Can it be that I have never, ever done a blog post on Calabacita con Puerco? How can that be? It was easily the top-requested dish for pot-luck events and staff birthdays when I was still working. New employees to the department and to the library quickly learned that in our world, Calabacita was a breakfast item, dammit. And if you didn’t get your bowl by 8:30 a.m. or so, you were out of luck. And just forget waiting for lunch, ’cause by then that sucker was history.
A Facebook friend posted yesterday that she was making Calabacita for lunch, and I immediately went into Calabacita-envy mode. So I made some today.
My recipe for this dish has evolved over the years. I pretty much make it the same way every time now, though, because I have gotten it to the point where I like it and don’t want to change it anymore. I still might do something like change the kind of squash I put in, according to what looks good and what’s on sale, but otherwise, the recipe is set. This time I used zucchini because it was fresh and on sale. I also enjoy yellow summer squash in it, or the Mexican summer squash we see here from time to time.
The most important thing to remember in this recipe is to layer flavors. Brown your meat thoroughly in small batches, until you get a good fond, because that is what gives flavor and depth and color to the stew. Also, I use about 2 cups or so of water in this recipe, so what I do is fill up the tomato can with water, dislodging any tomato bits and juice left in the can, then put that water into the mortar I use to grind up the garlic and cumin seeds, thus washing the last bits of goodness from the mortar. This liquid is what I add to the stew. Sometimes I use canned corn instead of the frozen, and the juice from that and from the canned tomatoes become part of the stew, as well.
Don’t laugh at my Dutch oven. It’s over 30 years old and still turning out yummy stuff.
Just know that even though it doesn’t look like there’s much liquid in there to start off, the squash will give up its delicious juices and it will be perfect. Don’t add too much water, because the liquid you want is the stuff that comes from the vegetables themselves. It’s all about the flavor layers, y’all.
And finally, long, slow cooking is the key to success for this and any stew, as well as the cut of meat. A stew meat with a lot of connective tissue is imperative, because the long slow cooking breaks down this tissue and makes the meat fork-tender. A good cut of meat will not work–it will just toughen up and ruin the meat. I usually buy a package labeled “Pork Stew Meat” for convenience, but barring that, you can buy a pork shoulder roast and cut it up yourself.
Calabacita con Puerco
1 1/2 lb. pork stew meat, cubed
2 Tablespoons oil
a little flour, to dredge the meat
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn, or an equal amount of frozen
4 zucchini, cubed
2-3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
salt to taste
Pour the oil into a Dutch oven or large frying pan with a lid, and heat over high heat. Dredge the meat cubes with the flour and add them to the pan, in batches if necessary, being careful not to crowd. Fry the meat until it has a nice brown color. Remove from the pan and repeat with additional batches, if necessary.
While the meat is browning, place the garlic, cumin seed, and salt in a mortar and mash to a paste. Set aside.
When all the meat is browned, return it to the pan and add the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the pan deglazes. Add the garlic and cumin mixture, the tomatoes, the corn, and the squash. Add about 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and cook on the lowest temperature for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
Serve with Mexican rice and flour or corn tortillas.