I’d bet we all have our own list of grocery “mysteries” (a grocery mystery is an item whose price defies reason, as in live lobster for $.49 a lb. Or say, potatoes for $5 a lb.). Often, when these mysteries appear, there are obvious reasons, such as season, or some act of nature that may have destroyed or limited a crop or resource. But then, they are not really mysteries – right? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything in this category that would temp me enough to pay a ridiculous price – I just won’t do it!
But the real mysteries are those items which make superb meals, and whose price always seems to be lower than it should be. And week in, week out, I can’t think of any grocery item which meets this description more than Pork Country Style Ribs (I don’t know why they’re called Country Ribs, they are cut from the shoulder area of the pig). They are ALWAYS the cheapest cut of pork in my area groceries, and yet, they are – to me at least – one of the most useful cuts of pork that I know of. Due to their ample fat content, they can be used for many dishes that more lean pork can not (I actually do not enjoy today’s super lean roast pork loin, simply because its too dry.). But it’s most attractive characteristic is its price – sometimes as low as $.99 a lb. Why? I have no answer to that, except to buy some more for the freezer.
This past week, I again found an oversupply of country ribs in our freezer, and began to think about making something creative with those ribs – and since I’ve been thinking Mexican lately, I pulled out one of my Diana Kennedy cookbooks (The Cuisines of Mexico, Harper & Row, 1972) and went looking for something appropriate. I found a note I had left in the middle of a recipe for Chiles Rellenos (page 263) to say that the pork stuffing, which Kennedy terms, “Picadillo”, was simply superb on its own right – remembering how much we appreciated this on our previous makes, we had a choice!
Picadillo is a very common Hispanic dish, but differs much depending on where you find it. I’m most familiar with the Cuban picadillo – from my time in Tampa, FL – where it is mostly made from ground beef or pork, tomatoes, cinnamon, olives, and such, and most often served as an entrée over rice. But when found in Mexico, it’s most often a filling for tacos or burritos, with raisins and nuts replacing the olives – I love them both, but I like the idea of treating this delicious dish as a meal rather than a snack. So, when I saw Diana Kennedy’s use of picadillo as a filling for Chiles Rellenos, I thought, Why not try it as a meal entrée, as is done in Cuba? And using Kennedy’s partial recipe as a filling would give me another excuse to engage in my favorite cooking activity – adapting and customizing another cook’s ideas to my own use!
Kennedy’s recipe is different in another regard; she uses chunks of pork rather than the more common ground meat. I think you’d have to look long and hard for picadillo being made this way in Mexico, at least I’ve not seen it this way in my travels. But, it is wonderful done this way – so I hope you’ll give it a try.
The recipe begins by cutting the meat into large cubes, covering it with water, adding some onion, garlic, and salt, and simmering for about 40 minutes. This raises another interesting (for me, anyway!) scenario – the use, or non-use, of pork broth for an ingredient in other dishes, soup primarily – why is this not done more often, as it is in Asian cultures? Especially by pork loving cultures like Cuba and Mexico? Why is chicken broth seemingly the only proper broth for such purposes? I have begun using pork broth for many things, and if you use this recipe, you may wish to try doing the same because you will probably have more broth left over than you will use. However, because there’s only just so much flavor in your “pork and water”, I’ll try to give you only as much resulting broth as you’ll need to make your picadillo – and your final dish will then have 100% of its potential flavor.
(adapted from Diana Kennedy,
The Cuisines of Mexico)
- 3 lbs boneless pork (Country Style Ribs), cut into 1 inch cubes
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 Tbs salt
- Cold water to come up ½ or ¾ on meat in pot
- 5-6 Tbs lard or fat from the prepared broth above
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- The cooked, cooled, and diced meat (about 3 cups)
- 8 peppercorns, crushed
- 5 whole cloves, crushed
- ½ inch piece Mexican cinnamon stick, crushed (use less U.S. cinnamon!)
- ¼ cup blanched, slivered, and toasted almonds
- ¼ cup of any kind of candied fruits, diced (a Tbs of candied ginger is great here)
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 ¼ cups tomatoes, peeled and seeded – canned, diced may be used
- Broth from above
Procedure – Broth:
- Put cubed pork into a good sized pot – if you have bones from the pork, add them too.
- Add water only up about ½ or ¾ up on the meat in the pot.
- Add chopped onion, garlic, and salt to pot.
- Bring all to a boil and lower heat to a simmer.
- Cover, and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Drain, and cool both the meat and the broth for an hour – you can put the broth in your freezer to solidify the fat on top, so you can use that fat for the next step.
Procedure – Meat Mixture:
- Heat the lard/fat, and gently cook the onion and garlic, without browning, until softened.
- Dice the meat into small pieces, about ¼ inch each.
- Add meat to onion/garlic mixture in pan.
- Cook for a few minutes, stirring until well mixed.
- Crush or grind the spices, and add them to the pan.
- Continue cooking for another few minutes while stirring well.
- Add tomatoes, one cup at a time, and each time, cook mixture for about 5 minutes.
- Taste your picadillo as you cook and adjust for seasonings.
- When it is well flavored, tender, and has developed enough sauce, it’s done – if more sauce is needed, add more broth and continue to cook another few minutes.
Of course, you may use your leftover picadillo for tacos and burritos, just like in Mexico – but I hope you’ll give this dish a chance as an entrée as well – it’s a super party pleaser, and when made with Country Style Ribs, a budget pleaser as well.
Hope you enjoy.