Spicy and Tangy Pork

Pork
Along with some friends we recently purchased half a steer headed to slaughter. It was a fairly large animal and even after processing and dry-aging for about three weeks our share of the meat came to about 80lbs. I’d purchased a very large freezer to hold the meat easily (the last time we did this our regular freezer was overwhelmed) and it is so big that 80 lbs of beef barely took up any room in it. So, of course, I went out and got half a pig (being able to do this kind of thing on a whim is among the few benefits of living in a semi-rural part of the upper Midwest). The goddamned freezer still seems less than half full and we have a lot of beef and pork to eat. Luckily, these are all animals raised without hormones and antibiotics and in fairly “humane” conditions. Anyway, all this is to say that those of you interested in my recipe posts can look forward to a fair number of beef and pork recipes in the months ahead. (And goat and lamb too—this is a monstrous freezer indeed.)

First up, here’s a version of a spicy and tangy pork dish that I have been making to some acclaim for about 10 years now. The exact ingredients are never quite the same and I vary the consistency of the gravy from time to time, but insofar as it is constant it’s a rough pass at versions of some pork dishes I’ve eaten in the homes of family friends from southwestern parts of India. So it’s not a specific regional recipe; but, to blow my horn twice in one paragraph, it is very good. Try it; you will like it. And if you have the ingredients it is very easy to pull together.

Ingredients

  • Cubed pork shoulder, 2.5 lbs
  • 1 large sprig curry leaves
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 1 large stick cinnamon
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic + equivalent amount of ginger, crushed
  • The following ground to a coarse powder: 4-6 dried chiles de arbol or other hot dried chile, 1 tspn turmeric powder, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 1.5 tspns cumin seeds, 1.5 tspns coriander seeds, 1 tspn fennel seeds, 1/2 tspn Sichuan peppercorns, 1/2 tspns mustard seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek seeds.
  • 1 tblsn or so of tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tblspn brown sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil
  • 1 tblspn chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Preparation (see illustrated guide below)

  • Heat oil in a pan large enough to hold all the pork in one layer and add the curry leaves, cloves and cinnamon and stir for a minute or so.
  • Once the cinnamon begins to darken and curl add the onions and saute till the edges begin to brown.
  • While the onions are browning extract the tamarind pulp by squeezing the softened tamarind lump exhaustively in the soaking water.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute till the raw smell disappears.
  • Add the powdered spices, turn on the exhaust fan and fry for a minute or so.
  • Add the pork and the salt and saute over medium-high heat till it has begun to brown evenly and the fat has begun to render.
  • Add the tamarind with its soaking water (straining out seeds and hulls) and the sugar and stir.
  • Once the contents of the pan are almost dry add enough hot water to just cover the pork, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook till done.
  • Uncover the pan from time to time and make sure the pork isn’t sticking to the bottom; a bit of char is a good thing but you don’t want to burn it. If you find it sticking add just enough hot water to cover again.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with steamed white rice.

Illustrated Guide

Notes

  • You want to use pork with a decent amount of fat. Shoulder is good; country style ribs would work too. If there’s some bone in there, all the better.
  • Feel free to dial the heat up or down but don’t dial it too far down.
  • I like it with the Sichuan peppercorns (a relative of tirphal, a dried berry used in southwestern Indian cooking) but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it—all the other spices you should really have at hand if you’re interested in cooking Indian food.
  • The tamarind is here as a souring agent, but feel free to use vinegar instead (maybe two tablespoons in this recipe). Indeed, I usually make it with Chinese black vinegar, but apple cider vinegar is fine too—avoid plain white vinegar. You want the tangy, spicy and sweet to be in pretty good balance at the end.
  • In this iteration I cooked it down till it was almost dry. It can be a bit touch and go to avoid scorching the meat this way, and you can’t just leave it alone till it’s done, but it’s worth it. On other occasions I’ll add a lot more water (say 2 cups) and let it become more of a curry (where I’m from when we say “curry” we mean “in a spicy gravy”). So again this is really two recipes for the price of one.
  • Whether you make it dry or wet you can add half as much cubed potatoes as pork right before you add the water. It’ll extend the dish and it’s a good combination.

Try it out and let me know how you like it.

(And stay tuned for a very simple bonus pork and beans recipe that uses some of the final product from the dry version of this dish—that’ll be up very shortly.)

7 thoughts on “Spicy and Tangy Pork

  1. Looks great, I’ll have to make this soon! In the “everything” photo, I can’t identify the three chunks: one above the cinnamon and two in the middle. I assume one is the tamarind (the dark chunk?) and perhaps one in the middle is a chunk of brown sugar, but what’s the third one then?

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    • In the middle of the board is the chunk of tamarind pulp and two hunks of brown sugar from what turned into a rock in the pantry (i put it in a ziplock and hit it with a hammer…). On the larger plate (at bottom right) are the curry leaves, cloves and two pieces of cinnamon (or more accurately, cassia bark)—the larger one is the one that’s probably confusing you (this is from a Chinese grocery).

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      • Thanks, yes, I didn’t realize they were both cinnamon. I was also going to ask about whether you use true cinnamon or cassia, but in the photo it’s clear to me from the thick, wide spiral of the bark that it’s cassia. Thank you!

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  2. If you’re really keen to fill that freezer, I understand Barnum & Bailey may soon have some surplus elephants.

    Oh, that’s not even funny.

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