The Story

Boning up on Sweet and Sour

Nicaraguan Pineapple Pork

By Lindsay Sterling

As we gathered to cook one of her favorite Nicaraguan dishes, Jenny Sanchez instructed, “This is sweet food,” like sweet food was something I’d never heard of. Was she confused? Were we not in America, land of sugar-in-everything? But she wasn’t talking about candy, dessert, donuts on every corner, sliced bread, sugar cereal or pretty much all processed food at the grocery store. She was talking about homemade pork ribs in pineapple sauce and white rice, garnished with scallions and red peppers. She was talking about real food that’s sweet -- for dinner.
I had enjoyed sweet and sour soup at Asian restaurants, and sweet and sour pork, though I had no idea how to cook them. As soon as I considered the mad popularity of barbecue sauce and ketchup, my eyes opened. People love sweet and sour flavors in America, but they rarely if ever cook it themselves at home. We have -- dare I reach for another label? SSCKV, sweet and sour cooking knowledge void. And here is this Nicaraguan grandmother, bless her heart, who is going to help us with a little exercise called pineapple pork. I’m in.
First, to the butcher. Ten minutes of bilingual banter and confusing hand gestures finally resulted in the desired meat cut: a rack of St. Louis style pork ribs that the butcher had run through the saw lengthwise twice, which cut the ribs perpendicularly into thirds. At home Jenny and I cut between the ribs so we ended up with a pile of bite-sized bone-in ribs. This struck me as a brilliant idea. If gnawing on bite-sized bones is what people love about chicken wings, they’re going to get a kick out of this.
She cooked the mini pork ribs in a pot with water and red wine vinegar until the pork was tender. Then, once the liquid evaporated, she let the pork ribs fry in their own melted fat. In a blender she blended the flesh of a fresh pineapple with pineapple juice and brown sugar and then poured the puree into the pork. Once boiling, she added more vinegar and then mixed in a little flour diluted in water to thicken the sauce a little bit.
She was very insistent on a couple subtle touches that made her white rice special. She sauteed uncooked jasmine rice in oil for about five minutes, giving it a nice toasted flavor and keeping it from becoming stuck together. She salted the rice water. She used 1 ½ cups water to one cup rice, less than usual. And she flipped the rice grains over with a spatula half way through cooking time so the top and bottom grains cooked evenly.
 The platter of meat and brown sauce surrounded by rice might have looked dreary if she hadn’t sprinkled diced red pepper on the center mound of pork and sliced green scallions in a ring around it. Sitting at the table to eat, she said, "We eat a spoonful of rice with a piece of meat on it. Then chew the meat off the bone and spit out the bone.” I took a bite, as directed. This food was like a vacation, all tropical sunshine and blue skies. “I no like pot luck,” Jenny said, “They serve mac n cheese, vegetable, lasagna. I’m tired of it.” I’m with her. Next time, I’m bringing this pineapple pork.

copyright Lindsay Sterling 2013