, toasted
Crisp romaine lettuce
Mayonnaise, preferably homemade
*Recipe for salsa criolla to follow post
In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, salt, cumin, achiote/paprika, and oregano. Set aside.
Get a bundle of kitchen twine and trim equal lengths, enough to tie and secure pork in a few minutes. Also, grab a receptacle large enough to hold the pork while it sits in the fridge to marinate for a couple days.
Grab the pork and sit it square in front of you. Use a sharp boning knife and wrangle the large bone from out of the pork. You should end up with the pork looking like a somewhat open book. Discard the bone. If desired, trim some of the fat on top. I just leave it on, it helps keep the pork moist and bastes it naturally during cook time. Score the fat with a knife in criss-cross fashion.
Drizzle the pork, inside and out with canola oil, enough to coat. Then, use your hands to massage the spice rub all over the pork, in every crevice until fully saturated. Grab the twine and tie up the pork so that it’s nice and compact and won’t fall apart during cooking. I usually end up tying it about 4 times.
Place the pork into the marinating container, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 48 hours.
On cooking day, take the pork shoulder out of the fridge and let sit on the counter for about 30 minutes to 1 hour to help it come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven 325 degrees and place an oven grate in the middle.
In a large cast iron pot (big enough to brown the pork and then transfer to oven), drizzle canola oil to coat the bottom and crank up the heat to medium-high. Heft the pork in to brown on all sides. This takes about 7-10 minutes total. Maneuver pork so the fatty side is facing up (this bastes the pork). Pour enough hot water to come up about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pork. Turn off the stove heat and transfer pot, covered, to oven on the middle rack. Let this cook low and slow for about 3 1/2 hours, peeking in a few times to ladle the juices over the pork. It’s ready when it’s fork tender and tastes wonderful. Let this sit for at least 20-30 minutes before slicing.
*While the pork was braising, you could make the salsa criolla:
1 red onion, halved, tough outer layers removed and reserved for another use
1 ají amarillo*, seeds removed and sliced thinly
1 juicy lime
Salt and pepper
*If you can’t find ají amarillo, you can substitute in jalapeño or 1/2 serrano chile pepper.
Using only the tender inside section of the red onion, slice into half moons and put into a small bowl of cold water to soak for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain.
Add the ají amarillo, the juice of the lime, and salt and pepper. Mix together with a spoon. Let this pickle for about an hour on the counter.
When you’re ready to eat, slice the pork, toast the rolls and grab your condiments. Smear the bottom half of the roll with mayo and then stick a sheath of lettuce over it. Mound a generous portion of pork over this, then the salsa criolla. Slather another helping of mayo plus mustard across the top half of the roll. Put it on top and smoosh down. Get lots of napkins and eat like no one’s watching. Provecho!