What does chile verde have in common with rabbit in plum sauce?
Besides being composed mostly of carbon-based molecules, these dishes are built around the slow-cooked interaction between fruit and meat. This marriage fosters a mutual unlocking of flavors and textures; the fruit’s acid softens the meat, while its tangy flavor mingles with the meat’s fat and flesh-tones. Eventually, everything falls apart together in a symphonious love fest in your mouth.
Technically, fruits are the swollen ovaries of flowers. Fruit is closely associated with seeds, usually enclosing them (There are some exceptions: cashew and strawberry seeds grow outside of the fruit, and some modern varieties are seedless.) While most people think of fruits as coming from trees, some well-known non-tree edibles—cucumber, squash, tomatoes, and snap pea pods, for instance—are fruits too. Such annual fruits tend to be less sweet than their tree-borne colleagues.
In the case of chile verde, pork is cooked slowly with green chile and tomatillo, two annual fruits known for their heat and sour tang.
Close relatives of tomatoes, tomatillos are green when ripe, and they come individually wrapped in thin, baggy shells that look like paper lanterns. Some people add tomatillos to their salsa, mixing them with tomatoes, onions, peppers, lime and cilantro.
But let’s face it: While most of us look forward to summer, it isn’t for the tomatillos, which often get lost in the shuffle when all that other produce is ripe. But you can’t make chile verde without tomatillos. And you do want to make chile verde.
To serve five people, brown 1.5 pounds of cubed pork meat (untrimmed) in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Remove the pork, add an onion and two to four garlic cloves, all chopped. When the onions are tender, season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of cumin. Then return the browned pork and a quart of chicken broth to the pan. Simmer for half an hour.
Stir in two chopped poblano peppers, two chopped jalapeños and a chopped bell pepper (or more chopped chiles—the more, and the more diverse, the better!). Blend in 3/4 pound tomatillos and half a bunch of cilantro. Add this puree to the pot and cook it for another 30 to 45 minutes on medium heat. Season and serve with tortillas.
Our next dish could more accurately be called a technique than a recipe. It combines tree fruit (apples, apricots, plums, nectarines, etc.) with any kind of meat you might have.
I discovered The Technique a few years ago when I acquired a frozen rabbit. Rabbit recipes are a little hard to come by, but since I’d heard that rabbit tastes like chicken, I found a recipe for chicken in plum sauce and applied it to my bunny with a few changes.
It was fabulous. Not too sweet, as I’d feared, and what sweetness there was complemented the meat surprisingly well. So I tried it again, this time with pork chops and apples—kind of like the classic pork chops and applesauce maneuver—which was splendid. Last night I tried The Technique with elk and apricots, which also did not disappoint.
The flexibility afforded by The Technique, in terms of both meat and fruit, allows you to use ingredients that are fresh off the tree (or the hoof), or stuff that’s been frozen awhile. With the elk/apricot variation, both meat and fruit had been frozen nearly a year. If you have both fresh and frozen options, it’s better to cycle through the older stuff and reserve the fresh stuff for applications that won’t turn your freshies into mush.
Cut meat into manageable (larger than bite-sized) pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then dredge and fully coat in breadcrumbs (I prefer Japanese-style crumbs, or panko flakes). Fry these coated chunks slowly in butter until perfectly browned.
If the animal you’re using is a mammal (like cow, deer, elk, duck-billed platypus, or my cousin Brian), then go for a tough cut of meat, like shoulder or shank. Or cut up a whole small animal and toss it in.
The tough cuts are the tastiest—if you cook them long enough. But after just the initial step of breading and frying, the tough cuts are too chewy to pose any significant temptation—unlike tender cuts, which might not make it to the next step.
As the meat nears golden brown-ness, add the peeled whole cloves of one or two heads of garlic, roughly twice as much fruit as meat—pitted or peeled, as necessary—and enough chicken or veggie stock to cover the whole business. Cook in the oven with the lid on until everything is falling-apart tender. The tougher the cut, the longer you have to cook it. Just keep adding water so nothing burns.
You can season your dish with herbs or spices that go with your particular fruit/meat pairing. I added some mint to my elk/apricot dish, which was great. But don’t feel bound to spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, or other spices traditionally used in sweet dishes. Sweet and savory are not mutually exclusive.
Ask Chef Boy Ari: Boatloads of beets
Q: Dear Chef Boy,
I’ve got the beet blues. I planted a big load of beets this year—a mixed bag with red, gold and other…and now, what to do with all these beets? I’ve gotten some advice on steaming little beet cubes to be used in salads and veggie medleys, or for my 8-month old to eat. I’ve also seen something on grilling, then peeling…but what else is there? (I’m looking for advice that won’t make my already too-hot house any hotter, so any tips on prepping and storing for a few months would be very helpful.)
A: Dear BM,
I was going to suggest pickled beets, but your cool-house requirement kind of threw me. Pickling can create a hot kitchen. So instead, I’m going to suggest…pickled beets. (Just prepare them early in the morning, or late at night, when it’s cool out and you can open the windows.)
Clean the beets and boil them, ideally with two inches of stem. When tender, drain the water and pour cold water on the beets. When they’re cool enough to touch, slip the skins off. Big beets should be sliced into rounds, small ones pickled whole. Pack them into clean, sterile jars—I like pint jars for beets—and pickle them in a 50/50 mix of water and cider vinegar, with sugar to taste (you can put a lot in), pickling spices (or allspice and cinnamon), and a teaspoon of salt per jar. Process for 15 minutes in a water bath. If you’ve never pickled before, buy some canning jars and lids and read the directions on the box. Follow them, and my recipe, at the same time.
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.