Pork Mofongo, Yes, Chef!

What a terrific choice was Yes, Chef, a Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson, our current read for Cook the Books Club.  His journey is a fascinating one, beginning with a small boy, carried 75 miles from his village in Ethiopia to the capitol city of Addis Ababa, on his mother's back, as she and his sister walked the whole way.  All three of them with TB!  They make it to the hospital there, where his mother dies.  He goes from that world to adoption by a Swedish couple, and growing up in Sweden.

His journey continued, through a happy, protected childhood to a life fraught with set backs, difficulties, and challenges in pursuing his career of choice, all while maintaining an early enthusiasm for cooking, inspired by his grandmother, Helga.

Marcus then takes us from early cooking school experiences to his various apprenticeships and stints in some of the top restaurants of Europe, all the while "chasing flavors" with a driving ambition to get to the top of his field.  Which he does, and then some!

His ambition included a desire to be creative and original, finding unexplored, exotic flavors from one end of the globe to the other, and using them in new ways.  All of which found an answering cord in my own life. I love finding, growing and using new herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.  There was so much in the way of inspiration here.  Hard to know where to begin as far as one preparation for our club.

However, when he mentioned Camarones de Mofongo in a discussion of Puerto Rican foods, it hit me.  I had a large cooking banana, or plantain waiting for use, and some pork for braising, which could be subbed for the shrimp.  Actually a traditional Mofongo alternative.  Perfect.  I liked that the  pieces of pork nestle here in a delicious tomatoey broth with a little savory cake of plantain.

I braised the pork in ingredients with that finished broth in mind -  chopped fresh tomatoes, a white guava, home made stock, onion, tropical oregano, a small Hawaiian chili pepper and garlic.  The plantain was prepared by baking, wrapped in foil with chopped garlic, while the pork was braising alongside in the oven.  After mashing the plantain, some cooks use it for a crust to be filled, and some for dumplings.  I molded mine in little custard cups, then fried them crispy on the outside before adding to the finished dish.

Many recipes for mofongo fold pork cracklings in with the banana, but as I was using chunks of pork in the broth, I added chopped black olives instead.  This turned out so deliciously savory, and just spicy enough.  Oh, totally yum.

Pork Mofongo

(2 servings)
For the plantain cakes:

1 large unripe plantain, peeled
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 teas. olive oil
1 small garlic clove, mashed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black olives, chopped

Heat oven to 350F.  Wrap the peeled plantain with the chopped garlic in foil.  Hold until you have the pork ready to braise.  Bake for 1 hour, then test to see if it is tender and cooked through.  If not, re-wrap and cook another 15 minutes. 

Once cooked, unwrap and mash with the garlic from the packet, using a mortar and pestle.  Heat the olive oil over low heat and stir in the mashed garlic.  Cook and stir for a minute or until the garlic is cooked through, making sure it does not burn, add in the salt and olives, mixing well with the plantain mash.  Divide in half and press each portion into a small, oiled custard cup.  Set aside.  Just before plating, unmold, and fry briefly in a little olive oil to crisp the outsides.

For the pork braise:

3/4 to 1 lb. boneless pork rib or loin
1 tablespoon olive oil or bacon fat
2 cups stock, preferably home made
2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
1 large onion, chopped
1 guava, chopped roughly (or apple)
1 small chili pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
cilantro, chopped for garnish

Heat a skillet over medium high, add the oil and when hot, sear the pork on both sides.  Remove from heat, add in the onions and caramelize.  Add the pork back in, together with the stock and all other ingredients, except cilantro.  Bring to a simmer, then cover and braise in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove pork to a plate.  Let the stock and vegetables cool a bit, then sieve and set aside.  A little before serving, reheat the sieved broth, adding in chunks of pork, as much as you like.

This dish is usually served at room temperature.  When ready, divide the broth between two soup plates, add a plantain cake to the middle of each, and chunks of the tender pork.  I only used about 1/2 of the pork.  But we are fairly light eaters at night.  Garnish with some cilantro.

My take:  A winner!  Will be doing this again in larger quantities for more people.  I think it's not a bad idea to do small test cases of new recipes.  Especially when I'm madly adapting and changing things.  A bit of work for only two, but worth it, as I enjoy experimenting and tasting and cooking after all.  Speaking of which, another innovation, for me at least, is adding carambola (star fruit) into salads for a touch of sweetness, and with avocado slices and grated carrot, made a fine side for the Mofongo.

Check out the other offerings at Cook the Books Club or join in.  You have until the 30th of September.  I'll also send this over to Beth Fish for her Weekend Cooking party.


Beth F said...

It's an awesome memoir. I got to shake his hand at a book event a couple of years ago! Seemed like such a nice man. Love the dish. Looks amazingly tasty.

Tina said...

I read this one a while back and it's a great biography of his life. He does seem like a nice guy, lucky BFR meeting him!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

I read this one awhile back and didn't love it as much as I thought I would. But, your pork recipe looks delicious!! Kudos to you for giving that a shot...it does not look simple!

Katherine P said...

This looks fantastic! I got Yes, Chef! from the library a long time ago but had to return it before I finished it and just haven't had time to get it again. What I did read I absolutely loved so I'm glad to hear that it continues to be fascinating.

Carole said...

Olives and pork - interesting! Cheers from Carole's Chatter!

jama said...

I've never tried plantains -- those cakes look yummy. I've heard good things about this memoir. Must read it soon!

Vicki said...

I loved this book! That Camarones de Mofongo looks good!

Rachel said...

Yes, Chef! I'll have some of that Pork Mofongo. Great post for Cook the Books.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Yes, please. I'll take some, too. This was a great book, wasn't it?

Alicia Foodycat said...

This looks wonderful!

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I love that plantain cake...I love the entire dish!!! I think this is going on my to make list. Thanks for sharing.

Amy said...

This looks fabulous! Great choice!

Simona Carini said...

I will definitely try the plantain cakes. Plantains intrigue me and I wish I knew more ways to use them, so thanks! I like star fruit in salads too.