Sometimes culinary inspiration comes from the strangest place: like a DVD, for example.
While watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico, an action movie starring Johnny Depp, my son called me to join him, insisting I see something special.
Now I already watched that movie and totally hated what the bad guys did to Depp, surgically removing his eyes, so I didnít need to see it again, ever. But it was a special featurette my son didnít want me to miss. It was called Ten Minute Cooking School.
In this short DVD extra, writer/director Robert Rodriguez, a young, hip guy wearing a ski cap and three days of beard growth, shows viewers how to make Puerco Pibil, a slow roasted pork dish from the Yucatan region of Mexico.
ďI have a lot of friends who donít know how to cook,Ē he says into the camera with a disgusted shake of his head. ďI donít understand this.Ē
Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to make love, he continues. Iím paraphrasing his words for a family newspaper.
ďYouíve gotta eat the rest of your life, you might as well eat well,Ē he concludes.
Rodriguezís creative side clearly goes beyond movie making as he explains that everyone should pick a few favorite dishes and learn to cook them with some expertise. Practice, practice, practice, then you can put them on your own menu.
He said when a friend visits his house, they can see a small printed menu on his table, and know that he can make anything on that list for them at any time.
I embrace his hospitality and creativity.
The Puerco Pibil dish has a starring role in Rodriguezís movie, so it was a natural recipe to share. Itís also complicated enough to impress your friends, he said. And it has a cool ingredient ó banana leaves ó which is totally optional because they arenít so easy to find in every neighborhood.
ďItís a dish so good you might get whacked just for making it,Ē he said.
Who can resist such an endorsement?
Thatís where the movie comes in. Agent Sands, Johnny Deppís character, kills over it.
In the film, Depp shares a meal and a plan with Antonio Banderas. Depp explains his love for the slow roasted pork. It isnít anything fancy, just his favorite dish. He orders it in every dive he goes to in Mexico with a tequila and lime.
When he encounters the best version, he says, ďItís too good.Ē
He tells Banderas that he has to walk into the kitchen to kill the cook to restore the balance.
Yes, itís twisted logic. But Rodriguez keeps that side of him in his movie plot, not in his kitchen thankfully. His cooking school featurette is very sensible.
There is preparation required for making this dish. Youíll need a gadget ó a spice or coffee grinder to make the spice paste. Rodriguez suggests that putting hot spices in your usual coffee grinder is a very bad idea. He offers options: add heat by leaving in the seeds from the habanero peppers. And he makes one very appealing dish. He also explains you can buy prepared achiote paste which is what you are making but thatís not as fine as making it from scratch.
Whatís so great is Rodriguez makes cooking seem fun and approachable and even creative. Iím willing to bet his fans, like my son, might be motivated to venture to the kitchen to experiment. And isnít that a good thing?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ'S PUERCO PIBIL
5 tablespoons annato seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
8 allspice berries
2 habanero peppers
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
8 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons salt
Juice of 5 lemons
Generous splash of tequila
5 pounds pork butt, cut into 2 inch cubes
Banana leaves (optional)
Grind the annato seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves and allspice in a spice grinder till the annatto seeds are pulverized. You can use a coffee grinder as long as it&rsquos devoted to preparing spices only.
Take the seeds and veins out of the habanero peppers and chop. Put in a blender with the orange juice, vinegar, garlic and salt and puree. Pour the dry spices into the blender, the juice of the lemons and a good splash of tequila and blend until it&rsquos a smooth liquid.
Cut the pork butt into two inch cubes and place in a large zip lock bag. Add the marinade to the bag and turn over several times to coat meat. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, or banana leaves if you can find them. Pour in pork along with the marinade. Cover with more banana leaves and then seal tight with aluminum foil or just foil. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 4 hours.
Serve with white or Spanish rice.