Wednesday, April 18, 2012

RECIPE - Kettle-fried Pork (Porco Caipira no Tacho)

Frying chunks of pork, boned or unboned, in its own fat (lard) is about as basic a way of cooking pork as possible. It's also one of the most delicious ways to serve up this exceptionally flavorful meat. Of course, you do have to kind of ignore the amount of fat you're consuming - this is not the world's most heart-healthy food no matter how you interpret the nutritional data.

Cooking pork this way is also one of the most universal ways to prepare pork for the table, or for the banana leaf, or for the bun or tortilla. Mexico's famous carnitas is just one example of pork cooked this way. It's often seen as well in China and Vietnam. Almost every culture that considers the pig an source of meat has some variation on the technique, probably because pork has a natural layer of fat just beneath the animal's skin, making frying in pork fat the most natural way to cook the beast.

In Brazil's "far west", the large interior states of of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Goiás, ranchers and farmers have been cooking pork this way for centuries, since the first cleared the land for cultivation and for pastures. Originally, the pork was cooked in a large cast-iron kettle over an open fire, and even today, the best results are obtained from the use of a cast-iron Dutch oven or deep frying pan. The Portuguese name for this dish - porco caipira no tacho - simply means country-style pork in a kettle.

Just as few would argue that the best way to eat Mexican carnitas is inside a freshly made corn tortilla, many Brazilians will tell you that porco no tacho is best served in a sandwich made from fresh French rolls. The recipe, however, originated on ranches and farms hundreds or even thousands of miles from the nearest French bakery, and so the most traditional way to eat this dish is with plain white rice and beans, the two bases of all Brazilian cooking.

When buying the pork for this dish, you can ask the butcher to give you the fat from the shoulder or fresh ham and render your own lard, or you can but lean pork and lard separately. The former option is the cheaper of the two, by far, and the most authentic. You can find out how to render lard simply at home here.
RECIPE - Kettle-fried Pork (Porco Caipira no Tacho)

3 lbs lean pork from pork shoulder or fresh ham (trimmed fat can be used to render lard), cubed
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tbsp salt
The day before cooking, mix the cubed pork, minced garlic and salt well, and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature the following day before cooking.

Using a cast-iron Dutch oven, kettle or deep frying pan, melt the lard over medium-low heat. You should have at least 2 inches of fat in the bottom of the kettle or pan. When the fat is entirely melted, increase the the cooking temperature and heat until the fat is hot but not smoking.

Add the chunks of pork, stir once or twice to completely coat the meat with fat and fry, stirring only very infrequently, until the meat is browned and crispy on all sides.

When the meat is cooked, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, and drain thoroughly on paper towels. Let cool to room temperature and reserve.

The pork can be served at room temperature, or it can be reheated in a dry, well-seasoned cast iron pan before serving.

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