Cook Today, Chili Tamale

Originally published in the Herald Sun 1/4/2012

I’m not a chili fan. Never sat in front of a bowl of red with anticipation. Wendy’s chili moves me not. Keep that mess away from my dog, I’m a sauerkraut girl. The Kid feels pretty much the same way, except for the sauerkraut (loathes it).
But, we love, adore, and relish a big bowl of a homemade favorite; green pork chili.
It is a pot of many wonders. It’s cheap. It’s easy (not quick-but easy). It can be made on a Saturday afternoon, and will taste even better heated up on a busy Wednesday night. It freezes like a dream, so you can make gallons at a time. If you play your cards right, you can get an extra hunk of slow-cooked pork to use for another meal.
And it’s so very yummy. It’s rich and hearty, without being heavy or greasy. It is jammed full of fresh, healthy veggies, that have cooked down into a rich, roasted nirvana. It’s mellow and comforting, but has a little zip from fresh chiles, lime and cilantro.
It all starts with my old friend, a pork shoulder, or Boston butt (tee hee). Look for it on sale, and buy as big a piece as you have a pot for. You’ll need at least 2-3 pounds for a nice big batch of green. The amounts of the vegetables can also vary, according to taste.

Chili For Folks Who Don’t Like Chili
2-3 pound pork butt (or larger)
1/2-3/4 pounds fresh poblano peppers (for more heat, swap in hotter varieties as desired)
1/2-3/4 pound fresh tomatillos
1 very large white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup white wine or pale beer
6 cups chicken stock
1 large can hominy or posole
2 fresh limes
1 bunch cilantro
Goya Adobo powder with bitter orange (the one with the orange lid)
1/4-1/2 cup white masa (fine corn meal)
*Corn meal can go rancid, quickly. I keep mine indefinitely, in a labled zip-lock bag in the freezer.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Liberally coat and massage adobo into pig. Salt, pepper, dry thyme, cumin, and a dash of dry oregano will make a barely passable substitute for the powder, but the adobo is so much more flavorful and complex. In your biggest, heaviest, lidded pot, sear the meat on all sides in a tablespoon of olive oil. Start with the fat side down, which will add to, and flavor the fat already in the pot. Done right, this will take a good twenty to thirty minutes, so meanwhile, prep your veg.

Slice off the tops of the poblanos, and cut lengthwise in half (If you aren’t an experienced chili head, wearing rubber gloves now will make your life much easier later. The relatively mild poblano’s oils can stay on your skin, even after washing, and burn any tender body parts subsequently touched; yours or anyone else’s). Remove any ribs and all the seeds. Peel off the papery outer skin and rinse the tomatillos (take care: their sap is the stickiest substance known to man). If they’re small (plum-size) halve them, if they are the size of tomatoes, quarter them. Peel onion and roughly cut into five or six big hunks. Peel garlic, and cut off dried ends. Grab a handful of cilantro tops, to taste (I’m not a fan, so I don’t use much, maybe four tablespoons here, with another couple of chopped tablespoons at the end). Slice first lime in half and juice.

When the pork is browned all over, remove and add in the wine or beer. When it has almost all reduced, turn off the stove top, it’s veggie time (not unlike Hammer or Miller). Put about one-quarter of the veg on the bottom of the pot, set in the piggy, fat side up, and put in the rest of the prepped green stuff. Just tuck everything in; around and on top of the meat. Pour in about 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock and the juice of the first lime. Cover and place in oven.
Check after two hours and then every thirty minutes until the meat is literally falling apart tender. This will probably take at least three hours, please don’t try to rush it, disaster will ensue.
When it’s done, remove the meat to cool some, and put the pot of roasted veg on the stove. Puree vegetables; you can either use a regular blender or an immersion blender (the wand type). Add a few cups of chicken stock, and then with the chili at a low simmer, sprinkle in the masa, a tablespoon at a time until it has tightened up to your taste. Add in drained, rinsed hominy.
Chop or shred three or four cups of the pork, discarding any pieces of fat, and stir it back into the pot with the lime juice from the second lime, and chopped cilantro.
Green Chili!

We serve this over rice. We spoon on some Mexican crema (like sour cream, which can be substituted), and sprinkle on cotija or queso fresco (both are white, salty, crumbly, Latin cheeses).
Rice, such a simple food, can cause acute stress when cooked at home. I promise, my method will eliminate the drama and produce evenly cooked, fluffy separate grains every time. And once you get this method down, you can flavor it to your liking, or even make pilaf this way. The secret is–don’t mess around with it, and it just about takes care of itself.

Basic White Rice
2 cups regular white rice (long grain, jasmine, basmati, all will work, but not the arborio type)
2 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Stir rice, salt, and water into a heavy pot with a lid (this is the last time you will stir the rice). Heat on medium-high, and let come to a boil. The second it starts to boil, reduce to medium-low, cover, and set timer for thirteen minutes.
When the time is up, carefully lift the lid, and peek; mindfully–there’s steam. If the water is all gone (you’ll hear hissing, but no bubbling sounds), replace the lid, and take it off the heat. If not, put it back and check every couple of minutes until it is gone.
Leave covered and unmolested for twenty full minutes. At 20, remove the lid, and with a big fork, fluff, don’t stir the rice, to separate the grains. Transfer to a serving dish and serve.
Makes about four cups.

If you have more pork than you need for the chili, bag and freeze. Last time I pulled out a bag, I served it on grilled Texas toast with mashed potatoes and German-scented mushroom gravy. The only limit to what you can do with the bonus meat is the potency of your spirit of adventure.
There’s tons of great things about green pork chili. But one of the best things is the way it makes your house smell all day while it’s cooking. And the way it makes your insides feel when you’re eating it.
Thanks for your time.

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