A couple weeks ago, SideChef hosted a happy hour at the YouTube space in Los Angeles. Hundreds of people showed up to eat, drink, mix, and mingle, and I had the opportunity to prepare an appetizer to share with everyone!
I adore all braised meats I’ve crossed paths with, from short ribs to leg of lamb. Braising is a classic cooking method that turns a humongous cut of meat into a melty, juicy wonder. The first thing I ever braised was short ribs – it felt like such an achievement to serve it at the dinner table atop a laborious risotto and gave me one of my first real jolts of confidence in the kitchen.
One of the best things about braising is how foolproof it actually is, which makes it a wonderful beginning adventure for an aspiring cook. All you need is a sturdy Dutch or French oven, a lazy afternoon, and a little patience!
Many braises begin with a mirepoix – the trifecta of carrots, celery, and onion – but I opted to skip it in favor of amplifying the smoky and citrusy Mexican flavors in this dish. The pork gets a nice rub down with warming spices like smoked paprika and cumin, and then it gets seared until it forms a nice crust. Next, it relaxes in a warm bath filled with citrus, tomatoes, and chipotle in adobo until it literally falls apart.
The slaw mirrors the smokiness and citrus in the pork and adds a pop of freshness that balances the whole thing out. I’m a sucker for radishes!
I have to say a few things about the polenta. I loved serving the pork on the crispy squares, but I think this dish would be amazing served with a bowl of soft, cheesy polenta. To do that, you’d want to stop cooking the polenta before it gets super stiff and serve it right away.
If you choose to forge ahead and make the crispy bites, which is an excellent choice particularly if you’re serving this appetizer-style, you have a couple of options which I detail below. I tried both to great success! I recommend going the griddle route if you’re only making what the recipe calls for, but if you’re increasing it at all or want to be a bit more efficient, try baking them.
You really can’t go wrong either way!
And now, I leave you with a final glamour shot:
- FOR THE PORK:
- 4 lb pork shoulder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1¼ tsp salt
- 1 12 oz beer
- 1 14oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
- 3 tbsp chipotle in adobo liquid
- 2 chipotles in adobo
- 1 orange
- 1 lime
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- FOR THE POLENTA BITES:
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup coarse polenta grits
- salt, to taste
- FOR THE SLAW:
- 1 bunch radishes
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 lime, juice and zest
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 cara cara orange, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 bunch cilantro
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- flaky salt, such as Maldon
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Combine the dry spices for the pork in a small bowl.
- Cut the pork into 2 or 3 big chunks. Trim any excess fat. Season all sides of the pork with the spice mixture.
- Heat 1 tbsp cooking oil in a large dutch or french oven over medium high heat. When it’s good and hot, put one of the chunks of pork shoulder in the center and allow it to brown. Don’t move it around - when it’s ready to turn, it will easily release from the pan. When the first side is browned, turn it over and brown the next side. Repeat the process until the entire piece of meat is browned.
- Transfer the meat to a plate while you brown the second chunk of meat. When it’s done, transfer it to to the plate.
- Juice the orange and lime. Toss out the lime. Reserve the orange and cut into quarters.
- Turn the heat up to high and pour in the beer, can of tomatoes, juice, orange, chipotles, and chipotle liquid. Bring it to a low boil and then carefully return the meat to the pot. Pop the lid on and transfer it to the preheated oven. Let the meat braise for at least 2 hours and up to 3.
- When the meat is done, remove it from the braising liquid. If the liquid is very thin, boil it for 5 minutes to reduce it. Allow to cool a little before pureeing in a blender.
- Return the pureed braising liquid to the pot. Shred the pork and mix it into the sauce. Adjust seasonings as desired (you'll probably want to add a little salt).
- Prepare 1 cup coarse polenta according to package instructions.
- When the polenta is very stiff, stir in 1 tbsp butter and 1½ cups grated aged cheddar cheese.
- Spread the polenta with a spatula onto a parchment lined sheet pan, aiming for ½-inch thickness. Place in the fridge to cool for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, start prepping the slaw: chop the cilantro, slice the radishes, peel the orange and slice it into thin segments.
- Toast 1 tbsp cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant.
- Juice and zest 1 lime.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, zest, cumin seeds, and 1 tbsp honey. Whisk in 3 tbsp. grape seed oil.
- Combine the orange segments, radishes, cilantro, and dressing in a bowl. Add salt to taste.
- You can prepare the polenta bites in a couple of different ways - I tried both and liked both methods! Start by slicing the polenta into 3-inch squares, then proceed as desired:
- Griddle method: Heat 3 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat on a cast iron griddle. When the butter melts and the griddle is hot, fry the squares on each side until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to crisp up and cool.
- Baking method: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and arrange the squares 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Place under the broiler for a minute to brown further if needed.
- Assemble the bites by placing a spoonful of pork on each polenta square, followed by the slaw. Garnish with a pinch of Maldon.