Soho Slumming Pernil Stir-fry

In food on 03/29/2009 at 8:29 pm

Two places we eat whenever we’re tourist-ing it up shopping in Soho are Two Boots Pizzeria and La Conquista. Well, actually, the other half had never been to the latter but I had. La Conquista is a Dominican dive that is the last stand for culture and real ethnicity in the Soho area, where the setup along Broadway is basically an outdoor shopping mall, like a poor man’s Rodeo Drive. Boutiques have been pushed to the outer periphery, likewise with cheap eats.

The only thing I miss about working in Washington Heights is the easy access to Spanish food, the cafeteria-style stuff where you point and they just fill up a big tin container. There used to be a great place hidden behind the Dallas BBQ across from my building, but then it closed before my tenure was up. It was replaced by a vegetarian deli. Nothing beats the pernil I once had on the side of the highway in Puerto Rico though. The setup was in a mail truck where a whole roasted pig was impaled on a tool shop machine which chopped it like butter. The crispy skin mmm…

La Conquista is that type of place and I love it. For $7.50, you pick whatever is on the steam table, any combo and the old guy just piles it on. One order is enough for two hungry hungry hippos. There’s chicken and beef guisados, oxtail, spaghetti, some sort of egg potato hash, roast chicken and pernil, which is the one I usually get, with yellow rice and black beans. The other half forbade me from getting the beans this time though, which is fine since then the dude gave us an extra maduro. To eat, we take it around the corner, sit on some steps and eat the mound of food boho-style. The Crosby Street cobblestone ambience adds to the glamour, I think.

Pernil with yellow rice is one of those classic dishes no one has time to make these days. Even me. Plus my main beef with European oven roasting is it dries proteins out. You spend $20 on a nice hunk of pork shoulder and you wind up being able to eat 1/3 of it. I much prefer the Asian stir-fry method where the most flavor is infused in the shortest amount of time, and the most quantity is left intact. Sure there’s no Oo-Ah moment when you present the massive hunk of meat, but you eat it sliced up in pieces anyways. Daisy Martinez taught me the Puerto Rican version, which seems exactly like the Dominican one. This is an adaptation of her recipe.

Pernil Ingredients:
skin-on pork shoulder, sliced or julienned (or to skip the work, get some pork belly, the best combo of fatty with tender flesh, easily found at Chinese meat marts)

Marinade: (Adobo Mojado)
garlic cloves
salt and pepper
dried oregano
olive oil
white wine vinegar

To make the adobo: Grate garlic and mix with other ingredients of marinade.
Marinate pork in plastic bag at least 1 hour.

Heat skillet with olive oil, and stir-fry pieces of pork until brown and fragrant. Spoon on top of yellow rice, if you have time, or just regular white when you’re in a hurry. Dress with cilantro.

Yellow Rice Ingredients:
Achiote Oil
sofrito (chopped onion, green pepper, garlic, tomato, cilantro – then blended)
alcaparrado (coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives and capers)
salt and pepper
ground cumin
2 bay leaves
long grain white rice
chicken broth (or sub with water and drizzle of olive oil)

Heat the achiote oil in a skillet (see note below on how to make). Stir in sofrito and cook until most of the water is evaporated. Add the alcaparrado or olives, salt, cumin, pepper, and bay leaves, stirring to combine. When the mixture is bubbling, add the rice, stirring to coat and to fix the color to the rice. Transfer to rice cooker. Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the rice by the width of two fingers or just follow the marks on the side of the vessel.

Annatto seeds, achiote, are small irregularly shaped, deep reddish colored seeds about the size of a lentil. They grow in pods but are sold loose in jars in the spice aisle. Steeping achiote in hot olive oil for a few minutes will do more than give the oil a brilliant orange-gold color; it will infuse it with a nutty, delicate aroma.

Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small skillet over medium heat just until the seeds give off a lively, steady sizzle. Don’t overheat the mixture or the seeds will turn black and the oil a nasty green. Once they’re sizzling away, pull the pan from the heat and let stand until the sizzling stops. Fish out the seeds. Ready to use.

el dive-o

  1. i work in soho and am constantly frustrated by the over-priced mediocre food. great blog, and thanks for the suggestions. best, a

  2. Let us know if you find any other good dives in Soho. 😀

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