Spicy Pork Stew with Butternut Squash and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Spicy Pork Stew with Butternut Squash and Tomatillo Salsa is from Chef Nancy Silverton's most recent cookbook, Mozza at Home. I didn't set out to make this stew, in fact I hadn't noticed it until I started searching for a dish that could use up my tomatillo haul. After scanning the recipe several Saturdays ago, I realized that just about every ingredient was in my kitchen including a large container of "use it or lose it" homemade stock that was discovered during a pre-holiday freezer purge. The stew moons were aligned.

Verdict? Delicious with an exclamation point. The richness of the spice-rubbed pork is balanced perfectly with the sweet roasted squash and acidity from the tomatillo salsa. Now, I made the entire recipe (aside from the homemade stock) on the same day and our kitchen ended up looking like a bomb had gone off. An efficient clean-as-you-go cook I was not. The mess was worth it, let's be clear. With that in mind, I recommend making the tomatillo salsa the day before - relevant notes below. In terms of ingredients, homemade stock or stock from a local butcher is suggested. It's the base and flavor glue of the dish so you want it to have some depth. Serve the stew with a simple side of buttery rice to soak up every last bit.

Grateful to the 11 farmers and local businesses who contributed to this dish (listed and linked below).

Original vs. Adapted

Pork

The recipe suggests that 3 1/2 pounds of pork shoulder should yield 3 pounds of trimmed pork cubes. I had a 3 1/2 pound pork shoulder and only ended up with about 2 1/4 pounds of cubes. The size of the fat cap and marbling of the pork will impact how many pounds of trimmed meat you end up with. (The fat cap was a bit big on my shoulder and I'm an aggressive trimmer so I probably should have purchased a slightly larger piece.) Overall, I was very happy with the stew but wouldn't mind using about 2 3/4 pounds of cubes in my next attempt.

Salt

I reduced the salt slightly in two steps so that I could adjust as needed later in the process. My changes are noted under "Ingredients".

Lime Juice

The tomatillo salsa recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons (4 1/2 teaspoons) of fresh lime juice but I only used about 3 1/2 teaspoons. All limes were not created equal so I tend to add and taste until I'm happy with the acidity and flavor.

Recipe Tips

Helicopter Cook

For the tomatillo salsa, I give (overly) specific instructions during the broiler step. The vegetables can burn in the blink of an eye so you really need to babysit them.

Make Ahead

  • As mentioned in the intro, the tomatillo salsa can be made the day before. It's nice to have that step out of the way.
  • The stew (everything but the butternut squash) can be made 1-2 days in advance. Relevant notes included under "Instructions".

Oven Considerations

A couple of steps in this recipe involve placing a baking sheet on the oven floor at a high temperature. Here are some additional notes for that:

  • Pizza Stone

I always leave a pizza stone on the floor of my oven so I placed the baking sheet on that instead of the actual oven floor.

  • No Pizza Stone

For whatever reason, I'm hesitant to put anything directly on the bottom of my oven. I imagine it's fine to do since some recipes suggest it, but if I didn't have a pizza stone I would go with the lowest rack possible. Chef's discretion.

  • Electric Oven/Other

If your oven doesn't allow anything to sit on the floor, just move your rack to the lowest possible position and, if you have it, place a pizza stone on the rack.

Tomatillos from Jimenez Family Farm - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Tools

Ingredients (Adapted from Mozza at Home)

Tomatillo Salsa (Can be made the day before.)

  • 10-12 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled (about 1 1/8 ounces)
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, halved or quartered (to keep the pieces even)
  • 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, peeled, root trimmed, and cut into a 3/4-inch dice Note: I just used a "regular" yellow onion.
  • 1/2 lime, cut into two wedges
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons flake-style salt Note: The original recipe suggests 2 teaspoons. Chef's discretion.
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice Note: I used 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon.
  • 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar) Note: I used champagne.

Pork

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flake-style salt Note: The original recipe suggests 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt for 3 pounds of meat. I only had about 2 1/4 pounds of pork cubes so I reduced the salt by 1 teaspoon. Adjust accordingly.
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch cubes (yields about 2 1/2-2 3/4 pounds of cubes) Note: See "Adapted vs. Original" above.

Stew

  • 1 butternut squash (approximately 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (yields about 3 cups)
  • 2 bunches collard greens
  • 6 tablespoons quality olive oil
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons flake-style salt
  • 1 medium yellow Spanish onion, peeled, root trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups) Note: I just used a "regular" yellow onion.
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced 1/2-inch thick on an extreme bias (about 1 heaping cup)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 3/4-5 cups Homemade Chicken or Turkey Stock Note: I ended up using about 3 1/2 cups with the smaller quantities of collard greens and pork. The second time I made this dish (with more pork and greens), I used 4 1/2-5 cups.
  • 15 stems of fresh cilantro
  • 2 árbol chile pods, seeds removed as best as possible
  • 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (included above)

Instructions

Pork

  • In a small pan, toast the seeds over medium heat, shaking frequently. Stop when fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).
  • Set the seeds aside to cool.
  • Cut the pork into 1 1/2 to 2-inch cubes, taking care to trim the large pieces of fat and/or silver skin away.
  • Combine 1 tablespoon flake-style salt, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper in a small bowl.
  • Grind the seeds, then combine them with the cayenne mixture.
  • Pour the spice mixture over the pork cubes and massage into the meat.
  • Refrigerate the meat mixture in a Ziploc bag for up to 2 hours while prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Tomatillo Salsa (Can be made the day before.)

  • Place a pizza stone on the oven floor, adjust a rack just below the broiler, and then pre-heat to 500°F. Note: See also "Oven Considerations" above.
  • Line a baking sheet with foil, add the tomatillos, chopped onion, garlic, and lime wedges. Toss with 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt, then spread out in an even layer.
  • Place the baking sheet on the stone sitting on the floor of the oven and roast for 10 minutes.
  • While the vegetables roast, gather the rest of the salsa ingredients and set up a mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • After 10 minutes, turn the broiler on and carefully move the baking sheet up to the top rack, then rotate the pan 180 degrees. Note: There's quite a bit of hot liquid sloshing around on the pan so take care when maneuvering.
  • After 3 minutes, stir the vegetables thoroughly, making sure to pull all the veggies in from the edge. Pay close attention to the garlic as it will try to burn. Note: The texture will be mushy and watery which is fine.
  • At minutes 4 and 5, stir again.
  • After about 6 minutes, remove the pan from the oven.
  • Using the foil to lift and guide the vegetables, carefully pour everything into your prepared mesh strainer.
  • Drain for about 3 minutes. Note: The tomatillo salsa is a finishing ingredient in your stew so you don’t want it to be too watery.
  • Remove the limes from the strainer and set aside.
  • Transfer the drained vegetables to the food processor and discard the liquid.
  • Scrape the lime flesh into the food processor then discard the rind.
  • Add the 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, vinegar, remaining 1/2 teaspoon flake-style salt, and 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice. Purée until smooth. Adjust lime juice to taste. Note: The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice but I only used about 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Refrigerate the cooled salsa in an airtight container until 30 minutes before you're ready to use it.

Butternut Squash

  • Shave the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and then cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes.
  • Place the squash in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate. It will be a couple of hours until you use it.

Collard Greens

  • Strip the collard leaves from the ribs, tear roughly, then set aside. Note: I ended up with about 7 ounces. The stew would be good with a bit more. I made the stew again and ended up with 9-10 ounces of leaves. This was a good amount.
  • Trim up the ends of the ribs, then slice on an extreme bias into 1/2-inch pieces. About 5 ounces of sliced ribs.

Mis en Place

Remove the pork from the refrigerator and gather together the remaining ingredients for the stew.

Stew

  • Keep a large plate handy.
  • Over a medium-high flame, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven or similar oven-safe pot.
  • Once the oil is shimmering, add half of the pork, increase the heat, and brown the meat (about 7 minutes). Note: Adjust your heat down if the oil gets too hot or appears to be smoking.
  • Transfer the browned pork to the large plate.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of additional olive oil to the pan and sear the rest of the pork (about 7 minutes).
  • While the pork is cooking, place a pizza stone on the oven floor, move a rack to the middle position, then pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
  • Transfer the remaining pork to the large plate.
  • Reduce the flame momentarily if the fond looks like it may burn or smoke.​ Proceed promptly to the next step.
  • Over a medium-high flame, cook the sliced collard ribs, onion, celery, and 1/2-teaspoon flake-style salt for about 10 minutes. Note: As you stir, the vegetables will start to sweat and pick up the fond of the bottom of the pan. That's the good stuff. Reduce the heat if the fond gets too dark.
  • Add the wine to the pan and deglaze, scraping up any brown bits. Reduce the wine by half while continuing to cook over a medium-high flame.
  • Add the collard leaves and 1/8 teaspoon flake-style salt, then cook for 2 minutes until the greens are wilted.
  • Add the pork, all accumulated juices, 15 cilantro stems bound with twine, 2 bay leaves, and 2 dried árbol chiles.
  • Add enough stock to cover the ingredients. It’s OK if a couple of pork cube corners are above the surface.
  • Bring everything to a boil then turn the heat off. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the top of the Dutch oven followed by a piece of heavy-duty foil. Secure the lid in place so that there's a good seal.
  • Place the pot on the middle rack of the oven and cook for about 1 1/2 hours.
  • After 40 minutes of cooking, check on the pork and see how it’s progressing. My meat was pretty tender so I reduced the heat to 325°F in order to cook things lower and slower.

If you want to make the stew a day ahead, stop here, cool the stew, then refrigerate in an airtight container. Roasting the squash and adding the tomatillo salsa should be done on the day you plan to eat the dish.

  • While the stew is cooking, line a baking sheet with foil and add the cubed butternut squash. Set aside.
  • Remove the pot from the oven and set aside, then raise the oven temperature to 500°F.
  • Toss the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread the squash in an even layer, place the baking sheet on the pizza stone (on the floor of your oven) and roast until caramelized (about 15-20 minutes).
  • After 10 minutes of roasting, using two forks or spoons, gently flip the butternut squash cubes. Rotate the pan 180 before putting it back in the oven. Note: Try to avoid tearing pieces that are sticking. I find a gentle nudge with the edge of a spoon or metal spatula can help in those cases.
  • Remove the squash from the oven and set aside, leaving it on the pan to keep it warm.
  • Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and discard the foil and parchment paper. Return the uncovered Dutch oven to the middle rack and bake for about 10 minutes at 500°F until the stew has a slightly glazed appearance.
  • Return the stew to the stovetop, bring to a brief boil, then reduce the heat to medium and add the roasted tomatillo salsa. Simmer for about 15 minutes, add the butternut squash, and continue to simmer until the stew is slightly thickened and the squash is hot (about 10-15 minutes more).

Serving

A simple bowl of buttered rice is the perfect side for this dish.

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