Puerco con Verdolaga
You might have never heard of Puerco con Verdolaga before, yet once you taste it, you will want it all the time. I would liken this Mexican soup more to a rich and delicious pork stew. If you can imagine tender cubes of luscious pork, nestled in a salsa verde ‘stock’ with shards of cooked greens. With each bite, the flavors meld together, a bright tartness from the tomatillos acid, a rich meaty nourishing broth with some heat from green chlorophyll filled chili peppers, warming both the body and soul. Hardy greens sown in, full of nutrients and extra texture, round out each bite.
Want to learn more about this soup | stew? The ingredients to craft this soup are available at most Hispanic markets, using flavorings that one who isn’t as educated on Mexican Cuisine might wonder about. Let’s dive in, to what makes this dish so special.
Pork shoulder is seared in oil or rendered fat, to seal in the juices, helping the cubes of meat retain their shape, when stewed or braised. This cooking technique helps develop the maillard reaction, increasing the caramelization flavors, that browned meat flavor, that is also the same chemical process that happens when malted barley is kilned, creating different levels of color (Lovibond) and ultimately color of a brew (SRM).
Avocado leaves are used as a seasoning in this dish, bringing a green herbal flavor, that is different than oregano, cilantro, with more earthy undertones. They are commonly found dried in a Hispanic market and do add a uniqueness to this recipe. Onions and garlic are added in with the browned pork, to caramelize and further develop the soups base ‘stock’, giving richness and a slight sweetness that will later be balanced out with the salsa verde.
When cooking with beer, it is important to think about the different cooking styles and methods that will transform the raw ingredients into pure deliciousness when fully prepared. As the mallaird reaction is at play with the browning of the protein and the caramelization of the vegetables, why not add to this melange of flavors. Looking at all the different beer styles that could add or compliment to this chemical process that can produce hundreds of different flavor compounds, breaking down into why we love drinking beer. Malty beer styles like English Brown Ales, American Brown Ales, German Bock or Dopplebock, Vienna Lager (many South of the Boarder beers fall in this beer category, IE Dos Equis). All these beer styles will work for this recipe. I went a slightly different direction, wanting to add the richness of a brown ale, while also adding some oak undertones. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. makes a delicious English Pale Ale called Double Barrel Ale or DBA. As part of this beer is fermented in their Burton Union System, the wort is transformed into alcohol in new oak barrels, infusing the flavors of wood and oak into the brew. As I am sure that this Puerco con Verdolaga recipe would have been cooked in a pot near or over a fire, this beer and how it was brewed, adds the extra complexity of wood to the dish, without over powering it. The craft that went into the beer, transfers to the layers and depth in the final dish. This is yet another example of why cooking with beer | using beer in food, can benefit a recipe. Another point that is expressed via Beer Cuisine is the melanoidin rich brew compliments the mallaird reaction, or echo’s those building of flavors, that are further expressed through brewing and beer making. as the wort is boiled, the converted sugars are caramelizing in the brew kettle. When beer recipes use melanoidin malt, or caramel malts, they build those flavors in the beers essence, that carry over into the dish being made with it. DBA is low in hops, both in flavor and aroma, which also make it a perfect choice to cook with, in the Beer Kitchen.
We all know salsa, whether it is used with a tortilla chip or as a garnish over a dish. This recipe makes a salsa verde or green salsa, that adds acid, tartness and a touch of heat, all bringing balance to the finish soup. Tomatillos are stewed with more onions and garlic, bringing some sweetness and body, along with chili peppers. Jalapeño, pasilla | poblano, are added (with or without their seeds | veins, depending the desired heat to flavor ratio) to the pot, allowing them to add their green chili flavor to the salsa. Oregano brings an a much needed herbal note, that mimics some of the hop flavors found in noble hops. All these ingredients are blended together, that create a salsa, that is then added to the finished braised | stewed pork.
In the name of this dish, Verdolagas, translated to English, is a native leafy green, popular in Central Mexico. This tear drop shaped edible green is usually cooked, as the flavor has a tomatillas, with that acidic bite, with an effervescent finish. As these greens are hard to come by in America, I suggest using a blend of Swiss chard, cilantro and baby spinach. These greens are added at the last few minutes of cooking, giving the soup a wonderful green color, adding nutritiousness and that pop of flavor.
Puerco con Verdolaga can be made a day in advance, allowing the flavors to fully come together. Wait on adding the Green Ingredients until the soup is being served, for the best texture and flavor. This Hispanic recipe will become a favorite for your friends | family.
I first learned about this dish from a local restaurant, called El Molino Central. Many of the recipes that are crafted and served at this restaurant are shared from cooking legend Diana Kennedy. Diana Kennedy is sometimes referred to as the Julia Child of Mexican Cuisine. Her carer is filled with travel, experiences, flavors and a quest to learn | understand how they are created. She has won two James Beard Awards and author to many amazing cookbooks, one being The Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook and The Art of Mexican Cooking: Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados. I had the pleasure to meet and talk to Diana for the launch of her Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy cookbook tour. At Rancho Gordo, we discussed the authentic preparations of mole, the styles and origins of this amazing sauce. This lead me to craft Eat Beer Hotsauce | Nor-Cal Mole. A culinary film called “Nothing Fancy” highlights this food historian’s unique take on regional recipes, techniques and local ingredients. Check out the trailer for her film!
I hope you are inspired by this recipe, as I was when I first tasted it. As always, Eat Beer!
Makes: 6 servings
Adapted from BeerAdvocate Magazine: Cuisine à la Bière | Jan 2012 | Issue #60
|6 - 8 serving||10 minute|
|1 1/2 hour|
Puerco con Verdolaga is a delicious Mexican style pork stew, braised in a malt forward Double Barrel Ale, mixed with a salsa verde, fresh greens and served with flour tortillas.
- 2 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 teaspoon salt, kosher
- 2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Eat Beer Hot Sauce | Nor Cal Mole</, or your favorite style | brand
- 1/4 cup lard | rendered fat | oil
- 1 each onion, yellow, large, peeled and sliced
- 8 each garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
- 3 - 4 each avocado leaves, dried availabe at most Hispanic markets
- 22 ounce British Pale Ale, such as Firestone Waller Brewing Co. Double Barrel Ale (DBA)
- 4 - 5 cup water enough to cover the pork by an inch
- 1 pound tomatillas soaked in water, peeled
- 1 each onion, yellow, large, peeled and quartered
- 8 each garlic, cloves peeled
- 2 - 4 each chilies, jalapeño, washed, stems removed, amount depending on desired heat level
- 1 each pepper, pasilla | poblano, stem removed, seeded and sliced
- 2 tablespoon oregano, Mexican, fresh, or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1 teaspoon salt, kosher
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, green, red or rainbow; stems removed and sliced thin, leaves chopped,
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, fresh washed and stems removed, leaving the leaves only
- 1/2 pound spinach, baby, washed
- 12 each tortillas, flour, warmed
- 1 each avocado, large, ripe, peeled, pit removed and sliced; for garnish
- Place the cubed pork stew meat into a bowl; toss with the salt and hot sauce and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes to marinate. Place a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the lard or oil. Brown the pork on all sides, being careful not to crowd the meat (split in batches if necessary), cooking about 6 - 8 minutes. Add the prepared onion, garlic and avocado leaves, mixing into the fat and sautéing the vegetables for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Deglaze with the English Pale Ale, then add the remaining water. Bring the mixture to a boil and turn the heat to low, letting the meat simmer until tender, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Alternatively, the pot can be placed into a 300°F | 149°C preheated oven, uncovered, allowing the meat to braise and become tender. While the pork is cooking, prepare the greens and make the salsa verde.
- Begin the salsa verde by soaking the tomatillos in a bowl filled with water for about 10 minutes. This will help loosen the husk/skin and wash off any sticky residue coating the skin of the fruit. Peel the husks off (discarding)
- Add the prepared tomatillos to a medium-size pot. Add the peeled and quartered onion, garlic cloves, jalapeño peppers (more or less, depending on the heat level of the peppers and your tolerance for spice. The seeds and ribs can be removed from the inside of the chili peppers to decrease the heat level), pasilla or poblano pepper, oregano and salt, and cover with the water. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes. The salsa is done when the tomatillos are tender. Remove the salsa from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Set aside.
- Once the pork is tender but still holds its shape, add the salsa verde mixture to the pork mixture, along with (the Greens Ingredients) Swiss chard, kale or other hardy green, cilantro and spinach to the pot. Lightly season the stew with more salt and simmer for another 10 – 15 minutes, allowing the greens to cook and the flavors to meld together. Serve in soup bowls, garnish with cilantro, alongsideh warm flour tortillas and sliced avocado on the side to roll up and dip into the stew.
Puerco con Verdolaga Recipe Variations:
If you don't have a access to a Double Barrel Ale, and still want to re-create that wood | fire flavor into this soup | stew, cube the pork as directed. Then place the meat into a smoker and set the temperature between 150°F | 66°C - 250°F | 121°C. Smoke the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 110°F | 43°C. Remove the meat from the smoker and continue with the recipe, browning the meat. Using a smoked beer, such as a Rauchbier will also add some of those wood fire flavors to the final recipe.
Beer Pairing Suggestions:
With each bite of this soup, the spicy heat level rises, adding complexity and depth. To balance out the chilies, pair a Vienna Lager or Märzen | Oktoberfest will bring a malty caramel sweetness, to count act the capsaicin compound, responsible for their heat, found in the chilies. To contrast to the flavors in the soup, a Schwarzbier will had a nice counter balance to the tart tomatilloes acid with a very light roast but no real astringency that a porter or stout would bring to the pairing. To achieve a complimentary pairing, try pouring a Chipotle or other Chili Ale. A different approach to play with the spicy component is to pair with a beer using a high proportion of malted rye. These Rye beers can very with the style of the brew, the attributing IBU's associated with that style and how the hops play into the pairing.
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