This recipe is one that has a special story…every heard of Sally Schmitt? Probably not, unless you know the full history of the legendary French Laundry restaurant. While it came to fame under Thomas Keller’s leadership, the original owner and chef was actually Sally. Her cooking style is all about fresh, flavorful, comforting food made from the freshest possible ingredients. Sally and her husband Don are quite the couple – he was mayor of Napa while she was running the restaurant. They eventually retired to their apple farm in Northern California, and for many, many years, Sally taught cooking classes there. (She’s now retired, and her daughter runs the cooking school, teaching Sally’s recipes).
The Apple Farm isn’t just a cooking school. It’s a working farm, a cooking school and home to many of the Schmitt family. One of the pleasures of going there to cook is that you can go for an entire weekend, staying in the on-site cabins, cooking Friday and Saturday dinners, Saturday and Sunday brunches. This recipe is one of those that Sally taught me on one of my several visits there, and one I make often. This past weekend, I had my marketing team to my house for a business offsite in the afternoon, followed by cooking this recipe together, having dinner and lots of great wine.
I hope you can find a great friends or family occasion to make this, too! Once the stew is ready, remove from the oven, cover to keep warm, and prepare the polenta (instructions follow).
Total time: 2 1/2 hours (about 45 mins active time)
3 lb pork shoulder, trimmed and cut in 1 1/2″ cubes
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 dried guajillo peppers (or New Mexican or California chiles)
8 sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not packed in oil)
1 1/2 lb tomatillos, husked and coursely chopped
2 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and cut into strips (1/4″ x 2″)
3-4 poblano or pasilla peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and cut into strips
3-4 jalapeno peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
2 serrano peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (omit for a milder dish)
1/2 cup chicken stock
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Remove the stem and seeds from the dried chiles, and soak in very hot water for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When hot, brown the pork in batches (in a single layer) on all sides, salting and peppering the meat generously. As the pieces are browned, remove to a large casserole or dutch oven. Using the same skillet, adding a bit more oil if needed, reduce the heat to medium and saute the onions until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and tomatillos and saute another minute, seasoning with salt & pepper. Remove from heat and set aside. Drain the now softened chiles, and tear into pieces. Layer on top of the pork. Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces (about 1/4″) and layer on top of the pork and chiles. Layer the onion mixture over the pork, chiles and tomatoes. Layer the various fresh, roasted peppers over all the other ingredients. Pour the chicken stock over the entire mixture, cover with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the casserole or dutch oven, and put in the oven. Allow the stew to cook for 1 hour, 45 minutes (do not stir while cooking).
Remove the stew from the oven, remove the parchment paper, and stir to combine all ingredients. Cover to keep warm while you prepare the polenta.
Bring 3 cups of water or chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and slowly stir in 1 cup of cornmeal. Cook, stirring frequently, until very thick, approximately 15 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the mixture should be stiff enough to lightly hold its shape in the pan. Mix in 4 Tbsp butter and 1/2 cup of cream or whole milk. Continue to cook until thickened again. Season with salt & pepper.
Spoon a generous portion of polenta in the center of a plate or bowl, ladel the pork stew over the polenta, and garnish with cilantro. Serve and enjoy.