Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pork with Agal (Kokum extract)

It's that time of the year again when K is gearing up to go away on excavation. This time he's going to be gone for a month and the two of us are getting ready mentally too, for his long sojourn away from home and home cooked food. Well, the food at the excavation camp is home cooked too but it's vastly different from what we cook at home and is largely vegetarian. In the run up to his departure I like to cook things that he likes and I ask him what he'd like to eat today, nearly every day.

He was at home yesterday and as we caught up with errands and chores I asked him what I should cook. He chose pork. As long as it had potatoes in it I was free to cook it any way I liked. That worked for me and once we'd finished marketing and other stuff I set about prepping the pork. 

We'd bought a kilo of pork shoulder with a few nice chunks of fat and very few bones. After a quick light rinse I drained the meat and picked out spices for the marinade. I didn't want to make a heavy spicy dish as the days are really hot now and we were in the mood for a light dinner. As I looked around picking out the spices I spied the bottle of agal. On a whim I decided to go with agal instead of the usual vinegar.  

Pork with Agal

1 kg pork with a little fat, cubed
3 onions, sliced
3 potatoes, cut into large cubes
2 tablespoons garlic paste
2 - 3 tablespoons agal
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp jeera powder
1 tsp dhania powder
2 tej patta or cassia leaves
3 inch stick of cassia bark
1 star anise

Wash the meat lightly and drain off excess water. Marinate with all the dry spices, salt, garlic paste and agal. Mix thoroughly and leave covered in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

In a heavy bottomed vessel (I used my cast iron Dutch oven) heat some oil. Fry the potatoes till they turn pale golden. Remove from the oil and reserve on a plate. In the same oil throw in the whole garam masala and then after half a minute, add the sliced onions. Fry gently till the onions start to turn a pale gold. Don't let them brown. 

Now add the marinated pork and turn up the heat. Braise the meat well for a good five minutes stirring frequently but not all the time. Reduce the flame, cover the pot and let it braise a little more - around 15 minutes. Stir it every 5 minutes or so. Add any remaining marinade. Add enough water to just barely cover the meat chunks. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. 

Add the potatoes and cover the pot again. Let it cook for an hour or more till the pork is soft. Stir gently once in a while just to mix things up. Be careful not to break or mash up the potatoes. There will be a thick gravy, but not a lot of it.  

The agal gives the pork a lovely sweet sour flavour that is distinct. The onions disintegrate to form a lovely smooth gravy and the fat from the pork helps take the dish to a higher level. We don't eat the chunks of fat anymore but I never cook pork without some fat in the pot. 

Serve hot with pav, sliced bread, or parathas. Or have it with hot rice. 

Agal is a pulpy extract made from the kokum fruit and is popular in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. It's used as a souring agent just like tamarind pulp is used in the southern states. 

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