Saturday, January 1, 2011

Slow-Cooked Pork Vindaloo: More Than My Dad's Heaven

Of course pork vindaloo was going to be a popular dish at the 3rd Annual Christmas Extravaganza. You take a bunch of pork and slow-cook it until it basically turns into the Indian version of pulled pork. Anything "pork" and "slow-cooked" will be amazing. You don't even need to put a sauce on it and it will be amazing. You can also do this recipe all on the stove by letting it cook in the pot instead of transferring it to a slow-cooker, but your chances of over-cooking the pork are increased. Any idiot can slow-cook. In my mother's encouraging words: "Stupider people than you have done it". She didn't say that directly to me.

This recipe will leave your house smelling amazing for days. So make sure there are leftovers so that on day two you don't feel depressed because you can smell the vindaloo but you can't eat it.

I made this with turkey about a week ago. Nobody said it wasn't good, but this time I had the proper vinegar and the fenugreek the recipe calls for and I'm told it was much better. I should know that when you actually follow Madhur Jaffrey's instructions, all will be well. I did not, however "serve with fluffy rice on the side". I instead served it with South Indian crepe-like dosa. Again, no one complained. It's a ton of ingredients, but it's also mostly spices. Really it's just pork and onions, so get all your spices measured and ready to go, and your vegetables and meat chopped, and the rest takes care of itself.

I made this for 18 people, but here's the recipe for 12. It will give you LOTS of leftovers, and it freezes very well. since it's maybe a little labour-intensive you might be happy to have home-made frozen dinners of Indian comfort food.

4 tsp cumin seed (whole seed - with Indian if you can use whole you use whole since all the flavour comes from the freshness of the spices. If all you have is ground that's okay - but not great - in this recipe since nothing gets toasted before being ground)
4-6 dried hot chilis (these are supposed to be the small red ones but I brought home mulatos from Montreal and I just used one big dried mulato torn into a few pieces to get the seeds out. You don't need to seed the smaller ones. It's a big richer, chocolatier, and smokier than Indian chilies. Think Indian mole...)
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp cardamom seeds (you have to break open the pods and take the seeds out. In this case it's kind of nice to use pre-ground cardamom...but I don't need to beat a dead horse here)
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks (can use 1 1/2 tbsp ground if you're desperate)
1 tbsp black mustard seeds (not yellow, but you can use them in a pinch)
2 tsp fenugreek (find it, but leave it out if that's impossible)
10 tbsp white wine vinegar (a bit sweeter and less sharp than distilled vinegar)
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp light brown sugar
10 tbsp vegetable oil (yes, 10 tbsp, and I'm cutting that in half. The recipe actually calls for 20, which I only think you should if you make this dish, leave it overnight, and then skim off the fat which is very hard since there are so many spices that it doesn't really separate well. This is the problem with Indian buffets)
4 medium onions, very thinly sliced into rings (fried onions are a treat in Indian cooking. Kind of like un-breaded onion rings that are used for garnish for elaborate dishes for special events)
10 tbsp plus 2 cups water (with slow-cookers you're in theory supposed to use less liquid but I wanted this to be sauce-y)
4 lbs (1.8kg) boneless pork (from the shoulder, says Jaffrey), cut into 1 inch cubes. I just used pork stewing cubes. The pieces were very unevenly cut, but with slow-cooking that doesn't matter as much as if you do it on the stove.
1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into just a few pieces (no need to dice or even chop finely since it gets blended)
2 small (or 1 large) head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled but not chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander (if you can, toast whole coriander over medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes in a dry frying pan and then grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Do this in advance. Coriander is very pungent and the freshly-ground version is amazing)
1 tsp turmeric (don't skip this. It's the key to colour and digestion)

Grind the cumin seed, red chilies, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, black mustard seeds, and fenugreek (in St. John's you can find it at food for thought or bulk barn. Maybe also Auntie Crae's) in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle or a blender. Put them in a bowl and add the vinegar, salt, and sugar. Stir and set aside. Good job! You've basically completed half the recipe. Not so hard.

Put the ridiculous amount of oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and stir and fry until they're crispy and brown. Err on the side of overly-browned. In Indian cooking you want these to almost look burned since that's when they give the most flavour. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and press very gently to remove excess oil (leave the pot with the leftover oil off the heat but don't drain it. You'll need it later and now you have a very flavourful oil). Then transfer the onions to a blender. Add 5 tbsp of water to the blender and purée the onions. Now add the purée to the ground spices you set aside in the bowl. Voila vindaloo paste. SO much better than store-bought. You can freeze this paste now to use later, or make it in advance, keep it in the fridge, and complete the rest of the recipe later. Think about it, 2 weeks from now you're craving vindaloo and you just defrost the paste. Maybe a good idea to make a double recipe of the paste...

Wash the meat cubes and dry with paper towels. If you can't find them pre-cubed ask your butcher to cube them. It will save you a ton of time. You can remove the excess fat if you wish.

Put the ginger and garlic into the blender (no need to wash it out after purée-ing the onions). Add 5 tbsp water and blend to a paste. Purée-d garlic, ginger and onion are pretty classic Indian techniques for thickening (no cornstarch, flour, or cream).

Now the fun part. Everything's ready to go, so put the put full of leftover oil back on medium-high heat. When hot add the pork cubes in batches (be careful! The oil splatters) and brown very lightly on all sides. Honestly just about 5-10 seconds per side to get rid of the pink. This is how you over-cook the pork by over-browning, especially if you're not going transfer to a slow-cooker.

Remove each batch of cubes with a slotted spoon or tongs as they're browned to a plate lined with paper towel. If you're not going to slow-cook you may want to not use a paper towel, since the collected juices will keep the meat moister. Once all the batches of pork are browned add the ginger-garlic paste to the pot. Immediately turn the heat down to medium. Stir for just a few seconds to coat the paste in oil and then add the ground coriander and turmeric. Stir for just another few seconds and then add the meat cubes, the vindaloo paste, and 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil and then either transfer the contents to a slow-cooker and set it to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours, OR cover the pot, reduce the heat to low or medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer, and stir occasionally for about 1 hour, or until the pork is tender. If you like a little more sauce, you can thin the liquid in the pot with water. No chicken, pork or vegetable stock allowed here. The flavour comes from the spices.

I am told this dishes like this taste best:
a) warm, not hot. So let the pork cool a little before eating it.
b) the day after. The sauce continues to tenderize the meat and the spices continue to infuse the meat. So even if you over-cook it, by leaving it overnight in the fridge, it could still be brilliantly tender and even more flavourful the next day.

Serve with rice and die of happiness. If you don't eat pork, make this with lamb, or beef, or really anything, but game or fatty meat tastes the best. Cheaper cuts of meat work well for that reason.