Tuesday, June 14, 2011


 Due to the events of the weekend, I ended up with a very large pork shoulder in my refrigerator. A VERY LARGE PORK SHOULDER.  It had been rubbed with every chile in my spice drawer, and it took up nearly half a shelf of the fridge. There had been a dinner party in the works for Saturday night, a benefit for Joey and the girls' school that involved the pork shoulder, and when the kiddo got sick, the plans changed. But Sunday morning, I awoke, bleary-eyed and relieved at Sadie's lack of fever, to see the pork shoulder sitting there. And it was a little tragic--all that meat and no big party to enjoy it.

That problem is easily solved, of course.

There is nothing like a sick kiddo getting better to make me feel endlessly thankful for everything.

And so, all day long, we shuffled around in our socks. Joey made art. I organized my desk. Maia played piano. Sadie ventured outside and Rosie spun her around on the swing. 

And through it all, that pork shoulder in its evening gown of spice made its way through the day,  bubbling away in a gentle bath of chicken broth.  An extra chile and a bay leaf were tucked into the pan as its only accessories. And the smell fed us, good fat and red chile and the aroma of an anticipated full belly.

At four o'clock we transferred the pan to the counter, and the shoulder fell apart as we snuck bites of meat. I turned the heat up on the spicy stocky sauce, and it steamed out its water until it was dark and thick.   Shredded meat in the sauce, homemade tortillas, radishes.

 Lissa and Mark and Will showed up. Joey and Mark talked about baseball and The Kinks. Will entertained the girls as only a 15-year-old boy can.  Lissa started the guacamole.

We didn't even need forks. And Sadie, cheered by the fact that I had told her she was in the clear to go to school the next day, had her third pork taco.

I was having tea with a friend of mine last week who's in her early twenties. She's living alone, on the brink of some transitions, and she's working a lot out right now. We were talking about the feeling when you are medicating yourself with food, and she said she'd been struggling with that in the past weeks.  She always been a food lover--all through her teens she cooked and baked and traveled and enjoyed food. And as we talked, I was thinking about that phrase, "medicating with food." I've certainly used it, and I've absolutely done it. And I think that so often, it's looked at as a negative thing. We need love, or inspiration, or comfort, and so often food does the trick. And in times in the past when I've done this more, I know that I've started to hate food and to feel like I should avoid it altogether.

Nasty cycle, that one. 

And so, as we ate our cake and drank our tea, we talked about how important it is, through that frustration, to keep loving food. To remember that there are very few things so wonderful as a really good meal.

I think that after all, food really is medicine.

serves many, for days

One 5 to 7 pound pork shoulder (ask your butcher or farmer for the pork shoulder, usually they hide it in the back and give it to you for not much money)
1/2 cup chile powder, or some combination of chile powders, if, like me, you collect chile powders
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoons salt (or wood smoked salt, if, like me, you collect unusual salt)
fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
1 dried d'arbol chile
1 bay leaf

Three days before you intend to cook it, rinse and dry the pork shoulder. Combine the chile powder, oregano, salt, and pepper in a bowl, and then massage the mixture into every sensual curve and crevasse of that beautiful piece of meat. Keep rubbing until the entire thing is very covered in the mixture, and then rub a bit more just because you might be enjoying yourself. Put the shoulder in a casserole dish, lightly cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for three days. Admire it regularly over that time. It will make it more tender in the end.

Take the pork out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large cast iron skillet or roasting pan, heat the olive oil.  Drop a bit of water in the oil, and when it sizzles, it's ready. Put the pork shoulder into the pan, and let sit for about 3 minutes, or until browned. Repeat with the remaining sides of the shoulder as much as you are able.  Remove the shoulder from the pan and let it rest on a plate.

Pour the chicken stock into the hot pan, then bring to a boil.  Scrape any brown bits that have gathered in the bottom of the pan so that they can incorporate into the stock.  Return the pork shoulder to the pan, and tuck the bay leaf and dry chile pepper into the stock. Cover the pan (if the pan has no lid, cover with tin foil.) Transfer to the pan to the preheated oven, and cook for 6 hours. 

Remove the pan from the oven, and transfer the meat to a plate. If it falls apart, you've done well. Put the pan, uncovered, over medium high heat to reduce the stock to a sauce. Let it bubble away until reduced by about half. 

Meanwhile, shred the pork.  Stir the meat into the sauce. 

Invite friends. Ask them to bring cheap Mexican beer. (I prefer Tecate in the can.) Serve on corn tortillas with the toppings that inspire and excite you, including, but not limited to, guacamole, radishes, fresh lime juice, salsa, creme fraiche, queso fresco, lettuce, pea shoots...


  1. WOW YUM!! what were the little balls at the beginning of the post??

  2. Maybe tortilla balls to make tortillas?

  3. You got it. They got pressed in the tortilla press, then thrown on the griddle. So, so good.

  4. Food is medicine. Amen, sister! I can't wait to try out this recipe.

  5. I so need a tortilla press!!