A dish so good you might get whacked for making it
“Not knowing how to eat is like not knowing how to fuck” says Texan film director Robert Rodriguez, whose five hyperactive children (with names like Rebel, Racer and Rocket) provide at least some testament to his ability with the latter. Essentially not cooking would be to deny yourself one of life’s great pleasures. Rodriguez insists that, given that you have to eat every day, it would be pretty dumb not to be able at least to do a decent job of the basics.
Rodriguez, who made his first movie, El Mariachi, for $7,000 earned through selling his body for medical science, has become known for his fast panning cameras, quick cuts and B-movie style south of the border pulp fiction he dubs “Mexploitation”. Directing 16 movies in the 20 years since El Mariachi (not to mention contributions to multiple other films from Pulp Fiction to Scream 2 to Hot Fuzz), Rodriguez is always busy. Costs have generally been kept low through Rodriguez writing, directing, editing and composing the music, with a typical credit reading “Shot, Chopped and Scored by Robert Rodriguez”. Because of this “one-man film crew” style, the DVDs of Rodriguez’s films have typically featured an extra called “10 Minute Film School” in which the director shows his fans how to make their own guerrilla style low budget films. From third and final part of the El Mariachi trilogy Once Upon a Time in Mexico onwards, this feature has been joined by a “10 Minute Cooking School” outlining Rodriguez’s “good cooking is easy and possible for anyone” approach.
Once Upon a Time…, as with its predecessor Desperado, stars Antonio Banderas as the vengeful mariachi turned mercenary who carries a guitar case full of guns, this time out for revenge against the General who killed his wife (Salma Hayek). In this film, though, the whole show is stolen by Johnny Depp as the corrupt CIA meddler Agent Sands. Coming out at the same time that Pirates of the Caribbean turned Depp from the weirdo star of strange, leftfield indies to the A-list lead of some of the biggest movies of all time, it’s the perfect point where his quirkiness became populist without lapsing into something a little repetitive. Anti-hero Sands is the kind of CIA operative who goes around in a T-shirt that reads: “CIA: Cleavage Inspection Agency”, has a fake arm so he can shoot people below the table, and ends the movie with his eyes gouged out gunning down the bad guys through the sound of them laughing at him. One of Sands many quirks has him ordering the same slow roast pork dish everywhere he eats in Mexico. This being a violent slice of pulp fiction, you can kind of guess that this restaurant regularity doesn’t necessarily end well.
The puerco pibil (a variant of the traditional Mexican dish of “cochinita pibil“, meaning “buried baby pig”, as the traditional way of cooking involved burying a whole suckling pig in a fire pit) that sends Sands “loco” provides Rodriguez with a perfect opportunity for the inaugural episode of his cooking school, outlining a recipe that, he says, will help you impress your friends for only a little extra effort.
The process involved in making the recipe is mostly one of having a decent amount of time to marinade the meat and then have hours to cook it. Basically it requires all day, but most of that is waiting time. As Rodriguez says in the video, it’s only really a little bit of extra effort. Mainly it just requires a marinade of citrus fruits and spices.
Starting with the meat, then, “pork butt” doesn’t mean what you might think it does (that whole rear end area is just known as “leg”). The butt in this case is, rather, the upper area of the shoulder. As for the marinade, most of the ingredients are fairly simple – orange juice, lemons, vinegar. Of the spices I have plenty of peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves and allspice, but annatto seeds are a little bit less commonplace. In fact, they weren’t something that were readily available at the supermarket either. Fortunately, there’s a specific spice store in town that has every spice you’ve ever heard of and plenty more that you haven’t, so I was able to pick up everything I needed. The final ingredient that really kicks it up into “a dish so good you might get whacked for making it” is the tequila. In the video Rodriguez says to use the best tequila you can find, which I interpreted liberally as “the best tequila that is actually from Mexico and costs around £20 or less”. I don’t drink a lot of tequila, so this is just going to join my already expansive collection of alcohol that only ever gets used for cooking (see the limoncello from last month’s cake).
Regular readers may remember during chocolate month when I bought a coffee grinder with the hope that it would be adequate for grinding cocoa nibs. It wasn’t. But now that Rodriguez was suggesting grinding the spices in a grinder that doesn’t get used for coffee, I finally had a use for it that it may be more suited for. Sure enough, the coffee-but-not-really-coffee grinder proved rather more up for the task of grinding the puerco pibil spice mix than it had with chocolate, meaning that making the marinade was pretty plain sailing.
When it came to cooking the pork I had to admit defeat on the availability of banana leaves in Yorkshire in mid-September and just wrap the meat in foil. After last week’s slow cooking disaster I approached another slow cooked meat with understandable trepidation, but all I could do was not turn the oven up too high, wrap the foil up and hope for the best.
Four hours later, I had a chance to redeem myself from last week’s failure when I unwrapped the pork to reveal the kind of meltingly soft texture I had been hoping the Julia Child recipe would give me. It wasn’t the most challenging recipe that I’ve ever made here, but I was pretty pleased with the textures and flavours this Mexploitation hit achieves.
Obviously I didn’t get shot for making it, but that’s not to say that the diner I served this version to wasn’t pleasingly impressed. In the movie Sands talks about the need to shoot the cook to restore balance in Mexico. With this successful piece of slow cooked meat I feel that balance has been restored round here too, last week has been cancelled out!
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: This tasted incredible. It’s a shame it takes so long to marinade and cook, or I’d demand it weekly. It’s also a real shame there wasn’t more of it. Next time we need a shoulder from a bigger pig.
Next week’s movie month meal will be from The Lord of the Rings