The summer of 1987 when I stepped into Cook’s Magazine’s kitchen as the new test cook, their November/December issue was nearly off to the printer. I helped with a few photo shoots and tested a few stray recipes, but January/February 1988 was my first full issue.
An article entitled A Bistro-Style Dinner For 8 was first in for testing. Written by the late Michael McLaughlin (of Silver Palate fame), the menu was anchored with a casual comforting stew. It was not the predictable beef variety with carrots and celery, potatoes and peas, but rather rugged chunks of pork shoulder whose distinct yet subtle flavors came from anchovies and orange. Stir-fried multi-colored bell peppers and piquant black olives added bold color and flavor. I will always remember this stew as one of the first really great recipes I ever tested, and its unique flavor has become part of my taste memory. For years McLaughlin’s stew was the centerpiece at at least one of my fall dinner parties.
But in the mid-nineties I started writing cookbooks, and testing and developing my own recipes became a priority. McLaughlin’s stew fell from my repertoire but not from my memory. Twenty-eight years passed, and finally this fall I decided it was time to make McLaughlin’s Pork Stew with Peppers and Olives again.
It took some time to find my old January/February copy of Cook’s Magazine but finally I emerged proudly clutching the issue. I sat at the kitchen table reminiscing as I paged past the regular department called Kitchen Garden by Alice Waters and Therese Shere and the double page ad for Time Life Books. There was a feature entitled Inspired Recipes from 9 Young Chefs. Emeril Lagasse, Margaret Fox, Robert Del Grande, Todd English, and Michael Chiarella were among the new hot talent.
But as I flipped though A Bistro-Style Dinner for 8, I quickly realized the page with the stew recipe was missing. At some point over the years I had pulled it from the magazine to make the stew, and now it was gone. I panicked. I started with Google, typing in every key word I could think. Nothing came up.
Finally I gave in. Like Luke Skywalker, it was time to cook blind. Using the formula I had developed over the years, I made the stew. And it was darned close to my taste memory too. I’m not certain about eternity, but I’m pretty sure Michael was with me as I made the stew and that he lives on.
- 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1½ to 2-inch chunks
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 each: yellow, red, and orange bell pepper, stemmed seeded and cut into 8 wedges
- 1 large onion, cut into medium dice
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
- Finely grate zest and juice from 1 large orange
- ½ can (2 ounces) anchovies, finely minced (or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste)
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup dry red or white wine
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ cup coarsely chopped pitted Kalamata olives
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
- Heat a heavy-bottom soup kettle or 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over low heat. Meanwhile, place meat cubes in a medium bowl; coat with 1 tablespoon of oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
- A few minutes before cooking, add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot; increase heat to a strong medium-high until wisps of smoke start to rise from the pan. Add peppers; sauté until lightly brown and tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove from pot; set aside.
- Working in 2 batches, add meat; sear, turning only once until 2 sides form an impressive, dark brown crust, 5 to 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.
- Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the hot empty skillet; add onions; sauté until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, herbes de Provence, orange zest, and anchovy paste; cook until fragrant, about a minute. Whisk in flour, then broth, wine, and orange juice, seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Return pork to pot, along with bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and using a potholder to protect hands, press a sheet of heavy-duty foil down so that it touches the stew. Seal foil completely around the edges. Place lid snugly on pot, set in oven, and cook for 1½ hours.
- Remove pot from oven and set over low heat. Carefully remove foil; stir in peppers and olives. Remembering that kettle and lid are hot, re-cover pot and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Serve.