Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Kalua pork with chopped cabbage and chestnut rice

‘Tis the season for slow cookers — while I love stews, soups and all sorts of chili, I can’t help but start Crock-Pot Season with a little bit of the Aloha spirit.  Simply take a tender roast pork with a light hint of sea salt and great smokey flavor and you’ve got the mainstay of a Hawaiian luau: kalua pork.

When I say kalua, people assume I’m talking about the cordial.  Kalua is the Hawaiian word for a roasting technique that involves cooking underground with leaves and hot coals.  Kahlua, on the other hand, is a coffee liquer, and seems to play a role in every 20-something’s life (OMG I remember those B-52 shots).  But do keep your mudslides, White Russians and chocolate martini concoctions close-by, because this recipe is so easy, you’ll need something to pass the time.

Trader Joe’s Himalayan Pink Salt with built-in grinder

Like any slow cooker recipe, careful preparation and timing will yield fantastic results with very little work.  My advice is to simply prep the meat, stick it in the refrigerator, then start it in your crock-pot the night before, typically when you go to sleep.  Use a slow-cooker liner and you’ll have even less to clean-up.  The pork takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 16 hours to cook and plenty of forks to enjoy.

A couple of notes on the ingredients: first, there are only four.  Don’t try to add more or get fancy.  Simple and straightforward will give you the most authentic flavors.  Also, most grocery stores will carry banana leaves in the freezer section.  An Asian or Latin market will also have them.  If you can’t find them, you can omit from the recipe.  Hawaiian Sea Salt is the most authentic way to prepare the pork, but if you don’t have easy access to it, I recommend Himalayan Rock Salt or any coarse Sea Salt.  Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to turn the crystals into loose powder.  Some salts are bottled with a built in grinder, making it even easier to enjoy.

I use two forks and a deep baking dish to shred the pork

Once it’s ready, you can serve the kalua pork with rice and cabbage (as they do in Hawaii) or do it luau style, with sweet bread rolls and macaroni salad.  If you have a lot of leftovers, you can try your hand at making manapua.  Personally, I happen to love the pork on a sweet roll, with a combination of spicy sriracha and creamy mayonnaise, smashed together with sour dill pickles and a drizzle of teriyaki sauce.  Be as traditional or creative as you like.  I’ve even seen the pork grilled between tortillas and rolled up into quesadillas, or served on top of fried wonton chips and smothered in cheese and green onions for a Pacific twist on nachos.

‘Tis the season for good eating, right?  Enjoy this easy recipe.

Give the pork a generous coating of the salt and work it into the slits

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Yields: 8-10 servings
Cook Time: 16 hours

Ingredients:
4 pounds pork shoulder roast, also known as pork butt
4 teaspoons liquid smoke
Coarse Sea Salt or Hawaiian Rock Salt (lightly ground)
Banana Leaves, enough to wrap meat
Butcher’s twine
Water

Optional Serving Ideas: steamed rice, shredded cabbage, sweet rolls and macaroni salad

  1. Using a small knife, cut small slits in the roast.  Coat the roast generously with the salt, rubbing salt into the slits.  Sea salt is not pungent like table salt, so coat the meat well.

    The pork wrapped in banana leaf and secured with twine

  2. Place two banana leaves together so they are overlapping (you may need kitchen scissors to cut the leaves down to size).  Lay the roast in the center of the leaves.  Pour all four teaspoons of the liquid smoke over the meat.  Wrap the meat in the banana leaves and tie with butcher’s twine to secure.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.
  3. When ready to cook, place the meat in a slow cooker set on LOW.  Cook, covered and un-disturbed, for 16 hours.
  4. Remove meat from slow cooker and place in a dish or plate with a rim (I use a 13 x 9 rectangular baking dish).  Carefully unwrap the meat and allow to rest, 15 minutes.
  5. Pour all the juices from the slow cooker into a fat separator or similar shaped tool, such as a liquid measuring cup.  Skim off fat.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot.  Add the remaining juices and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.  Taste and season as desired.
  6. With two forks, shred the pork.  Pour the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork.  Serve hot or cold.
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Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Emilio’s delicious Caldo Gallego

Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends.  Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses.  One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends.  But that’s an idea for another day.

Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain.  Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego.  His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street.  Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone.  I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi.  The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.

Emilio and I share a hug in the kitchen

Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this.  By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen.  It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.

This soup comes together easily in one pot.  If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour.  However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process.  When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up.  Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.

I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.

The finished Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)

  1. In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
  2. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.

Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer  gently until wine is completely evaporated.

For the Soup:

1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed

* Cubing the salt pork is optional.

Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.

To Make the Soup:

  1. Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
  2. When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
  4. Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.

Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.

Lesson 2: Learn. . . then Love

Lesson 2: Learn. . . then Love

Tomatillos, onions and tomatoes

“Why do you like stupid men?”

I am toasting tomatillos on a tiny comal when Chef Estela bluntly asks me this question.  My eyes popped. “What?”

Chef Estela shakes her head.  She is preparing Pipian Verde (Oaxacan Green Mole).  “Look at what we did here,” she says, “we slowly sauteed the onions, then the tomatoes and finally added the garlic.  That’s because each of the ingredients need time to get to know each other, then they can love one another and create a great meal.”  She moves onto a pot of Chile Pasilla.  “Time,” she says, “women need to take their time with men.”

I’m now cooking in silence.  She nods and continues: “People need time to learn about each other, then they can love.”  She puts down the wooden spoon in her hand and looks at me.  “Has any man taken the time to get to know you?”  I shake my head.  “Then why do you like stupid men?”

Chef Estela gives me a visual

My eyes meet hers and she gives me a warm smile.  I start to giggle.  “Look,” she says, “you have a book, yes?”  I nodded.  Indeed, I have a cookbook.  “Good,” she responds, “you take your book and put it in between your legs.  And if any man wants to go there, they need to get to know you first!”

I have yet to stop laughing.

Chile Pasilla (Pasilla Sauce)
Chef Estela Silva, Mexican Home Cooking School

Ingredients
5 or 6 dried pasilla chilies
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 onion, left in tact
4 garlic cloves (2 cloves minced, 2 whole)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 or 4 roma tomatoes
6 tomatillos

  1. Bistec en Chile Pasilla

    Toast or broil the tomatoes, tomatillos, 1/2 whole onion and 2 whole garlic cloves until blackened. Set aside.

  2. Slice open the chiles and remove the stem and seeds.  Toast chiles until they blister then add to 1 cup of hot water with the charred onion.  Soak 5 minutes.
  3. In a blender, combine the charred tomatoes, all the onions, garlic cloves, chiles and tomatillos with 1/2 cup of water (if you want it spicy, use the chile water). Process until smooth, adding more water if needed.
  4. Use with beef, pork or chicken.  Add potatoes to make a stew.