From Athens to San Juan to Bratislava
One of the interesting aspects about cooking food is the exploration into what techniques create the best results for a certain dish. Often times you’ll find using a technique from one country on the ingredients of another will work better than sticking to the traditional style.
Case in point was when I made Puerto Rican Pork in early 2011. After trying to cook a lean pork roast in the traditional style, I found better results cooking it the same way my father would cook lamb.
I wanted to put this to the test again on two more pork roasts I had left that day. The challenge this time though was to flavor them in a more Slovakian style...which usually means a combination of paprika and Vegeta. I’m not saying this is all there is to Slovak food, but Zuzana has shown me how many simple dishes tossed together in Slovak homes usually contain those two seasonings.
Regardless, I wasn’t about to just use those two ingredients and call it a day. I went into two cookbooks I picked up last time I visited my in-laws in Bratislava. I noticed how many pork dishes in Slovak cuisine contained caraway as an ingredient. That fascinated me.
Caraway we mainly know as those little seeds we’ll find in some good rye bread, but in all actuality those “seeds” are really a fruit. They have a pungent anise-like flavor and have been used beyond rye bread in desserts, liquors, and casseroles.
I mainly liked the idea of using caraway because it’s just a new experience in itself. The result did not disappoint, as the pork was succulent, but carrying a balance between the actual meat with garlic, paprika, Vegeta, and caraway.
I hope to one day make this for Zuzana’s family, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a try. Be sure to allocate time to marinate.
Slovak Pork with Caraway
- 3-4 lbs of pork roast or pork shoulder
- 1 cup of olive oil
- 3-4 tbsp of caraway seeds
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp of Vegeta seasoning blend
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 cup of water
- Rinse off the pork under the faucet (cold water) and pat dry.
- In a small bowl or dish, combine the caraway with 1/4 of a cup of olive oil.
- Take a steak knife and stab your pork about 10-15 times all around on all sides. Make each slit roughly 1-2 inches deep.
- Slice up the garlic into smaller pieces. Generally about 3-4 pieces out of a large clove.
- In each slit, add small amount of the oil/caraway mixture. Shove one of the garlic pieces into the slit after.
- When all the slits have oil/caraway with garlic inside, take what you have left of the oil/caraway mixture and combine it with the remaining oil, paprika, and Vegeta.
- Rub this oil/seasoning mixture all over the outside of the pork.
- Place everything into a food storage bag or container you can seal, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
- Pull the pork out and allow it to sit for an hour before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Place the pork into a roasting pan you can cover. Leave the fat side up. Pour out any marinate left in the bag/container onto the pork.
- Add one cup of water to the bottom of the pan and place the pork into the oven covered.
- Cook the pork roughly 1 1/2 to 2 hours covered, then uncover and cook for another hour (or until done), basting it regularly with the liquid in the pan.
- Check your meat with a meat thermometer. When it’s done, pull it out and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes.
- Slice and serve.
The amounts of everything here are subjective. You might end up getting a bigger piece of pork, so be sure to multiply the amounts accordingly. The same goes for cooking times. You want to cook the pork 30 minutes for every pound. So an 8 pound pork shoulder should be done two hours covered, then two hours uncovered. Be sure to check the interior temperature regularly after you pass that two hour mark and uncover it. The goal after uncovering is to “crisp up” the outside, so check and make sure you don’t overcook the pork. If it’s a smaller piece, then you might want to drain out some of the liquid and turn the head up to 450° just to do a quick crisping.
When adding paste to the slits, you only need a tiny amount. The best tip I found is to use the handle of a tablespoon. Just roughly 1/8 of a teaspoon is enough. If you run out of paste before you get to rub the outside, make some more.
Leaving the pork fat side up when cooking is the same technique I mentioned in cooking Texas-style Brisket. The fat will gelatinize in the oven and soak into the meat, making it juicy.
If you notice all the water is evaporating from the pan, add more.
The broccoli and couscous shown in the photo was made simply for decoration.
Serve the pork with rice and cooked vegetables, or roasted potatoes if you really want to get to the old country.