What’s Cooking is a series in which I address questions you may have about food and cooking but are too shy to ask.
Garlic pork is a Guyanese Christmas tradition. While many people like garlic pork, they tend to shy away from the dish because of the acidity coupled with the fear of having raw meat sitting in brine at room temperature. When cooked, the intensely pickled meat can overwhelm the taste buds as the flavours concentrate.
Here are some things you need to understand about the making of garlic pork. Hopefully, it will encourage you to make some this holiday.
White distilled vinegar is the acid of choice for making garlic pork and there is no getting away from it. The acidity of the brine is needed to kill bacteria that can develop from the pickling of raw meat or any raw ingredient. It also prolongs the shelf life of the food it is curing.
Based on the information I have been getting from people who have problems with the acidity of garlic pork, they have been curing the meat with an all-vinegar solution but it is not necessary to have this high level of sharpness. The brine can be made with 1-part vinegar and 1 part water. In other words, if you use 2 cups of vinegar, dilute it with 2 cups of water. The curing liquid can be further diluted if you find the one-to-one ratio still too tart. Use 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water; this means for every cup of vinegar, use 2 cups of water. HOWEVER, and this is very important, the brining liquid should not be diluted beyond this ratio, if it is, then you are playing with a serious case of food poising. Like I said, the acid is necessary to kill the bacteria.
Brining and seasoning
The next obvious question is how much of the liquid is needed to cure the meat. The answer to that varies because it depends on how much meat you are curing. All you need to know and remember is that the pickling liquid when poured over the seasoned meat in the bottle, in which it will be cured, should completely cover the meat. Add the seasoned meat to the jar/bottle first then pour the liquid.
Like acid, salt is also a curing agent so the pickling liquid has to be adequately seasoned. Mix together the vinegar and water then add salt to taste. Stir the mixture until the salt has dissolved and taste it. Keep adjusting the liquid to suit your taste. There is no need to add salt to the garlic-thyme paste you will make to season the meat because the meat will get its salt from sitting in the brine for several days. If you do want to put a little salt in the paste, just add a little and take into consideration that the brining liquid will also be salted.
The flavours of garlic and thyme intensify over time too so do not put so much seasoning on the meat that it overwhelms. These ingredients are there only for signature flavour.
I recommend boneless pork shoulder. It has the right amount of meat to fat ratio and is a sturdy cut with tissues that can withstand the long brine. The pickling will also break down the tissues and tenderize the meat. You can opt to cut the meat into large cubes or 1 – 2-inch thick slices.
Wash the meat and pat it as dry as possible before seasoning it with the garlic, thyme and hot pepper. A couple of bay leaves can be added too. Some people (like myself) prefer to grind the ingredients together and rub it all over the meat while others like to leave the ingredients whole. Which one is better? It is really a matter of personal preference.
Sterilize the jar/bottle in which the meat will be pickled and ensure that it is completely dry, especially on the inside.
Add the meat to the jar/bottle and pour the liquid over the meat to cover it. Use a wooden or plastic spoon to gently move the meat to ensure that the pickling liquid gets between all of it. Cover the jar/bottle tightly and place in your countertop away from direct sunlight.
It takes 7 days for the meat to cure. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to retrieve it before that time to cook and eat, if you do, you would be causing yourself some serious harm – food poisoning.
When the 7 days are over and you are ready to access the meat, do so using a wooden or plastic utensil. Drain off the excess liquid, heat a frying pan with a little oil and cook the meat. The cooking time will vary depending on how thick the cut of meat is. Brown meat on both sides, slice and serve.
Today is December 17, if you set the garlic pork today, it will be ready in time for Christmas morning.