BRAISED PORK SHANK WITH MOLE VERDE

Many moons ago I had the very fortunate opportunity to work for a season at 9 Bakery + Lounge in downtown Wilmington. It was such a great learning experience for me and also some of my most challenging days. One of the really fantastic things about those 9 months is meeting some ridiculously talented people and gathering as much knowledge as I could.

I tried to be a big ol’ sponge and soak it all up.

I loved every second of it. {honest moment… there were many many seconds I did NOT love…. but that’s life – as long as the good seconds outweigh the bad seconds I’m golden.}

One of the people I got to learn from was the executive chef, Ryan O’Jampa. He graciously allowed us into the kitchen to learn one of my favorite dishes of his. YOU GUYS IT’S SO GOOD.

After he had introduced a brand new dinner menu, I immediately knew I wanted to sit down with him and talk about his inspiration for the new dishes and bat my little eye lashes just enough to convince him to share a recipe with us but not too much as to be awkward. The jury is still out on how successful I was at avoiding awkward.

One of the things I respect about his process is that he loves to incorporate seasonal, fresh and local produce. Many of the new dishes were created around produce which is how I believe we should all be crafting our meals at home. Ryan worked really hard collaborating with his staff for months before the new menu rolled out, many times testing dishes out as nightly specials. His food style is New American, somewhat internationally inspired, casual upscale, impeccable ingredients but final dishes that are not too fussy.

The dish I talked him into sharing was a lime-chili braised pork shank with poblano grit cake, wilted spinach, mole verde and pickled peppers.

<OHMYGOSH>

What I love about this dish is its complexity without being crazy difficult. It’s a great dish to prepare for friends on a weekend when you have some time to watch a movie or read a book while the pork is braising. And if you can’t find pork shank, feel free to cook the braising recipe down a bit and use it as a marinade for some grilled thick cut chops. Ready for this? Here we go!

This recipe serves 8 – divide or multiply at your discretion!

I was a really happy girl in the kitchen during this process. REALLY happy. The day before, brine your pork shanks. This is an optional step but it makes a big difference so try and make it happen, ok?

In a large pot, combine 1 gallon of water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup chili powder and 1/2 cup lime juice. Stir it all together and then add 8 pork shanks to the liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to proceed, remove the shanks, pat dry and discard the brine. At the restaurant, they flash fry the shanks before they braise.

As an alternative at home, sear your shanks in a screaming hot pan on all sides and then proceed.

Next… the braise. This stuff is magic!!

In a screaming hot pan (as hot as you can get it!) with NO oil, char the tomatillos, jalapenos and garlic. You don’t need to blacken the entire surface, just get some good char on most of the sides. You’re looking for that charred flavor but you don’t need to cook everything all the way through. In a large roasting pan, arrange your pork shanks and add the charred ingredients.

Then add the cilantro, lime juice, water, salt and pepper to taste and crushed red pepper.

Cover and braise in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. While you’re waiting, char 2 jalapenos, 2 poblanos and 1 red pepper under a broiler and set aside for your grits… coarsely chop when they are cool enough to handle.

After the 3 hours, remove everything from the oven, pull out the shanks and reserve the liquid.

To make the mole verde sauce:

In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the braising liquid by half. Then puree in a food processor the reduced braising liquid, 4 cups fresh spinach, 2 cups cilantro and 1 1/2 cups unsalted almonds.

Make some grits… I suggest using the quick cooking yellow corn grits. Boil 4 cups of water and add 2 cups grits and cook over medium heat until done. Salt and pepper to taste and then add your chopped and charred peppers.

At the restaurant, they make their grits ahead of time and then chill them on a sheet pan until they are in a cake form. You can follow that method OR simply make your grits right before you are serving your guests and plate using the soft grits instead. That’s what I would do… simplify when you’re at home, people!

Throw some spinach into a hot saute pan with a tiny bit of oil and some S&P just long enough to wilt slightly.

Now to plate this baby.

Start with a bed of grits and then add your wilted spinach before placing one pork shank on top.

Pour the mole verde down over the top of everything.

Then add a handful of pickled peppers. (all of these recipes are in PDF form at the bottom of this post)

Thanks, Ryan, for letting me leave my bakery cave and invade your space. It was a pleasure learning from you…and eating your food. That was the best part.

For a PDF version of these recipes, click here –

Print Recipe

WHAT YOU NEED (PICKLED PEPPERS)
Makes 8 servings
1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
1 cup lime juice
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 big pinch of kosher salt

 
WHAT YOU DO (PICKLED PEPPERS)

Active time: 10 minutes / Chill out time: 3 hours
1. Combine everything in a covered container, shake and refrigerate for a few hours or until ready to use.

 
WHAT YOU NEED (GRITS)

Makes 8 servings
4 cups water
2 cups quick cooking yellow corn grits
Kosher salt + pepper to taste
1 each jalapeno, poblano and red pepper

 
WHAT YOU DO (GRITS)

Active time: 20 minutes
1. Char all 3 peppers under you broiler for a few minutes and then chop them up in a small dice.
2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and then add the grits. Cook over medium heat until cooked through. Season with kosher salt and pepper and then add your charred and chopped peppers. Use immediately.

 
WHAT YOU NEED (PORK SHANK BRINE)

Makes 8 servings
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup chili powder
1/2 cup lime juice
8 pork shanks

 
WHAT YOU DO (PORK SHANK BRINE)

Active time: 10 minutes / Chill out time: 12 hours
1. Combine all brine ingredients except the pork shanks. Stir to combine well.
2. Add the 8 pork shanks. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. Remove shanks and pat dry. Discard the brine.

 
WHAT YOU NEED (BRAISED PORK SHANKS)

Makes 8 servings
8 brined pork shanks
8 tomatillos, skins removed and rinsed well
8 jalapeños
10 cloves of peeled garlic
3 cups lime juice
7 cups water
4 bunches rinsed cilantro
Kosher salt and pepper
1/4 cup crushed red pepper
8 cups raw spinach
1 1/2 cups unsalted almonds

 

WHAT YOU DO (BRAISED PORK SHANKS)

Active time: 1 hour / Inactive time: 3 hours
1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a screaming hot saute or cast iron pan, char the tomatillos, jalapeno and garlic on all sides. Do not cook through, just get a char going.
3. Sear the brined pork shanks in a very hot pan on all sides.
4. In a large roasting pan, combine the brined and seared shanks and all other ingredients.
5. Braise in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours.
6. Remove shanks and set aside.
7. Transfer the braising liquid to a large pot and reduce over medium high heat by half.
8. To make the mole verde: In a food processor, puree the reduced braising liquid with 4 cups spinach, 2 cups cilantro and 1 1/2 cups unsalted almonds.

9. To plate, layer the grits, remaining spinach (wilted in a medium heat saute pan with a splash of oil), the pork shanks, mole verde and pickled peppers.