I thought long and hard about what I wanted to eat the night before my half marathon. Carbo load with some pasta? I was nervous to do something like that in case I ate too much or it disagreed with me or what have you. I figured that I’d just make something I would normally eat (I mean, I’d run 11 mile training runs with no real thought on food). I did up the carb content, though. I served this dish with tostones (ooh those plantains again!) and arepas. I would rather eat arepas than pasta ANY day. They’re Venezuelan corn cakes, essentially. Oh yum.
The half marathon was brutal. We were running into gusting wind the whole second half of the race. It killed me. Cars get horrible gas mileage when you’re driving into the wind. Same freakin’ thing here. So, I don’t know if I ate the right thing. Maybe pasta would have powered me through. I also don’t think I ate a big enough breakfast. Ugh, so complicated. I averaged 10 minutes per mile. So much slower than I was aiming for. I was doing about 9:30 minute miles on training runs. I was hoping that I could do low 9 minutes for the race. Darn.
For this recipe, all I really care that you do is make the marinade. I don’t care if you use pork shoulder, chops, loin, or even chicken. Country style ribs were on sale at my grocery store, and I’ve never made them before, so it was a good opportunity. The marinade is southern Mexican inspired. It’s similar to a famous dish called cochinita pibil, but to do that right, you’ve got to roast a whole suckling pig. Eek! The basic marinade is comprised of an acidic juice and then achiote, or annatto. I’ve used just orange juice here, but I’d like to try adding lemon and lime next time. Achiote can be found in the Mexican section of your grocery store or maybe a well-stocked spice section. It might be in seed form, a paste, or ground.
The pickled onions can be pickled for as little or as long as you’d like. The recipe I used says to pickle for 12 hours. I did probably 3 and they were delicious. I’ve made pickled onions that I had sit in vinegar for probably less than an hour and I still think they’re good. I aspire to pickle more vegetables. There are a few nice bars around here that serve house-made pickled veggies and they’re just lightly pickled, super crisp, and you can taste all the pickling spices they use. Love it.
Feel free to cook the pork in a way that suits you best. You could do these in a slow cooker. You could also slow roast them on the grill, in the oven, or do the combination of oven and grill like I did. Using the grill is really nice to get that crisp outside. You could also do a quick pan sear.
yucatecan country style pork ribs with pickled onions
adapted from Gourmet, serves 4-5
note: Mexican oregano might be hard to find, but check your Mexican section at the grocery store
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced then chopped
1 or 2 serrano or habañero chiles, seeded, deveined, and very finely chopped
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Mix together all ingredients in a bowl and let stand for several hours, refrigerated.
note: if all you find are achiote seeds, grind the seeds along with the toasted spices in step one
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons achiote (annatto) powder
6 large garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
3 pounds of country style pork ribs
1/2 cup water
1. In a small, heavy skillet toast cumin, allspice, and peppercorns over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. It’s easiest to notice the toast on the cumin seeds, so keep an eye on those to make sure they’re not burning. Finely grind toasted spices in a coffee/spice grinder.
2. In a large baking dish, mix garlic, spice mixture, oregano, orange juice, and vinegar. Add pork and rub meat all over with marinade. You can also marinate the pork in a large ziploc baggie. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 2 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring pork to room temperature. If you marinated in a plastic bag, transfer to a large baking dish. Add water and cover tightly with foil. Bake in middle of oven until very tender, about 2 hours. Then, preheat your grill to medium. Grill the ribs for about 15-20 minutes, or until nice and crisp on the outside, brushing frequently with the marinade.
Serve the pork ribs with tons of pickled onions. You can top with cilantro, serve with plantains, or if you’re running a half marathon the next morning, go for some arepas! Simple grilled veggies would be perfect, too.
I had a request to post the recipe for the arepas I made along with the pork. The way I made them this time isn’t really the way they’re usually made. Normally they’re pretty thick and sliced 3/4 of the way through to fill with meat and cheese, kind of like pita bread. I have an arepa maker that my good friend Ricardo gave me when I left Boston that makes them perfect, but I just decided to fry them up like little patties this time. They’re both good. The key to making arepas is in the corn flour you use. It should be precooked corn flour – sold as masarepa, masa al instante, or harina precocida. I’m not really sure how to make them without precooked corn meal. I imagine if you boil masa harina with water you could use that, kind of like making polenta. Most well-stocked Latino sections of grocery stores should have some sort of instant corn flour.
3 cups whole milk (you can use water, too… or hmm, coconut milk might be awesome!)
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups arepa flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely grated cotija or crumbled queso fresco (optional – you could melt it on top of the arepa, too)
2 1/2 tablespoons lard or butter
1. Bring milk (or water) to a simmer in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and reserve 1/2 cup in a small bowl. Add butter to remaining 2 1/2 cups hot milk and stir until melted.
2. In a large bowl, mix arepa flour, salt, and cheese in a large bowl. Add hot milk with butter and stir until combined. Let mixture stand until milk is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes (dough will be soft; it will continue to stiffen as it stands).
3. Form patties, about 1/2-inch thick and the size of your palm. Add reserved milk if dough becomes too dry and stiff.
4. Heat 1/2 tablespoon fat in a large skillet over moderately low heat until hot, then cook arepas in batches, turning over once, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes total. Add more fat to skillet between batches as needed.