Peruvian-inspired pork: A new world

From The National Pork Board.

Peruvian food is in the dining spotlight, propelled by the increase in ambitious, chef-driven Peruvian restaurants. Although the famed seafood ceviches are probably still the face of the cuisine, Peruvian pork dishes, typically layered with rich flavors and multiple ethnic accents, are getting their just renown.

Take Adobo de Cerdo, a braised pork shank dish that is a microcosm of Peruvian history. Traditionally, it is a marriage of the pork, vinegar and cumin the Spanish brought to the New World with indigenous ingredients like aji panca, a red chile pepper, and chicha de jora, a beer fermented from corn, reports Hank Costello, head chef of Andina, a Peruvian restaurant in Portland, Ore.

At Andina, the braised shank is presented in a bowl with potatoes, one of Peru’s gifts to the world, with the adobo sauce made from the braising liquid. Another version of the dish features pork tenderloin dusted with powdered aji panca, served with adobo sauce and butternut squash-gorgonzola ravioli, the latter a nod to Peru’s Italian immigrants.

“It is a beautiful dish,” says Costello. “People just flip over it.”

Also honoring Peru’s culinary heritage are the Pork Belly Bao Buns at Chifa, a Jose Garces restaurant in Philadelphia that specializes in Peruvian-Cantonese cooking. A Chinese-style hoisin glaze and Japanese-inspired togarashi-spiced mayo speak to the legacy of Asian immigrants.

In Peru, this sort of multicultural cooking is not a trend, it’s a cultural pillar. “Our cuisine is a pot that has been stirred for 500 years,” says Ricardo Zarate, Peruvian chef-owner of Mo-Chica and Picca Peruvian Cantina in Los Angeles. Cooks from Spain, Africa, China, Japan and Italy all have seasoned the ancestral Incan food traditions.

Noting that rich culinary heritage, Baum + Whiteman, the New York-based food and restaurant consultants, dubbed Peruvian “the next cuisine” in their 2012 food and dining trend predictions.

“The word is spreading, slowly, but it is spreading,” says Peruvian Valeria Molinelli, associate instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. “In the near future, we will hear a lot of people talking about Peruvian cuisine.”

Molinelli has helped write the curricula that have introduced college and university chefs to Peruvian-style creations like Cilantro and Beer-Braised Pork Belly at the Chef Culinary Conferences held annually at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The tutelage of a native chef was “a real eye-opener” for conference attendees, says Ken Toong, executive director of UMass auxiliary enterprises. “They know Peruvian cuisine is up and coming.”

Other campuses are delving into it, too. At Oregon State University in Corvallis, chef de cuisine Bruce Hoerauf developed a Peruvian empanada filling that includes minced pork loin, sautéed onions, hard-boiled eggs, raisins, paprika, cumin, garlic and hot sauce.

Students at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark enjoyed Peruvian Pork Chops, enlivened with spicy chorizo, smoked paprika, garlic and piquillo peppers, at an International Day dining event.

“People are looking for bold, bright flavors with familiar food,” says Peter Fischbach, regional director of culinary development at Gourmet Dining at NJIT. “I believe the Peruvian repertoire provides that.”

Street foods, snacks and sandwiches—three American favorites—are important in Peruvian cuisine, according to Molinelli. A popular street food is chicharron, a crispy pork sandwich made with pork that is first braised then deep fried. Chefs use a variety of cuts.

At Picca, Zarate’s chicharron de costillas, made with pork ribs, are a top seller. He serves them on a baguette with feta cheese sauce and salsa criolla, the latter a Peruvian-style pico de gallo.

For Sunday brunch at La Mar Cebicheria in New York, executive chef Victoriano Lopez uses pork belly to make pan con chicharron. Another brunch specialty is butifarra de lujo, a sandwich of house-made jamón de pierna, which is marinated, thinly sliced fresh pork leg.

Andina’s Costello says his customers prefer chicharron made with pork shoulder because it is lean and meaty. “Whenever I run it as a special, it just flies out of here,” he says.

For more information on flavorful and distinctive pork dishes, visit the National Pork Board’s website,www.porkfoodservice.org.