Four coincidences led me to make a chile paste for the first time in a while a few weekends ago. Really glad about that.
First: I recently attended a benefit for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, a profoundly important organization that’s part of the Food Chain Workers Alliance (of which I’m on the board). There, the brilliant and talented Neftali Duran and a team of local cooks and chefs produced an insanely good meal of dishes from Mexico and Central and South America, including one of my all-time favorites, cochinita pibil. (Sorry for all the superlatives, but yeh, they’re appropriate.) I don’t think they buried the meat in the ground, but this was a process.
Next, I found - in my freezer, of all places! - a lovely pork shoulder from Glynwood. Third, a few good eaters showed up. And fourth, I had to take my new Ferno grill out for a spin.
I might make cochinita pibil again in this lifetime, but then again I may never have the patience. But what I did do was — if not a close second — a first-rate crowd pleaser.
At night, I made the chile paste (recipe below). It takes five minutes, and is ridiculous in the best sense of the word. I poured it all over the pork to marinate overnight. In the morning — at nine a.m. — I poured off the chile paste and put the meat on the grill, which I kept between 200 and 225 degrees for six hours, turning when I thought of it and basting once or twice. (I have to admit I was sort of hoarding the chile paste at that point, so I didn’t use all of it.)
The meat was so good that two self-described vegetarians ate it. (Hey, self-described; I’m not judging.) The paste (which is more liquid than pasty, really, but I don’t know what else to call it — juice doesn’t seem right, maybe it’s sauce), stirred into rice and beans, will do very nicely if you don’t have a beautiful piece of pork.
Without the chile de arbol, this is not super-fiery, which is how I like it; I recognize that others have more tolerance than I for heat, so do your thing.
I’m tempted to call this “red chile paste,” but it’s a little too liquidy for that. I recently slathered it all over a pork shoulder that I slow-cooked on the grill, but you can also use it to marinate/baste other grilled or roasted meats, make it the base of a braising liquid, or simply stir it into some rice and beans.
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