This main-dish pork and watermelon recipe with flavorful Asian influences is adapted from chef Vivian Howard. On occasion you might find it on the menu of her award-winning restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, in Kinston, North Carolina.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 8-ounce pork-shoulder steaks, pork-blade steaks, or pork-loin chops*
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons fish sauce
5 cups watermelon, cut into 1 ½- inch cubes, seeds removed
Cooked rice (“or something with the ability to soak up the red juice”)
*With all love and admiration for Vivian Howard, her recipe calls for difficult to find pork-shoulder steaks or pork-blade steaks. These days, most pork shoulders come to stores with the bone already removed, meaning a meat-on-bone steak can’t be created. Of course, if you live in pork country or have an extremely accommodating butcher with the right connections, you might be in luck. I ended up opting for boneless pork loin chops when testing the recipe. -EF
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a 12-inch brasier, cast-iron skillet, or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season the pork with lots of salt and pepper on both sides and put it in a snug single layer in the bottom of the pan to brown.
Maintaining medium-high heat, brown the pork on all four sides (“. . . and I mean that,” Howard writes. She wants all four sides brown, not beige, but a really deep brown. “The more caramelization your steaks take on, the more flavor the braise will have.”)
While the pork is browning, whisk together the red wine vinegar, honey, red curry paste, and fish sauce.
Once the pork reaches a deep brown color, drain away the excess fat (the amount of fat will depend on the cut that’s used).
Scatter the watermelon cubes over the top of the pork. Pour the vinegar mixture over that. Either with foil or a lid that fits snugly, cover and slide the pork onto the middle rack of the oven.
Bake for 1 ½ hours. Remove the lid and bake an additional 30 minutes.
After 2 hours in the oven, the pork will be tender and the watermelon will look like shriveled tomatoes. There will be a good amount of juicy, aromatic liquid pooled around the meat. It should be more brothy than saucy.
To serve, put each pork steak in a bowl. Spoon watermelon chunks and some of the red-curry broth on top of each piece of pork.
Serve rice on the side. Howard adds, if you don’t serve this with “something with the ability to soak up the red juice, you’ve totally missed the point.”
–Adapted from Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard, published by Little, Brown and Company, 2016