Ever since I read Ruth Reichl's first memoir, Tender at the Bone, I had been fixing to make pork and tomatillo stew, a recipe that came out of her hippie days at a co-op restaurant in Berkeley. I finally made it two Sundays ago for a herd of hungry snow travelers, and it was just as good as I expected. So good, in fact, that it even stole the spotlight from a big beautiful molcajete full of freshly made guacamole.
I had meant to make it with beef, since I wasn't sure that every visitor to my house was pro-pork, but there had been a run on all bovine products at my Safeway. Plus, pork is cheaper - especially when you stray from the recipe's recommendation of lean pork and choose a big, fatty shoulder roast (about $5.50 for a 3-pound hunk). The fat adds flavor to the stew, and I for one think extra fat is a very welcome thing when you've spent the day plodding through thigh-deep snow or shoveling out a driveway.
I had never cooked with tomatillos before, but what a fun little green fruit they are! They're also remarkably cheap. I bought most of the stew's ingredients, with the exception of the pork, at the Latin market on the ground floor of my office building in NoPe. Here a 2-lb package of tomatillos cost only $1.50 (found some other great bargains, too: limes are 25 cents each; a huge bunch of cilantro is 50 cents; a can of Goya black beans is 75 cents). To cook with tomatillos, you must remove the papery husks, and they may need to be scrubbed if there's still paper stuck to the skin. With the husks removed, a tomatillo looks like a cross between a tomato and a green pepper (their stems are similar). It's the main ingredient in many salsa verdes, and it adds a nice, tart, almost vinegary flavor to this particular stew.
The stew disappeared in a matter of minutes. While I do believe second and third helpings are the sincerest forms of flattery, I would have loved to have kept more to myself. But if you are looking for an easy and cheap dish to please - I mean, really please - a big crowd, this is it.
Recipe: Pork and Tomatillo Stew
Adapted from Ruth Reichl. Makes about 12 servings (per my quantities - you can find the original recipe here). I'm sure it would also be very good with chicken or beef in place of pork, or you could even omit the meat and add extra beans for a veg version. It tastes even better the second day.
1/4 C cooking oil
cloves of one whole head of garlic, peeled
3 lbs. pork shoulder roast, cut into cubes
2 bottles dark beer (I used Negra Modelo in keeping with the Latin theme)
12 ounces orange juice
1 to 2 lbs. tomatillos, quartered
1 to 2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped (alternatively, you could use canned tomatoes)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped and divided
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
2 14-ounce cans black beans
juice of 1 lime
sour cream, for serving (optional)
Heat oil in a very large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, then add pork in batches so as not to crowd, and brown on all sides. Remove pork as the pieces get brown on all sides, and add salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, add beer and orange juice to a medium-sized pot over high heat. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook about 20 minutes or until tomatillos are soft. Set aside.
When all pork is browned, pour off all but about a tablespoon of the oil in the pan. Add onions and cook about 8 minutes, or until soft. Stir, scraping up bits of meat. Add chopped cilantro and pepper and salt to taste. Put pork back into pan. Add tomatillo mixture and chopped jalapeños. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover partially and cook about 2.5 hours. Check for seasonings, add black beans and lime juice and cook an additional 10-15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl, if desired.