I can’t think of anything more quintessentially summer time than a watermelon. The sight of its green-striped exterior, and juicy pinkish-red flesh create a Pavlovian reaction, where my skin becomes flush, and I feel the need to sit on the deck with a chilled beverage in hand. Outside of nibbling on thick slices during warm weather, you don’t find it used creatively very often. So, I wanted to explore a refreshing dish with various flavors to balance out that wonderful sweetness.
The first thing is to address the watermelon itself: how to make it more interesting, but also how keep its best aspects, texture and flavor, intact? Hmm… couldn’t I just double down on those two features? And that’s where compression takes its cue. Restaurants using this technique typically employ a vacuum chamber sealer, which provides the best results. It works by changing the air pressure within, which causes the air and liquid within the watermelon to expand, breaking down the cell walls. As the sealer cycles, the air is removed, and the cell walls collapse and are filled with juice. This leads to a denser texture, and more concentrated flavor. Sadly, I don’t have $3K to drop on one of these giant units, but I do have a FoodSaver and a little time on my hands. Using a cheaper strip sealer isn’t going to have the same effect because it’s not actually changing the pressure within the bag, just sucking out the air. The watermelon slices are going to compress, but there will be some juices running out, and potentially interfering with the bag’s seal. I prevent this by laying some paper towels within the bag to soak up some juices before they could reach the seal bar. The result, a denser texture, deeper color, and a good amount of flavor, although it isn’t retaining as much of the juices internally as it would if using the vacuum chamber sealer.
You find escabeche at Mexican restaurants as a common accompaniment to the chips and salsa served at the beginning of a meal. It’s a spicy combination of pickled vegetables; carrots, jalapenos, radish, and cauliflower. For this, I wanted a whimsical play on the watermelon radish… just because. The escabeche is intended to bring a nice crunchy acidic note to the rest of the party.
Carnitas are a taco shop staple, and a time consuming labor of love. The results are tender & juicy nuggets of meaty love that get beautifully crisp if finished off on a griddle. The traditional way to cook them involves a lot of lard… like, a lot of lard. Considering that I didn’t want to draw the ire of my municipal waste collector for pitching a half gallon of lard for a one time cook, I opted for a braise, utilizing some homemade chicken broth. The aromas of spices, aromatics, and browning meat fill the kitchen for the 2-3 hour cook time, and result in the satisfying feeling of meat that strips right off the bone. It almost feels counter-intuitive to take juicy pieces of pork and fry it up in a pan, but it gives the exterior a wonderful crisp leathery kind of quality that yields to succulent meat below.
This salad is the definition of summertime refreshment. Crisp watermelon is brought to life with the addition of lime juice, while fine julienned jalapeno adds just a faint amount of spiciness. The radish escabeche lends a crisp vegetable note, while the carnitas bring substance and depth of flavor. Crumbled cotija delivers a much needed salty component to the dish, while a drizzle of olive oil rounds things out. This is a light dish packed full of flavors, textures and colors, and really finds its home on a shaded patio table during a warm summer evening.
|½||Cup||Apple Cider Vinegar|
Trim the tail off your radish, and using a mandoline, slice the radish into thin rounds. Place radish slices, onion, jalapeno, garlic, peppercorns and coriander into a glass mason jar.
In a pot, bring the vinegar, water, salt, sugar to a boil to dissolve. Allow the liquid mixture to cool till slightly warm, then pour over the pickling jar vegetables. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.
|4||Lbs||Pork Shoulder (Bone-In)||Trimmed|
|1||Each||Onion (White)||Thick Julienned|
|2||Each||Guajillo Chilies (Dried)|
|1 ½||Quarts||Chicken Broth|
Preheat oven to 325F, and heat a braising pan over med-high heat. Meanwhile, prep the pork shoulder by patting it dry with paper towels, and season liberally with salt right before searing. Add veg oil to your pan, and sear off the pork shoulder, getting every side browned evenly. Once the pork is seared, reduce heat to med-low and pull the pork out onto a plate to rest.
Squeeze out oranges over pan to deglaze, drop those oranges in there as well, and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add onions, garlic, jalapeno, guajillo, and chilies to sweat for a few minutes, seasoning liberally with salt. Mix in the spices to the pot. Place pork shoulder back into the pot, and add chicken broth to about 2/3 of the way up the pork. If you run out of broth just add water. Turn heat back up and bring liquid to a hard simmer, then carefully place into the oven. Allow to braise for 2 ½-3hrs. Test for doneness with a fork, the meat should be fairly easy to separate from the bone. Pull out of the oven and allow to cool while remaining in the liquid. Once it’s cool enough to handle, put on a cutting board and hand shred into small chunks, put into a container. Strain the braising liquid, and add to the meat to reserve.
Peel the watermelon, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Grab a vacuum bag, and lay a few paper towels inside. Place watermelon cubes into the bag, and vacuum seal to compress. Reserve in refrigerator for plating.
|¼||Each||Jalapeno (Deseeded)||Super Thin Julienne|
Heat up a small pan with oil, and fry up some of the carnitas to crispy.
Drain radish escebece.
Pull watermelon out of the bag. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze lime juice over watermelon.
Plate everything together, crumble cotija over the top, and drizzle with olive oil to finish.