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Perking Up Winter Flavors
By Pat Eby | Photo by Geoff Cardin
Posted On: 11/01/2010   


Winter’s pretty darn nasty, but a hefty pork roast, braised beef, lamb stew or oven-baked chicken can chase the chill right out of the kitchen. The smells alone feed cold souls. But this year, one of my go-to flavor enhancers for cold-weather cooking, the locally made verjus from Claverach Farm, won’t be available to deglaze pans or flavor and sauce meats. So I went in search of new ingredients for my winter pantry, items that would work to pop flavors with fruity pizazz. I found so many good things, it was difficult to decide which to try, but ultimately I narrowed it to just four: a cherry fruit balsam vinegar, pomegranate molasses, a mojo criollo sauce made with garlic and citrus juices, and a commercial verjus. I invited friends to a tasting dinner to test out my finds. Did they deliver? You bet.

We started with a simple cannellini bean soup puréed with chicken stock, potatoes, onions and celery. Topped with a dollop of pomegranate salsa made from pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses, lime juice, shallots and flat-leaf parsley, this soup looked and tasted gorgeous. Next, a composed salad of field greens, red onion, sliced kiwi, oranges and pomegranate seeds dressed with a cherry balsam vinaigrette. A sweet potato-apple slaw with a pomegranate molasses and mayo dressing tasted fine. The first three courses played well together.

But the gloves really came off when the meats came out. Talk about flavor and punch: pork tenderloin with a cherry vinegar sauce, chicken with a pomegranate molasses glaze and a sure-fire mojo criollo Cuban shredded pork. Each dish worked really well.

The Cuban shredded pork first lounged in a marinade of mojo criollo sauce for four hours before I slow roasted it in a Dutch oven an additional four. It emerged pull-apart succulent. The oh-my-goodness combination of bitter orange, lemon, lime and garlic is a stunner.

Pomegranate molasses, dark as mahogany, really perked up baked chicken breasts. I basted the chicken with a mix of ¼ cup pomegranate molasses, three heaping tablespoons of horseradish and two tablespoons of coarse mustard. The glaze did blacken the pan, but the exuberant taste made up for the scrubbing. Try this on turkey and on pork tenderloin, too.

The elegant cherry balsam vinegar made a bracingly bright pan sauce for pork tenderloin roasted with garlic and fresh thyme sprigs. Come spring, my newfound vinegar will be blended into barbecue sauces, I’m certain.

We had so much food, I didn’t make my favorite chicken Dijon until later. I’d always used Claverach’s verjus in this recipe, so I was anxious to see if Sadaf commercial verjus would perform as well. The squat screw-top bottle isn’t as sexy as the corked green wine bottle from Claverach. The taste is sharper, more noisesome than the Claverach, but the chicken Dijon came out of the pan zingy and smooth, just as it should.

Where to buy these lovelies? Start at Global Foods in Kirkwood for pomegranate molasses, verjus and mojo criollo – or ask the helpful staff for more suggestions. Then motor down Manchester Road to Vom Fass in Maplewood for the cherry balsam vinegar. When I stepped inside, I knew how Dorothy felt as the gates to Oz swung open. It’s a treasure cave, filled with casks of jewel-like vinegars, golden oils and bottled spirits. Taste away with the help of a store associate and select something lovely. When the right taste finds you, choose a bottle. An associate fills it from the cask and writes the product name in silver ink directly on the bottle. Purchases aren’t driven by branding, labels or product hype. You taste, you like, you buy.

I’ve learned to carry over the easy conversation I enjoy with vendors at farmers’ markets into grocery stores and specialty stores, and I’m a better consumer and cook as a result. Try it yourself when you shop for flavor enhancers like these.


Mojo Criollo Roast Shredded Pork
Makes 10 to 12

INGREDIENTS

6 to 8 large cloves garlic
4 to 5 lbs. pork loin roast
1 tsp. black pepper
1 24-oz. bottle Goya mojo criollo, divided
2 cups water
2 medium yellow onions
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil

PREPARATION

• Peel then cut the garlic cloves lengthwise into 1∕8-inch-thick slices. Cut slits in the roast bottom, top and sides and push the garlic slices into the slits. Sprinkle the roast with black pepper.
• Put the roast in a zip-lock bag and pour in 1cup of mojo criollo. Place flat in the refrigerator and marinate, turning every hour, for 3 to 6 hours.
• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
• Set aside ¾ cup mojo criolla and refrigerate to make sauce at the end of the cooking time.
• Place the roast in a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet with a lid. Add ¼ cup of mojo criollo and ¼ cup of water. Cover and place in the oven.
• Every hour, check the roast and replenish the liquids as needed, mixing equal parts water and mojo criollo. The roast should cook until it is fork-tender and can easily be pulled apart, about 4 to 5 hours.
• Remove the roast from the oven and let it stand, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
• When the roast comes out of the oven, peel and slice the onions into 1∕4-inch rings. Separate the rings and place them in a shallow dish. Cover with the reserved ¾ cup of mojo criollo. Top with a plate and weight to press the onions down.
• Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet until water drops skitter in the oil. Pour the onions and the marinade into the skillet and cook until the onions become translucent.
• Using two forks, shred the pork roast and place it on a serving platter.
• Turn out the onions into a serving dish and serve alongside the pork.
• Serve atop yellow Cuban rice.

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