Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cocoa and Spice Slow-Roasted Pork and Onions

Southern California can be deceptive when it comes to the seasons. When I first moved here from New Mexico, I was confused. The leaves on the liquidamber trees didn't start turning until sometime in November. Fall began shortly before winter solstice. This is San Diego in January:
Some of the trees have lost their leaves, some are still thinking about it. Now all of this can seem great if you're weary after a day of shoveling snow. And it definitely makes getting out for a walk a more pleasant idea if you know you don't have to battle icy winds to do it. But even after living here for over 20 years, I still have a hard time with the seasons.

One of the reasons is that I like to cook meals according to the seasons. There's a simple principle in Chinese Medicine which says that if you suffer from cold, then use things that warm. If you suffer from heat, then use things that cool. Salads, for instance are cooling, as are all raw fruits and vegetables. Cooked foods are warming. So in the winter, it's usually better to eat cooked foods, and in the summer, it's better to eat more raw foods. Makes sense, right?

But when you live in a place where the nighttime temperatures can be quite chilly (OK - don't even THINK of laughing, all you who live in a more frigid climate! Live here for a while and see how it feels to YOU! ;-)), and then the daytime temperatures are moderate enough that you can leave the coat or sweater in the closet - what do you eat? Warming or cooling?

Since I tend to run a bit on the cool side, I tend to err in favor of warming foods - even in our mild winters. Besides, I love the aromas coming from the kitchen when I'm cooking a stew or a roast. So I can take a walk while my food is simmering in the oven. I can admire the flowers and trees in my neighborhood. Yes, this is a jade plant in bloom!

And then I get to come home to a meal which will feel right when the sun goes down.

I saw this recipe at epicurious, and couldn't resist. I had everything but the pork, so I walked to Whole Foods and asked for a pork shoulder butt. I confess, I found this request confusing. I have asked for pork shoulder before, but combining "shoulder" and "butt" seemed like an anatomical impossibility. The butcher, however, wasn't confused at all. She gave me 3# of it (I didn't need 8 servings!). If I were to make this again, I would use a pork loin roast instead. I like that cut of meat better.

I don't know what came over me, but this time I pretty much followed the recipe. Except that I used 3.5 pounds of meat, and cooked it for probably just under 4 hours.

Spice Rub:

1/2 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (preferably gray crystals)
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Pork and Onions:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 3/4 to 4 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 cups water
1 5-pound pork shoulder butt with bone


For spice rub:
Stir peppercorns and coriander in small skillet over medium heat until spices are darker in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder; grind finely. Place in small bowl; mix in remaining ingredients. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

For pork and onions:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté 10 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water; cover and cook until onions are soft, about 15 minutes. Uncover; continue to cook until onions are beginning to brown and water has evaporated, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°F. Sprinkle spice rub on large sheet of foil. Roll pork in rub, pressing to coat. Set pork on rack in large roasting pan. Top pork with 1/3 of onions; scatter remaining onions around pork in pan.

Roast pork until very tender and thermometer inserted into center registers 165°F, stirring onions in pan occasionally, about 6 hours. Transfer pork to platter. Season onions in pan with salt and pepper; spoon around pork.

Nutritional Information:

Per serving: 538 calories, 27g fat, 7g saturated, 152mg cholesterol, 765mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 48g protein (nutritional analysis provided by Nutrition Data)

I don't understand what's going on with the date. It says "Thursday, Jan. 10", when in fact, it's Sunday, Jan. 13th!

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Unknown said...

Can I use this rub with another cut of meat, do you think?

It sounds wonderful!

Toni said...

Mimi - I don't see why not. It has such an incredibly complex, subtle flavor that I'd try it on chicken or turkey in a heartbeat.

Chris said...

Hmmmm....looks tasty! Pork is the one protein I can eat! :) Will have to bookmark this one.

Susan said...

That's a nice rub recipe which would also go well with a game hen or oily fish.

I don't know that I would ever adjust to the climate difference in So Cal, either. Just looking at that pretty jade plant in bloom is but a concept. My jade plant never, ever blooms!

Rachael Narins said...

Those flowers are so beautiful, I think I will have to come visit...are you free for lunch on Sunday?

(Maybe I should email...LOL)


Toni said...

Chris - This turned out to be a wonderful rub, so go for it! BTW, I love your photo!!

Susan - I agree - this would be great for game hen, or even chicken or turkey. I'm a little less certain about the fish.

When I lived in New Mexico, we had a jade plant. One year, it put out 4 flowers. We got so excited, we threw a party! When I got here and saw them used as hedges, and in full bloom, I didn't recognize them. It took a few moments for me to notice the leaves and realize what I was looking at!

Rachael - Yes, by all means!

Katerina said...

This blogs is fabulous! I love coriander seeds, I could eat them in freaking everything but combined with cocoa and cloves sounds extra extra good.

Katie Zeller said...

We live in a 'mild' climate too, but true winter by your standards!
A good excuse to make braises and slow-cooked meals. I recently discovered what tremendous flavour a bit of cocoa powder can give.
Let's hear it for chocolate power!

Anonymous said...

Toni - I used to live in Orange County and I'm happy to be reminded of its unique climate and beauty in your photographs :) I need to walk around my neighborhood and just observe some of the details that I often overlook.

P.S. How is your meyer lemon tree doing this year? I'm so jealous!

Toni said...

Katerina - Thanks! I wouldn't have thought of adding the cocoa powder to the rub, but it's truly amazing!

Katie - You're way ahead of me. This is the first time I heard of adding cocoa. I've eaten mole before and loved it so I decided "Why not?" This is decidedly NOT mole! It's just rich and deep and complex and wonderful. Probably would make an old bird pretty tasty, too!

Christine - Don't be jealous! I'm fighting scale on my tree. It's not very happy right now, but I just heard of a product which has friendly nematodes, so I'm going to try it!

Susan G said...

That rub sounds so good! Now, my problem is what to use it for that is not meat. Thinking of winter squash, then looked at your canneloni which for some reason look like eggplant.. How about rubbing long slices of eggplant, stuffing it with something, then roasting the whole thing? And adding szechuan pepper? Wow it's fun to start spinning out (of control) like this.
Such lovely photos. Here in NH we're getting snow 2 - 3 times a week, hoping that the rhododendrons have survived the snowplow. Nice that you have at least a season change.

Susan G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan G said...

Well, it was eggplant! No wonder it looked like it.

Cynthia said...

I like that rub, next time I roast a piece of pork I'll try it.

Susan G said...

I made the rub, no changes, and what a fabulous aroma! Put 1 Tb on 1/4 cup olive oil, brushed it on eggplant and layered it with ricotta, veggies (raided the fridge), cheeses. Pretty good, pretty -- that rub is ready for more projects. Could be waffles?

Toni said...

Susan - Never would have thought of it on eggplant. I would imagine it would be good on tomato, and possibly even tofu. Why not?

Cynthia - Definitely try it - it was soooo good!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Toni,

In the last few months, you may remember receiving an email invitation to become a part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher Program. With all the recipe-writing and food photography to be completed, we know emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, so Foodbuzz would like to re-extend our offer of inviting you to be a part of our food blogger network. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at

And I completely knew what you mean about the So. Cal seasons or lack thereof! I lived in La Jolla for five years (just graduated from UCSD last spring), and felt like I should be wearing a scarf in Dec. or Jan, but everyone was wearing sandals! I ended up doing it anyway, although I really don't think it was necessary. =)


Shannon Eliot
Editorial Assistant,

Anonymous said...

What a wonder world of plants in January! So jealous... All we've got around here are fir trees and hollies. They're pretty, sure, but I sure could do with some flowers. The thing that mystifies me is that the neighborhood's parakeets (just like the ones on Telegraph Hill in SF) are still out flying around like mad in sub-zero weather. Aren't they freezing?
I could really use some pork too... but tonight, in an effort to be healthy I'll be eating fish. Next weekend!

Toni said...

Ann - I think it's the feathers. I think that's why they don't freeze their beaks off....