Monday, July 18, 2005

Mole Matters

I went to Costco this weekend, partly, I must confess, to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I could claim that I got it for my daughter, but that would perhaps not explain the second copy. I am old enough not to have to apologize for my occasionally questionable literary tastes, and in any case, I mention the book purchase mainly to explain why I was at Costco and in the presence of so much produce that I was, evidently, unable to resist. Eight pounds of navel oranges, five pounds of Persian limes, three pounds of sweet red cherries (they also had Rainier cherries, but I had a two-pound box of those last week, and they weren't really as ripe as they might have been), and a ten-pound bag of Vidalia onions. (I passed up the three-pound box of nice ripe figs because I have never done much with fresh figs, and now I am having the opposite of buyer's remorse.)

I was, at least, very stern with myself and insisted, to myself (to whom I am remarkably unaccountable, alas), that I would allow myself these purchases, but I was going to have to find some way to put by anything that I could not consume before the rot set in. And I would have to come up with, and execute, a plan before Saturday, when V. is set to return. You will remember that my otherwise excellent partner can become somewhat overwrought when he feels that his kitchen is being overrun with my food purchases. The poor man blanches whenever he sees me with a Trader Joe's bag.

I already had a plan for at least some of the oranges and limes. As I've mentioned before, my favorite dish at one of my favorite local restaurants is pork cooked in a bitter orange sauce. I have no idea where to get bitter oranges, and I suspect that if I had some idea, I would find that they are out of season, but as a by-product of searching for a good pork-in-bitter-orange-sauce dish, I found several recipes that said that one could successfully substitute a combination of half non-bitter orange and half lime juice for the bitter orange juice. The pork at Sol Azteca is in a fairly thin sauce that is not overly complex, though it is very good. After looking at various recipes, considering my new supply of Vidalia onions, and some of what passes for deep thought at the chez anapestic, I decided that what I really wanted was to make a mole.

I already have a perfectly wonderful red mole recipe from a cookbook by one or the other of the former Silver Palate chefs, but I thought it would be fun to come up with one of my own (that recipe also takes a long time to make because there are so many ingredients that have to be fried separately). I would have preferred to use a piece of pork that requires somewhat longer cooking, but all of the pork of that description at Costco came in pieces of over ten pounds, that just struck me as ridiculous. Fortunately, they also had some very nice looking pork tenderloins. These also came in fairly large packages, but each package had two smaller packages inside it, and each of these smaller packages had two tenderloins. (In the unlikely event that you don't already know, I will mention here that a pork tenderloin -- unsurprisingly -- is a much smaller thing than a beef tenderloin. A pork tenderloin tends to be in the 1.5 - 2 pound range.) It was an easy matter to put one of the smaller packages in the freezer. I had invited a friend for dinner on Monday evening, and I figured that I would cook two of the tenderloins, with the idea that we would eat most of one for dinner, and I would have the other for leftovers on Tuesday and for dinner with L. on Wednesday, and also some for lunch, perhaps.

As is my custom, I will give here the recipe as I should have made it, rather than exactly as I did make it. I will say, however, that I pretty much knocked this one out of the park on the first swing, and the only difference is that as I actually made it, I used too much of the not-quite-finished mole as a marinade, with the result that a lot of it got left behind in the bag and eventually in the garbage rather than ending up in someone's stomach or left over in the frig for another day. Live and learn, right? I served the pork and mole with some of my zucchini pancakes and with some basmati rice that I cooked with onion, garlic, butter, olive oil, chicken stock, and a few threads of saffron.

Pork Tenderloins in Citrus-Based Mole

3 T. olive oil
1 T. annatto seeds
2 dried mulato chiles, stem and seeds removed
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
2 t. ground cumin
2.5 cups chopped Vidalia onion
3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 c. apple cider

Two pork tenderloins
salt and pepper

1 Tablespoon Honey

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the annatto seeds and cook until the oil is dark red, about three to five minutes. Remove the seeds from the oil and discard them. (Chasing the annatto seeds around the pot to get them out is the only really difficult part of this recipe, and it's not so much difficult as tedious. I suppose that you could just pour the oil and seeds through a strainer and then pour the oil back into the saucepan.)

Add the rest of the oil to the saucepan, and give it half a minute to heat back up. Add the dried chiles to the saucepan and cook for a minute on each side. Add the salt, cumin, and pepper, and cook for another minute or so. Add the onions, stir thoroughly to coat them with the oil and spices, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the saucepan. Cook for another five minutes, stirring once in the middle of that time. Add the garlic, stir well, and cook for two minutes more, still on medium-low. Add the orange and lime juices, stir, and turn the heat to medium-high until the mixture comes to a slow boil. Then turn the heat back to medium-low, cover the pan, and let simmer for fifteen minutes.

Add the cider, stir, and then puree the sauce, using your immersion blender. You could also put everything into a standard blender and puree it that way. Let the mole cool.

When the mole is approaching room temperature, butterfly the pork tenderloins so that they are of a more-or-less even thickness throughout. Season the tenderloins with salt and pepper, then put them in a one-gallon plastic food storage bag (or use a non-reactive bowl, if you'd rather). Dump enough of the mole to coat the tenderloins into the bag, close it, and squish the mixture around with your hands for a bit. Put the bag in the refrigerator so that the tenderloins can marinate, preferably overnight. Put the rest of the mole in a bowl in the refrigerator.

When you are about ready to cook the tenderloins, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a skillet on the stove and preheat it to medium high. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade, leaving as much marinade as possible in the bag and not on the pork. Put some olive oil in the skillet, and cook the tenderloins for three minutes on each side so that they brown nicely. Then transfer them to a shallow pan, and put them in the oven. Put the reserved marinade and any marinade left in the skillet into a heavy saucepan, and bring it to a low boil, taking care not to scorch it. Add the honey and stir well, then taste and correct seasoning.

When the tenderloins reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove them from the oven, and let them sit for fifteen minutes to regroup. Then slice them to your desired thickness. Put the sliced pork into the saucepan with the mole, stir to coat the pieces, then remove them to a platter. Serve the rest of the sauce on the side.

There are, of course, a lot of things that you could change about this recipe. To begin with, while the mole/marinade (when you say "marinade", you must pronounce it the same way the French do; the Julia Child voice is optional but extremely helpful) does a lot for the pork, the pork doesn't really add anything to the sauce, and you could certainly use the mole to equal effect with boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or the pieces from a whole chicken, though you might have to alter the cooking method slightly).

I used mulato chiles because they looked good at the supermarket. They have a complex and wonderful flavor, but they are definitely on the mild side. If you want more heat then substitute another sort of pepper. This site appears to be a pretty useful guide to the heat levels of the various dried chiles. You could also use the mulatos and add as much as you like of a second, spicier chile.

The apple cider was a last-minute addition when it became painfully obvious that there was not enough liquid in the mixture for the immersion blender to function. I did not want to add water, and I had a bottle of clear cider in the pantry. You could easily substitute another liquid (beer, perhaps), or use more of the citrus juice, though you would then likely need more honey. The honey itself, like everything, is to taste. Given the tanginess of the protomole, I had expected to use more and was pleasantly surprised when I had just enough after adding the first tablespoon, which, to be entirely candid, I did not measure exactly.

My theory with adding the honey at the end was that something more acidic would make a better marinade. I don't know whether that's true, but having more sugar on the meat when you sear it could make it burn more easily and adding it at the end certainly worked well. When I first tasted the marinade (i.e., before adding it to the pork or the honey to it), I thought that perhaps I would eventually wish that I had fried some banana into the sauce after the dried chiles but before the onions. After adding the honey on the second day, however, I think I will leave well enough alone.

After leaving too much of the marinade in the bag and cooking the rest, I ended up with only about two-thirds of a cup of mole that wasn't clinging to the pork. Fortunately, mole freezes very well, and I have a lot more Vidalia onions, oranges, and limes, so I'll likely be making a larger batch later in the week and putting it in the freezer. I had some other plans for the cherries, but it appears likely that I will just eat most of them out of hand.


Blogger David said...

I made minestrone soup, once.

12:07 PM  
Blogger anapestic said...

I think I went to the gym once, david, so we're even.

12:19 PM  

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