My first job after college was with the Immigration Service at Kennedy International Airport. The hours were ridiculously long, but it was a fantasy job. I met movie stars, heads of state, & royalty. The best part of the job was meeting people from all over the world. It was like traveling while sleeping in my own bed every night. Along the way, I made lots of friends who shared their cultures’ food with me. On Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican Day of Independence, I gravitate to the ultimate Mexican comfort food, Chile Verde. It represents a universal type of staple that probably dates back thousands of years. I grew up on the Mississippi River Delta with a constant pot of Pinto Beans & Ham, but my family’s anglophile roots meant a frequent pot of Irish Stew. My wife’s German heritage added a staple of Navy Beans & Pork. Leave it to the French to dress it up and call it Cassoulet. Whatever culture you go to, their aboriginal antecedents have a meat stew that exists in some form to this day.
While Chile Verde may be basic comfort food, accompanied by my very up town version of the Margarita, you have a festive dish that even the French can be jealous of. These are not Margaritas you can make by the pitcher, nor are they Margaritas that will give you a brain freeze. They are Margaritas for the man who drinks Manhattans and Gimlets, the man who still remembers that Ernest Hemingway drank Daiquiris. They are Margaritas for the bartender who doesn’t own a blender and who serves drinks in a glass and not a gold fish bowl.
MARGARITA, STRAIGHT UP
- 3 oz (2 jiggers) Hornitos Reposado 100% Agave Tequila
- 1 ½ oz Patron Orange Liqueur
- 1 ½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
- Dip the rim of a chilled cocktail glass in lime juice then in coarse salt.
- Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into salt rimmed glass.
- Garnish with lime zest (You did zest your limes before you squeezed them, right?)
I put the Margarita recipe ahead of the Chile Verde recipe because the Chile Verde is labor intensive and takes hours. Having a Margarita while making the Chile Verde is essential to elevating this peasant food to haute cuisine. Don’t quibble with me. I didn’t write these rules. The French did.
- 1 ½ lbs tomatillos
- Five cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 lbs pork butt
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 Poblano Chiles
- 2 to 3 tsps chopped seeded Jalapeno
- I bunch Cilantro chopped roughly
- 1 tbsp dry oregano
- 2 tbsp cumin
- 4 cups chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Husk tomatillos, remove stems, & cut in quarters. Arrange cut side up on a cookie sheet with garlic cloves. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 25-30 minutes until soft.
- Toast chiles over an open flame until blackened. Sweat in paper back for 15 minutes. Remove from bag. Remove skins under running water, cut off tops, slit chiles and remove seeds, then chop.
- Cut pork into 2” cubes. Do not remove fat. Brown in heavy bottomed stew pot. Remove Pork and set aside. Drain all but tbsps of excess fat.
- Saute onions in stew pot in reserved pork fat until translucent (add a little olive oil if needed).
- Return pork to stew pot.
- Chop roasted tomatillos & garlic and add to stew pot.
- Add chiles and all remaining ingredients.
- Bring stew to a simmer and cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, until pork is fork tender, but still holds its shape.
- Salt & pepper to taste. Serve with Mexican Rice & Pinto or Refried Beans. I serve it with corn bread or corn chips, but tortillas are more traditional.