You know that time of year when the air is crisp and cool, the trees begin to blaze with fiery reds and oranges and the scent of fresh apples envelop you as you walk outside? Fall is my favorite time of year. There is excitement about the coming slew of holidays, pumpkin patches to visit and soup, lots of soup. Soup, to me is the perfect comfort food. A cup full of delicious, nutritious yumminess. Last week the chill in the air inspired me to wear sweaters and make soup- specifically, Low Country Pork Stew. It is one of my family’s favorites, in fact Olivia suggested it, but not the quickest stew to make. It is a sit-in-the-pot, Sunday endeavor, meant to last a couple of nights.
I made my grocery list with the thought that it may not be the best time for okra, tomatillos or poblanos. Fresh Market has some wonderful flash frozen veggies that can do in a pinch, but fortunately for me, the produce was bountiful. I could not have asked for plumper tomatillos or firmer okra. Tomatillos can be deceiving because of their outer husk. I have learned over the years that like corn, you need to peel the husk back a bit and check for ripeness. The basket yielded some beauties. If you find the produce you are looking for is not quite up to par, don’t be afraid to ask if there is more in the back. I have been saved by this question on many occasions. Sometimes it is not rotated quickly enough and you can’t let your meal suffer. This day though, everything was perfect; it was meant to be. I made my way home to my renovation-needy kitchen and trusty Le Creuset Carribean Blue stock pot.
As I alluded to before, this stew is not a quick meal. It is a multi-step process, but completely worth the time. The recipe below makes a large stockpot. I do this because my family is ridiculously busy during the week and having a go-to dinner helps us spend more time together talking, playing Scrabble and belly-laughing at mindless movies. Those moments are precious so I try to make them happen as often as possible. If you are cooking for a smaller audience, you can easily cut the recipe in half with the same results.
Low Country Pork Stew
3 tbsp canola oil
3 lbs pork tenderloin, cut into 3 inch hunks
3 celery stalks, diced fine
1 shallot, diced fine
1 beefsteak or heirloom tomato (I like the Mr. Stripey), diced
1 Anaheim chile, seeded and diced fine
2 poblano peppers, seeded and rough chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced
2 cups okra, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 28 oz cans fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
1 box chicken stock
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp roasted ground cumin
1 tbsp hot sauce ( I like Melinda’s but if you use something hotter, you may want to adjust amount)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil over high heat in your stockpot. Season the pork with salt and pepper and saute over high heat until browned on all sides. Reduce heat to medium and add celery, onion and garlic. Saute the veggies until softened and slightly translucent. Add the Anaheim, poblanos, carrots and spices to the mix and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once you have reached a boil, reduce heat to low. Add the tomatoes, tomatillos and okra. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Now comes the hard part: hand-shredding the pork. Remove the hunks of pork from the stew to a cutting board. Increase the temperature to medium so the veggies and stock can get cozier. Now let’s turn to the pork. There are many ways to shred meat, but I prefer the two fork method. You get a better shred, though it is harder on your arms. The end result should look like pulled pork for barbeque.
Meanwhile, the stew should be thickening in the pot. Add the shredded pork back in and taste for seasoning. At this point, you want to introduce the hot sauce, salt and pepper. My family like it spicy, but you should go with whatever your pallet dictates and if says not to hot sauce, leave it out.
BTW-This makes a great inexpensive leftover meal with grilled cheese sandwiches for those action packed weeks. Queso fresco is a tangy cheese perfect for grilled sandwiches and the flavor blends well with the stew spices.