Like cucumber, watermelon loses much of its spirit when subjected to heat, so I almost never recommend it any way other than cold and raw. I’ve made an exception here because more people need to know about the wizardry that happens when watermelon and pork cook slowly together. Everybody who eats this will think the watermelon is tomato. Everybody.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 8-ounce pork shoulder or blade steaks
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons fish sauce
5 cups watermelon, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes, seeds removed
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a 12-inch brazier, cast-iron skillet, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides and put it in a single snug layer in the bottom of the pan to brown. Maintaining medium-high heat, brown the steaks on all four sides, and I mean that. The more caramelization your steaks take on, the more flavor the end braise will have.
While the pork is browning, whisk together the vinegar, honey, red curry paste, and fish sauce. Once the pork looks like something I’d be happy with, turn off the heat and drain away the excess fat. Scatter the watermelon over the top and 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 your oven. Bake for 1 1/2 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 it all. It should be more brothy than saucy.
To serve, spoon the watermelon chunks and some of the red curry broth on top of the pork steaks and know that if you don’t serve this on top of something with the ability to soak up the red juice, you’ve totally missed the point.
From Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Copyright 2016. Reprinted with permission from Little, Brown and Company.
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