Monday, March 07, 2016
Take that Pork and Smother It (in Gravy)!
There are very few people who love the Cajun food of New Orleans more than contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. Fortunately for those of us who are not as well-versed in the region's cuisine, he's always happy to share his recipes!
The last time I wrote about smothered food someone asked if I couldn't use a nicer word. The French and a lot of people in Louisiana use étouffée, but mostly when talking about seafood. The Venetians smother cabbage with onions and wine and call it sofegao in the dialect of the lagoon. But I'm sticking with smothered when it comes to pork (or cabbage, okra, steak, liver, and the other foods smothered in Acadiana).
What does the actual smothering can vary, though. Okra gets smothered by the typical trinity of onion, celery, and pepper with the addition of tomatoes (but not always). Sometimes it's just a lot of cooked down onions, like with smothered cabbage.
This smothered pork comes from Donald Link's first cookbook, Real Cajun. Cochon, one of his restaurants in New Orleans, introduced me to the country food of southern Louisiana (and has been a Real Good Food customer for more than five years). Link's homage to his grandmother's cooking slowly roasts a big pork shoulder in a roux-based gravy flavored with onions and garlic, and it's delicious. But the same smothering technique works well with other cuts of pork, too.
The photo above shows country style "ribs," actually chunks of pork shoulder, and I've smothered chops, too (I find the cheaper pork chops, sometimes sold as sirloin chops, taste better than loin chops). They all start with a good dusting of salt, and if you can let the meat sit for awhile after salting do so.
Use a heavy skillet or Dutch oven (preferably cast iron) and brown the pork on all sides in a splash of olive oil. Remove the meat and add a chopped onion or two (use a couple if you're cooking a big roast, just one for a skillet of chops or shoulder chunks). Toss in some chopped garlic, a couple of sprigs' worth of fresh rosemary and the same amount of fresh thyme, a healthy grinding of black pepper, and cook until the onions have softened, maybe five minutes.
Add about as much flour as there is fat (the olive oil and pork fat from the meat; add more oil if it's less than a couple of tablespoons), and cook it for a few minutes. Add a couple of cups of water or stock, stir well, and put the pork back in the pot. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat, cover, and cook it in a 275° oven until the pork starts to come apart when poked gently (two to three hours for a big roast, less for chops or country ribs).
When the pork is done you can take it out and reduce the gravy a bit if you like, but I find it's usually just right. Serve this with some Kokuho Rose brown rice, and you'll have my friend Pableaux's definition of Cajun food: anything with gravy.