Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in the Rio Grande Valley

This year's Christmas has been a harrowing one for reasons I'm not really ready or willing to discuss in such a public space. However, this Christmas season still allowed me to cook a little. Originally my mother and I had planned on preparing two dishes: a roasted pork leg and bacalao (salt cod). We were going to prepare the pork leg adobada and the bacalao Spanish style, but like I said, circumstances got in the way of that. Instead, I ended up making the pork leg with a mustard, garlic, and herb rub and slow roasting it in the oven. I also made a mushroom risotto as a side. The rest of the sides were made by my mother-in-law.

I knew the pork leg would take all day to cook. The thing was HUGE! It was easily 20 to 25 lbs. Most people have no idea how big pigs truly are. The first thing I prepared was the rub for the pork leg. Originally I was going to use fresh garlic and herbs. However, when I went to the grocery store the fresh herbs were insanely expensive. Instead I opted for dried herbs. Even those were a bit overpriced. I decided in the end to just use what my mother-in-law had on hand. I did manage to acquire fresh garlic, parsley and some spicy brown mustard. To make the rub I combined the entire 16 OZ bottle of mustard, one bunch of chopped parsley, an entire head of garlic, about a cup of oil, salt and pepper and a garlic and rosemary seasoning blend I found in the cupboard. As a chef you learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. When the rub was completed, I placed the leg on a roasting pan large enough to hold it lined with foil (for easy clean up). I completely rubbed the pork and whatever leftover rub I had I placed on the bottom of the pan with about a half cup of water. I then covered it with foil and then placed the leg in a 275° F oven. The pork leg went in about 10:30am.

The leg cooked all day. About 12:30 or 1pm I kicked the oven up to 300°. Approximately an hour after that I had my wife remove the foil. It was at 4pm, an hour before I anticipated the pork would be done, that I started to make the risotto. Now a lot of people consider risotto to be difficult to make. While it does require a bit of patience, it is no more difficult to make than a regular pot of rice. The first step was to heat my fat in the pan I was making the risotto in. I used a combination of butter and olive oil(about 3 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp oil) . While the fat was heating up, I also was heating up my liquid. I used a combination of chicken and beef broth. When making risotto it is important to use hot liquid. Once the fat was hot I started to sauté the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were soft, I added the rice (about 3cups). For risotto you want to use Arborio rice. I stirred the rice allowing all the grains to be coated in fat. After that I added about a cup of dry white wine. I stirred the mixture allowing the rice to absorb the wine. When the wine had been mostly absorbed, I started to slowly add my hot broth. Now the key to making risotto is to keep stirring as you add your liquid and to add the liquid slowly. You have to give the rice time to absorb the liquid. The risotto is done when it is creamy and the rice is tender. After you reach this step season the risotto with salt and pepper. You can also add parmesan cheese if you'd like. Since I did not have any, I left it out.

Once the risotto was done I pulled the pork leg out of the oven. It looked and smelled wonderful. The pork leg still had the skin on it so it had a nice layer of fat to keep the meat moist. The flavor of the rub had penetrated the meat. I will admit that if I had had a chance to let the rub sit for longer it would have had a deeper flavor. The meat around the bone of the leg was also a little under done, but I was not worried about that since I was carving the outside first. After dinner I put the leg back in the oven to allow it to cook some more. The risotto also turned really well. It was creamy and rich with the flavor of mushrooms.

As stated earlier my mother-in-law made some other things. She made a pot of pinto beans and some chicken in gravy as well as a side of green beans. As you can see we had a veritable smorgasbord for Christmas dinner.

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