Ama’s Anchovy Pork Asada

Anchovies in the marinade give this grilled pork extra oomph.
Anchovies in the marinade give this grilled pork extra oomph.

How do I love anchovies?

Let me count the ways.

I love them in Caesar salad so much that when a waiter queries if I want anchovies, I almost take the bait and ask for extra.

I think many a pizza just isn’t complete without them arrayed lavishly overtop.

I find tomato sauces just a little flat without their depth.

And I always have tins of them stocked in my pantry.

So of course when I spotted “Anchovy Pork Asada” in the new “Ama: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, 2019) cookbook, of which I received a review copy, I knew I had to try making it.

The cookbook was written by Josef Centeno, chef-owner of the Centeno Group of restaurants in Los Angeles that includes Bar Ama, Baco Mercat, Orsa & Winston; and Betty Hallock, formerly deputy food editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Centeno takes the Tex-Mex dishes he grew up on in San Antonio, and makes them his own at Bar Ama, his ode to his great-grandmother, who was a legendary cook.

The recipes are alive with flavor and verve. Get hungry for everything from “Pine Nut and Tepin Salsa,” “Cornmeal Pancakes with Maple-Molasses Syrup,” and “Slow-Roasted Beef Belly with Pomegranate and Cotija” to ” Turmeric-Ginger Chicken Fajitas” and “Blood Orange Flan de Queso.”

“Anchovy Pork Asada” is a sliced pork butt marinated in chiles, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, and fresh lime juice before getting grilled.

New Mexico chiles.
New Mexico chiles.

The recipe calls for 2 anchovies, but I actually used 4. Even so, you don’t really taste the anchovies. Much like when you add anchovies to a sauce, they melt in with the other ingredients, co-mingling and adding another layer of savoriness without adding any fishy flavor whatsoever.

The pork grills up incredibly tender, likely from the lime juice doing its magic, with its acid helping to break down connective tissues. The chiles add a subtle, not blistering, pop of spiciness. And of course, the anchovies up the wonderful umami factor. Indeed, the meat is so flavorful on its own that you don’t need to douse it in salsa to enjoy folded up in a tortilla.

Onions and poblanos get grilled, too, turning smoky and sweeter — the perfect garnish for the meat.

The pork is quite versatile; if you don’t want to slice it into strips for tacos, serve it whole as a chop with some rice, beans or sauteed garlicky greens.

And if you want a few more anchovies alongside, I surely won’t judge.

All the fixings for some outstanding pork tacos.
All the fixings for some outstanding pork tacos.

Anchovy Pork Asada

(Serves 4 to 6)

4 pasilla de Oaxaca or dried New Mexico chiles, or 2 to 4 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 to 4 anchovy fillets, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Fine sea salt

2 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices or 2-pound boneless pork chops, 1/2-inch thick

1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch rings

Fresh black pepper

3 poblano chiles, halved lengthwise, stemmed, and seeded

8 to 12 flour tortillas, homemade or store-bought, warmed in a skillet over medium heat

Put the pasilla de Oaxaca chiles in a small saucepan and ad add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and drain the chiles, discarding liquid.

Put the chiles on a cutting board and chop finely. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the anchovies, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Put the pork in the marinade and turn to coat the meat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.

Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and set aside.

Rub the rounds of onions, keeping them intact, with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Rub the poblano chiles with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper.

Grill the onion rounds and poblanos until charred and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side, then move them away from the hottest part of the grill onto a piece of foil to keep warm while the pork cooks.

Grill one side of the pork over medium-high heat just until seared, with grill marks, about 2 minutes. Turn 90 degrees so that there are cross-hatched marks, another 2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the opposite side. A meat or instant-read thermometer should reach 145 degrees. If the pork isn’t cooked through, move it to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking, or place the pork on a piece of foil to cook more slowly, and additional 2 to 4 minutes. Cut the pork into 1-inch strips, transfer to a platter, and serve with onions, poblanos, and warm flour tortillas.

Adapted from “Ama” by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock

Another Recipe from Josef Centeno to Enjoy: Creamy Grits with Blistered Tomatoes, Pickled Serrano Chiles, and Sunflower-Miso Tahini

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