Because of a high member turnout, instead of our usual hands-on experience in the club’s kitchen we were seated, classroom style, in front of exhibition tables. Jayce kept the margaritas flowing, while Chef introduced the event and his assistant, Lupe. We were also “warned” that the secret ingredient of the day would be good, old-fashioned lard. Although Chef uses healthier substitutions for when he cooks for the general population of club members, he maintained that no substitute provides the authentic flavor that he remembers from his grandmother’s cooking. Our attitude was, “Bring it on!”
|L: Chef Richard with his secret ingredient...Lard|
R: Culinary Society members during the cooking exhibition
For the next several hours, we were introduced to ingredients, techniques, and flavors authentic to Mexico. We had corn and flour tortillas made from scratch, pork carnitas, chilaquiles (breakfast tacos), refried beans and rice, beef tongue tacos, chiles relleños, tamales de pollo (in both corn husks and banana leaves), and braised chicken in black mole sauce. The mole sauce was a revelation. I’ve always loved it, but I had no idea of the complexity of the ingredients, which surprisingly include (among 25 other things) a bit of chocolate and banana. What a labor of love!
Our sincere thanks to Chef Richard, who created a memorable event and provided a wonderful handout with information and recipes. Here’s his recipe for my personal favorite:
1 gallon lard for frying (or peanut oil)
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt (cubed)
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 large onions, quartered
3 whole garlic cloves
1 whole orange
1 can Coke (optional)
1 can Coke (optional)
Heat the lard in a deep roasting pan over medium heat. Stir in the pork, bay leaves, salt, pepper, onions, and garlic. Squeeze the orange into the mixture and drop in the orange halves. Add more lard if needed, to cover all the ingredients.
Cook until the pork is tender enough to pull apart with a fork, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (If you want to add a sweet finish to the pork, put the Coke in now and cook for another 2 minutes. Heat must still be on medium or the sugar in the Coke with burn.) Discard the orange, onion, and garlic; strain the pork cubes from the lard using a slotted spoon.