Carne de Puerco con Chile Verde is a rich pork stew from mid-century celebrity chef Elena Zelayeta. Mrs. Zelayeta was an amazing woman: successful entrepreneur, television personality, and prolific cookbook author despite being entirely blind. After losing her sight as a young mother, Mrs. Zelayeta retaught herself how to cook from the ground up. A few video clips have survived of her local television segments: watching her navigate the kitchen, handle a knife, and even attractively plate dishes is nothing short of astounding.
This recipe is adapted from her third cookbook, Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking. She prefaces the chapter dedicated to meats as follows:
Meat is not as plentiful in Mexico as it is here so that our southern neighbors have learned to make a little go a long way. Thus, though meat flavors many wonderful dishes, it is not often used alone, but rather combined with many other ingredients. This makes most Mexican meat dishes economical – a virtue when the food budget needs bolstering.
Mrs. Zelayeta is presumably referring to economic inequities between Mexico and the United States, which still persist but would have been much more pronounced in the 1950s. Regardless, the general observation is true. I’ve stuffed myself sick on tamales which, all told, probably had no more than a half cup of chicken in them, and had tacos filled with a variety of offal and mystery meats. A Mexican friend once graciously accommodated me for a weeknight meal, uninvited, where the entree was roasted turkey necks. I don’t remember much of what I ate five years ago, but good heavens was that delicious.
Carne de Puerco con Chile Verde follows the same less is more ethic. In my adaptation I’ve used country-style pork ribs, a cheap, fatty cut from the shoulder that can often be found for two or three dollars a pound. When you factor in the cost of the remaining ingredients you can make ten or twelve servings for right around twenty dollars. It’s not quite spaghetti cheap, but if you need to feed a crowd on a budget they’ll be none the wiser. Now if you’re going into this expecting a standard tomatillo-based chili verde you’ll be disappointed. This is pork with green chilies, but in a tomato-based broth. It’s not an Americanization – there are plenty of other tomatillo recipes in the same cookbook – it’s a conscious choice.
The recipe as written is spectacular, and I’ve only really made one important adjustment: substituting fresh roasted green chilies for canned. Canned chilies will work fine if you like things mild, but fresh chilies give you a little bit more control over the heat level. Beyond that I’ve cooked it more or less as Mrs. Zelayeta intended.
The recipe can be served as-is as a thick stew with a side of rice and beans. When I made this for my family I served Frijoles Puercas and Hominy with Bacon, both from the same cookbook, as sides. Another option, suggested by Mrs. Zelayeta, is to add corn on the cob, cut into 1 inch pieces, during the last thirty minutes of the cook and serve as a soup with a side of tortilla chips. Alternatively, if you reduce the broth a little this will shred well for use in tacos or burritos, or even as a filling for empanadas. There’s really no wrong way to eat this. Enjoy!
- Preheat oven to 275º F. Add the coriander seed to 2 tbsp of hot water and set aside.
- Season pork ribs liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cut each "rib" into two or three pieces.
- Heat an enameled dutch oven or large oven-safe stock pot over a medium-high flame. When hot add a few of the fattier pieces to start to render the fat. Add the remaining pork to the dutch oven and let it sear for 2-3 minutes each side until well browned. The pot will be a little bit crowded so make sure that each piece gets a good sear.
- Add the water and garlic cloves and continue to cook, uncovered, until water evaporates (about 15-20 minutes). Let the pork fry in its own fat for a couple of minutes, turning occasionally and taking care to minimize sticking. Add the onion and cook in the pork fat for 5-10 minutes more.
- Using a broiler or blowtorch, scorch the skin of the pasilla and serrano peppers until blackened and blistered. Trim the tops and cut into thin slices. Add to the pork and onion and continue to cook in the pork fat for a couple of minutes.
- Add the canned tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula, and add the drained water from the soaked coriander seeds (don't add the seeds). Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Place in the oven for 90 minutes or so until pork is tender and shreds easily.