Braised Pork Mirepoix
Michael Pollan is rapidly becoming one of my favorite food authors. Maybe because he has such a direct and logical way of appealing to the sensible side of food and eating – and how far away we have gotten from that most elemental of human skills, the ability to make something great out of humble ingredients by simply using fire, air, water, and fermentation properly. I think one of the side-effects of all the great food television we have these days is that we’ve kinda convinced ourselves we can enjoy food by watching someone else make it, and after awhile, we convince ourselves that you have to be a star, or a specially-skilled individual to perform that kind of magic. (Psst – the truth is, anyone can cook). Anyone can transform a set of simple ingredients into something that really makes you want to eat, and eat lots, with a lot of contented sighing and sleep afterwards. I also believe the curse of a celiac diagnosis can also be a blessing in disguise – to keep ourselves safe, the celiac community MUST pay way more attention to the way food is made, and what goes into it. I think that produces the essence of a cook – someone who takes care in the selection and preparation of food – and you know, doing it for safety quickly leads to doing it for love. Today’s recipe is one of those with a fancy name, but which actually takes us back to a time and place where time, heat, and the natural goodness of vegetables and humble cuts of meat blend together and make magic in a single, sealed cast iron pot over a long, slow heat. Braised Pork Mirepoix – cook it slowly, savour it deeply, and know you’ve got what it takes, Ms. or Mr. Home Cook. Mr. Pollan would be proud of you.
(What is a mirepoix, anyway? It’s the simple layer of chopped vegetables and herbs, that’s gently sauteed in a deep pot or dutch oven, as an anticipating base on which some meat is placed, some broth is added, and the whole thing left to mysteriously blend and create a whole rainbow of flavours as beautiful as the colors you started with. The French have good names for the simplest of techniques – mirepoix is way better than “chopped assorted vegetables”…)
- 1 or 2 brilliant bell peppers – red, orange, yellow, or green
- 1 red onion
- A handful of carrots (no need to peel them)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 4-5 sticks of celery
- Some fresh rosemary and oregano. Or basil and thyme. Or marjoram. Or all of these together, tied up in a bundle. Whatever you have. Fresh is best, but dried would be OK too – about a teaspoon or so of each.
- 2-3 cups of pork stock, if you have any left in your freezer from the last time you boiled ribs before barbecuing them. If not, use any other stock, but add a half a cup of good, robust red wine to round it out.
- 3 pork blade steaks, or a small pork roast, shoulder or butt, or even bone-in chops.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Olive oil or butter, for sauteeing
- Cornstarch dissolved in cold water, to thicken at the very end.
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
- Chop up all the vegetables and herbs into medium-sized pieces – about 1-2 cm or so. (If you prefer, you can bundle the herbs, tying them together and throwing them in the pot later, fishing them out just before serving).
- Put some olive oil or butter in a heavy cast-iron pot or dutch oven – one that has a lid, which you’ll need later – over medium heat on the stovetop.
- Gently sautee all the chopped vegetables in the pan until the onions are just translucent and starting to brown. You don’t really want to char them at all.
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, brown the pork evenly on all sides, until nice and caramelly-brown. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the pork pieces on top of the vegetable layer in the pot.
- Pour the stock over the meat and vegetables, enough to cover the vegetables and come up the side of the meat a bit. Bring to a slow boil.
- Put a piece of parchment paper large enough to completely cover the pot opening, and place the lid firmly on top. Sealing it like this creates a great concentrated cooking space in which the steam and flavor stay inside, where they are supposed to.
- Put the pot in the oven and forget about it for at least four hours. Five or six hours is fine, too. During that time, decide what you are going to have with this – mashed potato leftovers made into patties and pan-fried are great, but hash browns, rice, polenta, noodles, or even a couple hunks of fresh baked bread or buns would be very satisfying as well. Whatever it is, get it ready so that it’s there when you’re ready to serve the Braised Pork Mirepoix.
- Once time has elapsed, pull the pot out and place it on the stovetop. Remove the pork pieces and set aside on a plate.
- Bring the vegetables back to a boil over medium heat. Combine 1-3 tablespoons of cornstarch (depending on how much liquid you have) with cold water, and add a bit at a time to the boiling mixture, stirring constantly until it boils again and thickens. When it gets to your desired level of thickness, don’t add any more.
- Put the pork back into the liquid, cover the pot and remove from the heat.
Serve your Braised Pork Mirepoix with your predetermined accompaniment, and congratulate yourself on a meal worth making.