Chile Verde Pork in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The author at a friend's stove.

The author at a friend’s stove.

Being a professional musician has kept me on the road a good deal of my 59 years (yesterday was my birthday), and I have to say…I’m a “Hotel Guy”.  Not a “Bed and Breakfast” guy, not usually a “Stay With Friends” guy, not a “Pitch a Tent” guy, a “Hotel Guy”.  So it’s rare that I’m in staying in someone’s home with several friends.  This last week, however, we accepted an invitation to stay at an old pal’s beautiful home nestled in the pine trees of the Black Hills of South Dakota, just outside of Rapid City.  It was a very special time spent with great friends.  We’ve all played music together since the 70’s, were members of South Dakota’s Red Willow Band, and Kenny and I were on Hee Haw together over 100 times in the 80’s as members of Roy Clark’s Band. (Got an extra 3 minutes? Here’s us in 1987 with me singing “Rocky Top“.) The Sturgis motorcycle rally was in full swing 30 miles from us and there were Harley riders everywhere.

Our hosts had to work the first day we were there, and a couple other friends were driving across the state to meet us for dinner, so I offered to cook the first night.  They’d just remodeled their huge kitchen, and the soapstone counter tops were begging to get messed up, and I’m just the guy to do it.  I asked Kenny if he had any requests and his only suggestion was fresh salsa.  Okay, I’ve got a theme and I’m gonna run with it.  I remembered an amazing Chile Verde pork dish I had learned to make by watching Guy Fieri on the Food Network.  We had watched Guy win his own show “Guy’s Big Bite” on TV and I was taping a few of his early shows.  I’m glad I did.

So….will a grocery store in South Dakota have the same ingredients I can find at a dozen stores in my Austin, Texas neighborhood?  I was going to need Hispanic items like Queso Fresco, Masa Harina, cilantro and fresh chiles.  I was pleasantly surprised to find everything I needed at one Safeway store, including tequila for margaritas!

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

A quick stop at a meat market had me loaded up with a five pound hunk of pork shoulder.  This gets cut into one inch cubes and browned in a big pan.  Meanwhile I covered a cookie sheet with foil and spread out 8 tomatillos with their husks removed (I can’t believe I found tomatillos in SoDak), 4 jalapenos and 4 Anaheim peppers.  Let the skin on the peppers turn partly black and blistered, peel what you can and chop the whole works up.  Take the pork out of the big pan and add a couple chopped onions and some garlic to the pork drippings and sauté till translucent.  Deglaze the pan with a little white vinegar, then add the meat and veggies back to the pan.  Add a healthy dose of cumin and oregano, salt and pepper, and the magic begins.  In 60-90 minutes this pot is filled with tender and delicious Chile Verde.

Mexican food comes with all kinds of corn and flour delivery systems, tortillas, taco shells, gorditas, tamales and one of our new favorites, sopes.  These have to be cooked twice, but it’s worth the effort.  Mix 1 ½ cups of Masa Harina with about a cup of water and a pinch of salt until you can roll a ball about the size of a pool table cue ball.  I used a couple sheets of wax paper and a heavy pot to smash these down till about a half inch thick.  Cook these corn patties for about a minute on each side on a hot cast iron skillet just to harden and slightly brown both sides. Remove and let cool a bit.  While still warm, with a spoon or your (clean) fingers scoop out the center of one side of each sope till you have a little cup with a half inch rim around the edge.  To me, as a piano player, they’re almost exactly the shape of the little saucers that sit under the legs of a grand piano.  The next step is to fry these little saucers in canola oil till they’re golden brown and crispy.  Remove to dry on a paper towel.

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

The perfect garnish for this dish is pickled carrots and jalapenos.  This is so easy to make, and our dinner guests were amazed at what it added.  Take about a cup of white vinegar and a quarter cup of sugar and dissolve in a pan over low heat.  Add about 3 thinly sliced carrots and half dozen thinly sliced jalapenos along with some sliced red onion and simmer over the low heat for about an hour.  Remove and cool in the fridge for later.

In the end the Chile Verde gets ladled into the sopes, naturally cascading over the sides onto the plate and topped with cilantro, Queso Fresco (wonderful Mexican cheese that crumbles and is slightly salty), a little sour cream and our homemade pickled carrots and jalapenos. I served a side salad with a fresh lime vinaigrette to round out the plate.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Someone at the table remarked “I’ve never tasted anything like this!”.  It’s so very delicious.  This is the third time I’ve made it.  Once was for a theme dinner while Ms. A was out of town…a Gentleman’s Dinner with all my guy buddies.  We chowed down on Chile Verde and margaritas and then passed a guitar around the table as an impromptu song circle.

Try it you’ll like it!  Guy Fieri’s original recipe is HERE, but feel free to mangle it to your taste.  I do.  (He only used two jalapenos…not enough for heat).  Ciao for now.  CG

Seafood Sunday!

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Christine was out of town, it was time to cook instead of playing music, and I sent out a Seafood Sunday suggestion to all the kids, receiving a couple “too busy” and “already have plans” texts. Sam, however was free and excited.

While he ran for wine, I went to Central Market (an incredible Austin institution, we’re so lucky) for 2 live lobsters, a pile of mussels, 8 jumbo shrimp and some local sweet corn. I knew I had white wine, chorizo, shallots, chicken broth and fresh herbs at the house. I started a little olive oil and shallots in a pan, browned some chorizo and added white wine and chicken broth. I’d never heard of chorizo till I moved to Texas in 1991. A couple hispanic musician friends were reminiscing about the smell of chorizo wafting into their bedrooms as small children. It’s a spicy sausage that crumbles into the pan. The smell is amazing. If I do it again, though, I think I’ll cook the chorizo in its own pan and add later like a garnish. Ah (he argues with himself) but the spices from the sausage REALLY flavored the broth nicely.

So, now we have a couple Tito’s under our belt and it’s time to quickly toss some peeled and deveined shrimp into the wine and chorizo broth. It only take about 2 minutes, really, it’s fast….when they turn white and pillowy, take ’em out fast and slip them into an ice water bath. Of course, while this is happening we’ve been squirting our favorite condiments into a small bowl; ketchup, dijon, horseradish, siracha, Marie Sharp’s that we discovered in Belize, tabasco, worcestershire….you get where I’m going. Seafood Sunday is on, and we’ve got chorizo infused shrimp cocktail to dip in our spicy sauce. ‘Scuse me while I remember…….

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

We weren’t frying any seafood (this time), but Sam and I love a little bite of crispy, so we supplemented our cooking time with some waffle fries (sweet potato and regular). We weren’t ambitious enough to try this from scratch, but the frozen variety, when cooked correctly, are quite tasty. I’ve learned to cook sweet corn by starting with a cold pot of water. I find that by the time I remember to check on it it’s been cooking quite nicely and I can just turn the burner off and let them wait. Sam wisely rolled them in butter, salt and pepper. I’m not sure if we remembered that night, but cajun pepper powder is always a nice touch.

A dozen or more black mussels were inserted into the spicy broth and covered. A big pot of salted water was boiling and it was time to wake up the lobsters for their final jacuzzi. I’ve been at picnics in Bar Harbor where lobsters were plunged and served like hot dogs, but I’ve only been hands on a couple of times. The lovely creatures had been on ice for a couple hours, so they simply endured their fate. I was proud. We steamed them, although the claws were at the bottom of the pot and probably boiling more than steaming.

Lobster-ice-BathOkay. When something goes under the fire here at the MoonHouse we holler “shit in the broiler” and this was just a little steamier. The mussels popped open and we turned off the heat. We let the lobsters go 10 minutes and then started peeking. A dependable magazine suggests that the lobster tail should reach a temperature of 175 degrees, and ours was approaching 180. Move, Gage men, get those bugs into an ice water bath. After some pounding and cutting of lobster shell it was time to eat.

With a garnish of fresh chives we had beautiful plates in front of us, a nice glass of red wine, and enjoyed it all with a rental of the latest Die Hard movie. Vive la seafood! Ciao for now. CG

Back Story – Why I Cook

Pear Butter after 12 hours in the crockpot.

Pear Butter after 12 hours in the crockpot.

My first wife, Gwen, is an awesome home cook.  Her parents were a mixture of German and Romanian, and always had a pot of something on the stove, be it pasta sauce with paprika and green peppers, sausage and sauerkraut or pork roast sitting on sliced potatoes with fluffy dumplings simmering on the top.  I begged for the pork recipe for years and was finally rewarded (long after the divorce) with a framed calligraphy copy.

I bring this up because she instilled in me and our two boys a love of the kitchen and an inquiring nose and palette, attributes I was not exposed to as a child (my mom would cover a meatloaf with Campbell’s tomato soup from a can).  As I write this I have homegrown homemade pear butter simmering in a crockpot with pungent whiffs of cinnamon, ginger, raw sugar and pear.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if either of our sons have something half finished in the fridge that will hit the stove tomorrow.

My wife Christine, while a fantastic cook with a recipe in front of her, is not drawn to it, and happens to be the current Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Recording Academy.  She runs the GRAMMYs, for crying out loud.  She’s out of town a lot, and it’s not always fun to cook for one.  I do enjoy cooking large meals and freezing individual portions for later (with the use of my beloved Food Saver system, a topic for a separate post), but it’s much more enjoyable to get one or all of my kids into the kitchen for  a spontaneous cooking and drinking extravaganza.  Which happens often…stay tuned.  Ciao for now. CG