So I know I haven't posted in quite a while and with the 4th anniversary of this blog just around the corner (can you believe it?), I'd sort of wanted my return to be with beautiful, shallow depth of field, naturally daylit photographs of a gorgeous, elegant recipe perfect for a smart dinner party full of fashionable and interesting foodies. But, I'm sorry to say, I STILL have not gotten a new camera and the recipe I'm posting is for GOULASH. Just that name even sounds kind of tragic and seems more like something a sturdy hausfrau in a babuska would serve her hardworking husband after a cold afternoon spent chopping firewood. But as I wrote in my mission statement on my about page, I only post recipes that I would make again, and believe me, this I make again AND again AND again.
For those unfamiliar with goulash, it originates in Hungary and is pretty much a very simple soup or stew consisting of little more than sauteed red onion, paprika and some sort of meat, be it lamb, pork, veal or beef. Many recipes also incorporate bell peppers, tomato and additional spice in the form of the underused and underappreciated caraway seed. Traditionally, the stew is served over egg noodles finished with a little sour cream. What got me thinking about goulash was Jamie Oliver.
You see, I just downloaded the new Jamie Oliver app for the iphone and it's kind of fantastic. Basically it's a list of recipes designed for a typical weeknight dinner, none taking longer than twenty minutes to prepare. There are beautifully shot instructional videos, tips on what keep in a well stocked kitchen and a function that generates shopping lists based on recipe which can then be emailed to your loved one (or yourself) to pick up at the store on the way home from work. I love it, but to be honest, a lot of it is a bit basic. I know how to chop an onion or perfectly cook pasta and I'm not looking to get dinner on the table quickly. At least not today. But Jamie is so endearing and engaging that it got me thinking about his series, Jamie at Home and it's companion cookbook. Both are so enchantingly picturesque and portray the ultimate foodie lifestyle that I'd love to have one day - rambling country estate, sprawling garden (with gardener to take care of it), outdoor kitchen with wood burning brick oven. God, can you imagine?
Anyway, Jamie made this dish in one episode that focused on chilies and peppers and for some reason, it's always stuck with me. One day I'll make some recipes from his app, but I figured that since I had the time, I'd do this rather lengthy to prepare dish.
4 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, off the bone and preferably with a thick layer of fat on one side
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
2 fresh chiles, finely chopped (depending on the heat level you like, either seed them or don't)
2 heaping tablespoons mild smoked paprika
2 teaspoons caraway seeds, toasted lightly in a dry skillet and then coarsely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 heaping tablespoon fresh marjoram or oregano, chopped
5 bell peppers (use a mixture of colors), cored and sliced
1 10-ounce jar roasted red peppers, chopped
1 14-ounce can plum tomatoes
3 or 4 cups low sodium, organic chicken stock
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2/3 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon or so fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped plus a little for garnis
steamed basmati rice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Score the fatty side of the pork in a criss-cross
pattern slicing all the way down into the meat. Season generously all
over with salt and pepper.
Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat for 2
minutes. Pour in 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and gently
place the meat in, fat side down. Reduce heat to medium and cook undisturbed for 15 minutes, to render the fat. Remove the pork from the pot, place on a place and set aside.
Add the onion, chili, paprika, caraway seeds, marjoram or oregano and a pinch of salt to the fat left behind in the dutch oven.
Stir to coat and then cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onions are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally.
Add the sliced bell peppers, the chopped roasted red peppers, the plum tomatoes with their juices, and the red wine vinegar. Stir to combine then return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pot. Nestle the pork down into the onion and pepper mixture. Using a pair of tongs, heap some of the onion and pepper mixture on top of the meat. Add enough chicken stock to nearly cover the meat.
Cover the pot, crank up the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.
Once, the pot has come to a boil, place in the preheated oven and cook for 3 hours, until the pork is completely tender and falling apart.
When the pork has about 10 minutes left to cook, combine the sour cream or creme fraiche, lemon zest and parsley in a small bowl and stir to combine well.
When the pork is done, remove the pot from the oven. Using a pair of tongs or a large spoon, remove the pork from the pot and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Using two forks, break the meat up into into bite-sized pieces.
At this point you could return the shredded pork back to the pot, stirring to combine and then serve with the white rice, and the sour cream or creme fraiche mixture, which is what Jamie says to do. HOWEVER, I did the following with great results. Yes it's more steps but it's totally worth it.
Set aside the baking sheet of meat.
Strain the onion and bell pepper mixture from the liquids using a colander set over a large bowl. Transfer the stained vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
Pour the liquids into a fat separating measuring cup and let the grease rise to the top.
If you don't have a fat separating measuring cup, just go buy one. You totally need it especially around the holidays.
Wipe any remaining grease out of the dutch oven and then pour in the de-fatted stock. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, uncovered, and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
When the stock has gotten to your desired thickness, return the onion and bell pepper mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be. Cover and keep warm over low heat.
Meanwhile, turn the oven to broil. Slide the pan of shredded pork under the broiler and cook until the edges have caramelized a little, about 5 to 8 minutes BUT be sure to keep an eye on the meat as it can quickly burn.
To serve, mound fluffy, steamed white rice in shallow bowls. Spoon over some of the reduced juice, onion and bell pepper mixture and then place several chunks of the caramelized pork on top. Drizzle with a little more of the reduced juices and then top with a dollop or the sour cream or creme fraiche mixture, a light scattering of parsley, and a grinding of black pepper.
Ok, first let's talk about this last method that isn't part of Jamie's original recipe. Like I said, you don't HAVE to do it, but I strongly encourage you to. The first reason is, pork shoulder is very fatty. When it cooks, the fat melts and it becomes very very tender, but then it's also swimming around in all that melted fat. Removing it makes the finished dish taste cleaner, more sliky. Not a greasy mess. Second thing you don't have to do, but I think you should is the trick of caramelizing the braised pork under the broiler. This is something I picked up from a Suzanne Goin recipe. If you don't do it, pretty much the whole stew has the same soft texture, which is fine. But by broiling the braised meat for a few minutes, the edges crisp up again and then it has a really great contrast of texture. It's fantastic, almost bacony! And I believe that great food is just as much about texture as it is flavor.
So in addition to all the interesting textures this dish has, the flavor is fantastic. Earthy and robust yet surprisingly light. Traditional versions of this stew use sweet Hungarian paprika, but as per Jamie's instruction I used smoked (which Mark's mom actually brought back as a little souvenir from a layover in Spain during a trip to the Greek Islands). The smoked paprika and roasted red peppers gives the stew a really smoky depth of flavor while the fresh bell peppers and red wine vinegar imbue a brightness, the latter also adding a fresh tasting "twang" as Jamie says. The creme fraiche adds a nice richness but the lemon zest echos the bright flavors of the bell peppers and vinegar.
Although it does take quite a bit of time to prepare, much of it is hands off and if you were to serve this to friends, much of it could be done a day in advance.