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Memories of Sorpotel

Passport & Plate - Sorpotel

India | Saturday, 7 March 2015 | 5 photos

For the Sorpotel

1 lb pork belly, skin removed, cut into large chunks
1 lb pork shoulder cut into large chunks
4 tbsp (approx.) distilled white vinegar
East Indian bottle masala (see note)
1 or 2 green bird’s eye chillis
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, crushed
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
sugar to taste
salt to taste

For the bread
1 loaf enriched white bread, such as challah, brioche, or pain de mie, cut in 1" slices and then cut into 3" rounds with a ring mold
butter for browning

for the apple
3 empire apples, or other crisp variety that you enjoy, cored and cut into 1" chunks
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp coriander seed lightly crushed
salt to taste

For the endive
5 heads white endive, cut into quarters through the root
3 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter
salt to taste


How to prepare this recipe
Boil meat in large saucepan with water to cover, 2 tsp salt, and white vinegar. Simmer for five minutes. Let cool, then refrigerate till firm. Reserve broth and cut pork into ¼” dice.

Heat oil in heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add 2 whole green chillies and the crushed ginger and garlic. Add pork and ginger-garlic paste. Fry on low heat for 5 then add reserved broth.

Add 3 tbsp. of the bottle masala and bring to a boil. Simmer for half an hour, adding more liquid as needed, until pork is fork-tender and liquid is significantly reduced. Oil should pool over the surface. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Check seasoning. Add salt, vinegar, and bottle masala as needed.

Make the caramelized apple chutney: In a wide pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add crushed coriander seeds and sauté briefly.
Add the apple, sugar and salt. Cook, covered, for five minutes, until the apples release their juices. Add vinegar and reduce heat to low. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring, until apples are tender and caramelized. Check for seasoning and set aside.

Make the endive: In a wide pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Next, scatter sugar evenly over and cook until it begins to caramelize. Swirl the pan to distribute the caramel evenly. Turn heat down and add endive to the pan, placing cut surfaces on the caramel. Sprinkle with salt and let endive cook, covered, for a 3-4 minutes.
Uncover and cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat, turning endive gently till it is golden brown on all sides and tender. Set aside.

Brush the bread with melted butter and toast on a cast-iron skillet until golden brown.

Place a 3” ring mold in the center of a plate. Spread a 1/2” layer of caramelized apple in the bottom, followed by the toasted bread. Spoon a generous helping of sorpotel on top of the bread. Remove the mold and place a piece of the braised endive on the side of the dish. Drizzle some of the spiced oil from the sorpotel around the base of the dish and serve right away.


The story behind this recipe
My grandmother, Joyce, grew up in an Anglo-Indian family in the south Indian city of Bangalore. She inherited her recipe for sorpotel, an unctuous, tangy stew of slow-cooked pork, from her East-Indian mother-in-law and eventually became famous for it among her friends and family. The recipe has passed through innumerable family kitchens. It is heavily laden with memories of places that now only exist in the stories of my mother and her aunts.
One Christmas, many years ago, I was visiting my parents in Bangalore at the same time as my grandaunt Patsy. Christmas is always a culinary event in our home, but since this was a rare occasion, with so many generations gathered under one roof, we took the opportunity to cook a feast of classic Anglo-Indian and East Indian dishes under Patsy’s watchful eye.
The outdoor kitchen is bustling with the activity of multiple dishes coming together at once. The sorpotel is the one dish that Patsy defers to my mother on—she still refers to it as “Joyce’s sorpotel,” and trusts my mother as the rightful custodian of its preparation now that my grandmother is too frail to cook. As my mother adds the East Indian “bottle masala,” she tells me about the narrow-necked bottles the spice used to come in. “Rock solid!” My mother says, laughing. “You had to use a knitting needle to get it out!”

It is late afternoon when the whole family finally sits down on the verandah to eat. The afternoon passes in a haze of laughter and gossip. The sorpotel, from the first bite, is spicy, sweet, tangy—perfect.
My mother always keeps a store of sorpotel handy in her freezer, like a portion of celebration kept in reserve, ready to be taken out and enjoyed with toast when you need a taste of a faraway place. I know the feeling: I serve my sorpotel with toasted brioche, caramelized apples, and endive. And one bite is enough to make home feel more like home, to take me to another place and time.

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