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!
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.
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.
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