This Weekend Dinner Project took a couple of tries, to make sure I got it right, and of course in between lots of LIFE happened, so it’s taken me longer to get it up here. Then there was the quandary of what to call it; is it soup, stew, or chili? (Stoup is not on that list; please take note. Ms. Rachael can have that word all to herself.) I remembered advice from Julia; if the dish doesn’t turn out as expected, name it something else and serve it anyway. After a lot of thought, I decided to let you call it whatever your family will eat. No matter what you call it, it’s a bowl of tender, meaty pork, creamy beans, and a richly flavored vegetable broth, thickened by mashing some of the vegetables while reducing the broth on the stove, after it has already spent nearly two hours in the oven gently braising chunks of pork shoulder. This really is a project; give yourself about 4 hours to finish this dish.
1 pound dried pinto beans
1 boneless pork shoulder roast, 3 1/4 to 4 lbs.
2 medium yellow onions
2 large bell peppers (I used red, you use what your family likes)
2 large tomatoes
2 bay leaves (optional, if you don’t have them, but they keep well, so maybe get some)
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
salt and pepper
garnishes: shredded lettuce, finely chopped cilantro, minced jalapeno, hot sauce, sour cream, tortilla strips or tortillas
The first step of course, is to soak the pinto beans overnight, just like you did for the kidney beans in the last Dinner Project.
This is a boneless pork shoulder. Actually, it’s about half a boneless pork shoulder; a whole one weighs in at a hefty 6-7 pounds. This one is just over 3 1/4 pounds, as packaged by the grocery store meat counter. They ranged in size from 3-ish to 4-ish pounds. That’s more than enough pork for this project, so if you are feeling ambitious, buy the bigger roast. It may also be labeled as pork butt, rather than pork shoulder, but they are the same. I hope your knife is sharp, and you’ve been practicing, because you have a little work to do before this pork is ready to cook.
Here’s the roast, cut into large chunks, and trimmed of big pockets of fat and connective tissue that you don’t want to eat. Don’t remove all the fat; fat is flavor. It’s all right if you don’t get your pork perfectly trimmed; you will have the opportunity to remove unwanted bits after it’s cooked. For more info on trimming your own roasts, I will once again direct you to America’s Test Kitchen: Buying Meat and Basic Home Butchery. Remember, they have a free trial, but if you can swing it, their courses are completely worth your money and time.
Preheat your oven to 325 deg. F., and make sure the oven rack is in a lower-middle position so the Dutch oven will fit in there, or you will have to play Musical Oven Racks with really hot oven racks (ask me how I know). Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it just starts to smoke. Salt and pepper the pork chunks like you mean it, very liberally, and place half of the pieces in the hot pot to brown. Don’t crowd your meat, and don’t fuss with it. Let it sit there a few minutes without moving it. When it is browned, it will release from the bottom of the pot easily, and you can turn it to brown the other side. If you see the browned bits on the bottom of the pot starting to burn, turn down the heat to medium. Remove the browned chunks to a plate, and continue with the rest of the pork.
While your pork is browning, you can get your vegetables ready. Peel and chop the onions into large chunks, 1 to 2 inches in size. Trim, seed and chop the bell peppers the same way, and core and chop the tomatoes the same way. You don’t have to worry about the peel on the tomatoes; once this dish is complete, you won’t even know they’re there. The garlic can be peeled and left whole; maybe a light crush just to loosen the skin.
Give them a stir to mix everything together, then add the browned meat on top, as well as any juices on the plate. Pour about four cups of water over the whole thing (silly me, I didn’t write down the water measurement, but I think 4 cups should do it); the vegetables should be covered, with the water just lapping at the edges of the meat chunks. Trust me, the vegetables are going to release a lot of liquid during their hot tub party in the oven, and the meat will be nearly submerged.
Cover the Dutch oven with foil to hold in all that moisture, put the lid on top, and carefully slide the pot into the oven; it will be kind of heavy. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, possibly 2 hours, until the meat is quite tender and easily pulls apart with a fork.
Once the pork and vegetables are in the oven, you can put the soaked pinto beans in a large pot with plenty of water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender, 30-45 minutes depending on how long they soaked. Don’t salt them until they are fully cooked and drained, but when you do season them, don’t be shy. Salt and pepper the beans well, and set aside half of them for a weeknight leftover meal.
Remove the pork chunks from the pot, and let cool until you can handle them. Pull the pork apart into bite-size pieces, with two forks or your fingers. I always get too impatient to use forks, but it will be more shredded if you use them. I used my fingers. Discard any remaining large pieces of fat or stringy tissue. Set aside half of the pork for another meal.
Fish out the bay leaves, and place the Dutch oven over medium heat. Bring up to a low boil, and while the broth is cooking down, mash the vegetables with a potato masher. I didn’t use a blender or food processor because I wanted the vegetables to contribute some texture to the dish; I’m not looking for a smooth broth here. You don’t have to get them completely mashed. If you want a less brothy, more saucy/gravy consistency, keep simmering until the broth has the thickness you’re looking for.
Add the remaining pork and beans to the pot, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and allow the dish to simmer together for about 10 minutes, but not longer, or you risk leaching all the flavor out of the pork. Taste, salt and pepper if needed, and turn off the heat. Prepare the garnishes-shredded lettuce, finely chopped cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce, some minced jalapeno if you like them.
I served the soup/stew/chili with tortilla strips for a little crunch, but warm flour tortillas would be great, too. The remaining broth, pork and beans will be put to use in a weeknight leftover meal this week. I’ll get that post up in a couple of days, promise. Meanwhile, enjoy this soup/stew/chili as lunch at work, or as a quick warm-up meal on your busiest weekday evening, as its flavor improves as it sits in the refrigerator. Don’t let LIFE keep you from trying this Weekend Dinner Project.