Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cuban Roasted Pork Sandwiches

For the first time in my adult life, I have a garden to tend. I dabbled in container gardening last year from my 3rd floor apartment window (with mixed results) but this is the real deal. We were lucky enough to inherit two garden plots smack dab in the middle of our backyard, plus a narrow strip up against the house. The next 6+ months, I hope, will be filled with all-we-can-eat, -can and –freeze produce.
This may seem a bit confident for a gardening neophyte but I owe my optimism to Tristan’s cousin Beryl (of Houseboat Eats) and her seriously green thumb. She spent last Sunday afternoon walking us through the basics, helping us prep the soil, warning us about greedy slugs and cat poop, strategizing what will go where and generally getting us super stoked about the possibilities. Without her, I’m afraid, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

So what do you feed hungry gardeners after a day of shoveling dirt? Sandwiches. But not just any sandwich, Cuban Roasted Pork sandwiches.

Most Seattleites will agree that the Cuban Roast sandwich at Paseo’s Caribbean Restaurant is pretty much the gold standard in these parts: toasted baguette, aioli, cilantro, crisp romaine, caramelized onions and chunks of the tenderest, juiciest pork you’ve ever had. It’s incredibly messy and delicious, which is exactly what I wanted to replicate.

So I bought a 5-pound pork shoulder and let it soak in a garlicky sour orange marinade overnight. And quite honestly, the oven did the rest of the work. While we were busy outside channeling our inner farmers, the oven slowly turned that shoulder into tender morsels.

Once Talley arrived, I toasted a good-quality baguette (splurge on the good stuff, bad bread = bad sandwich) and set up an assembly line of fixins. I normally encourage self-expression when it comes to food but each of these sandwich components is essential. Leave one out and you’ll be sorry.

Frankly, this endeavor made me a bit nervous since I’m not particularly schooled in the art of meat cookery, but I’m happy to report that the sandwiches were a smash hit. As a matter of fact, when foodies of Talley and Beryl’s caliber say that they were just as good as Paseo’s, I knew this was worth sharing.

Cuban Roasted Pork Sandwiches

Perfect after a day of gardening, for watching the game or for any informal get-together. Have a stack of napkins handy. Adapted from

1 pork shoulder (I used a 5-pounder to ensure lots of leftovers), bone-in if possible
20 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice 

1/4 cup lime juice
1 1/2 cups olive oil

For the sandwich:
Toasted baguette
Caramelized onions (recipe follows)
Aioli or mayonnaise
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Romaine leaves, washed and dried
Pickled jalepeños

Place pork shoulder in a deep dish. Using a sharp knife or fork, pierce the meat multiple times on all sides. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the garlic and salt until finely chopped. Add the onion, oregano and juices; pulse until thoroughly mixed. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until warm. Whisk in the sour orange juice mixture and heat through. Pour marinade over the pork shoulder; cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove the pork from the marinade and place, fattiest side up, in a Dutch oven. Transfer to oven and let roast
, uncovered, for roughly 1 hour per pound (about 5 hours in this case), basting occasionally with some of the reserved marinade. Pork should easily fall apart with a fork when done. Remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board; let rest for 15 minutes.

Drain the accumulated fat from the Dutch oven. Set aside.
Using a sharp knife and/or two forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Add it back to the Dutch oven and mix with browned bits on the bottom. This next step is optional but for maximum flavor, I strained the remaining marinade, skimmed off the oily top layer, and poured the rest (mainly flavorful citrus juices) over the shredded pork. I then brought it to a simmer, partially covered, over medium heat and cooked it  for about 10 minutes, adding water when necessary. Season with salt to taste.

To assemble sandwiches: generously slather both sides of the toasted baguette with aioli or mayonnaise and pile on the shredded pork, caramelized onions, pickled jalepeños, cilantro and romaine leaves. Serve immediately.

Caramelized Onions

2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut into ¼-inch half moon strips

1/2 teaspoon sugar
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter with oil. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and sugar and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes or until onions are very soft and have a deep caramelized color.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crispy Potato Latkes

My good friend Minh-Hai is dating someone new. And he’s fabulous. Intelligent, open-minded, kind and thoughtful. But the funny thing about Ben is that he doesn’t cook. Actually, that’s an understatement. He doesn’t own a single pot, pan, knife, piece of cutlery or dish. Up until now, take-out and paper plates have kept him alive. But it’s funny what dating a foodie can do to a person. And let me tell you, anyone who walks into Crate and Barrel, explains that he’d like to make an omelet for the amazing girl he’s dating and walks out with a new skillet, a few plates and some silverware, is top dog in my book. Honestly men, little things go a long way.
So when I finally met Ben, we inevitably talked shop. He seemed genuinely interested in expanding his recipe repertoire, and since he’s of Jewish descent, I invited him over to learn how to make latkes. 

Getting to know someone over food is one thing but standing there in front of sputtering pans of oil, flipping little crispy potato pancakes is quite another. Ben did wonderfully, and the latkes, he said, were delicious enough to receive his grandmother's approval.

Crispy Potato Latkes
This is the most basic latke recipe - green onions, chives or parsley can also be added into the mix. The traditional toppings include sour cream and applesauce but I bet crème fraiche and caviar would be fabulous. Makes roughly 40 3-inch latkes.

4 pounds potatoes, Yukon Gold or Russet, peeled
2 large yellow onions
2 eggs 

1/3 cup matzo meal or all purpose flour (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil for frying (peanut or high-oleic safflower oil)

On a box grater, shred potatoes and onions. Tip: you want to aim for long potato strands so it’s helpful to grate the potato lengthwise using a bit of force. You can also skip the workout and use a food processor fitted with a coarse shredding blade. Transfer potatoes and onions to a piece of cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel and squeeze as dry as possible. When you think you've managed to get all of the moisture out, squeeze some more. This key step is what ensures crispy latkes. 

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Add the shredded potatoes and onions, matzo meal and salt; stir well.

In a large skillet, pour in about an 1/8th-inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat until very hot and shimmering but not smoking. Drop about 1/4 cup potato mixture into the skillet, flattening slightly into about 1/2-inch thickness (they should be a bit thicker in the middle than the outside edges). Repeat until you have 5 latkes in the pan.
Fry until the edges and bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes, being sure to maintain the heat so that the oil bubbles around the edges. Flip and cook until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes more. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. As you finish frying the latkes, they can be kept warm on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven.

Serve hot and crispy topped with applesauce or sour cream and lox.
Note: These can easily be done a day ahead of time. Just reheat in a single layer in a 400°F oven until crisp.