QUITE POSSIBLY THE GREATEST PORK SANDWICH EVER INVENTED
I really like grilling things. I also really like sandwiches, especially pork sandwiches. I’ve been a student of both for years and when the two come together, there’s a whole, whole lot to like. Because of this, I feel obliged to kiss the brilliant and most likely dead stranger who invented solomo on the mouth, garlic-tinged tongue and all.
Essentially Basque-style pork loin with pimentos on crusty bread, the solomo sandwich is a perfect example of a few simple ingredients coming together to be so much more than the sum of their parts. It’s one of my all time favorite sandwiches. It’s also a favorite summer comfort food, reminding me of days spent in my hometown in Idaho.
Growing up in Boise, we always had a good number of Basque restaurants, bars and festivals to hit up at various times of the year. It’s one of those anomalies of ethnic enclaves where nobody really expects them– there’s Basque shepherds in the mountains, Basque boarding houses dotting the backroads of small towns, Basque social clubs, Basque museums and blocks, but best of all there’s a lot of good Basque food. To sit at the bar at Gernika and wolf on solomo, lamb grinders, Spanish torillas and a Northwest microbrew is to find my happy place.
And now that I live in Texas, well, sometimes a man just has to bring his happy place to him. On these occasions I make my own solomo. It requires some planning ahead, some specialized ingredients, but damned if it isn’t simple and worth it. The hardest ingredient to procure is the nora peppers: tasty, dried and mild chilis that impart a difficult to pin-point but definitely Basque flavor to the pig. But any more, a quick search of the internet should provide you easy access.
I like to start with a good quality loin and then marinate my pork for three or four days in a slurry of garlic and the dried nora peppers. On day four I salt it and grill it very slowly over indirect heat. Over the same fire I char up some red bell peppers, toast a few baguettes and then assemble the whole thing with a little sauce created from heated reserved marinade and homemade mayo.
Lemme tell you, for a sandwich where pretty much everything is cooked or toasted over hot coals, its flavor is shockingly mild in a very, very pleasing way. It’s far from most of the black pepper, smoke and char assaults that I typically pull off my rig. And in spite of the volume of garlic used, the long marinade time, and the liberal application of fire, solomo feels like more of an exercise in patience and restraint than anything.
And as in so many other cases, patience and restraint taste pretty damn good. The meat is lean. The flavors of pig, roasted pepper and mellow garlic are pure. And if the bread is as good as it should be, the whole thing punchisizes your mouth with tasty, crusty bits.
If you’re feeling really good wash it down a little kalimotxo while tending your grill and you’ll feel even better. Cheat tradition and add some Manchego or Petit Basque to your set-up if you’re feeling cheeky. Indulge another kalimotxo. Make a few homemade croquettes for a side, touch your tongue to the flames and understand why Hemingway spent all that time in Spain dicking with those bulls.
Feeling homesick for tasty Basque eats a few years back, I found a recipe on-line that was given to Sunset Magazine by one of the guys from Epi’s, a Basque place outside Boise renowned for knowing their shit. I’ve made a few modifications but this is essentially what I eat when I go home.
1 large pork loin (not tenderloin, but loin roast)
1lb dried nora peppers
6-7 cloves of garlic
2 cups water
A loaf of crusty bread
4 red bell peppers
Manchego or other firm cheese (optional)
Tiger Sauce (optional)
Bring the water to a boil. Deseed and stem the nora peppers. Throw them in the water and remove from the heat. Let them steep for 20 minutes. Throw in your garlic cloves and blend the whole thing till it’s very smooth. Cool the marinade completely. Rinse the pork loin. Put it and the marinade in a ziplock and store in the fridge for three or four days. Remove the pork from the marinade, salt it aggressively and preheat your grill for indirect grilling. Set the marinade aside. Rub down your bell peppers with olive oil. Grill the peppers till they’re black on all sides, rest them in a bag and then peel them when cool enough to handle, reserving their juice. Grill your pork loin till it’s cooked through and a deep dark brown on all sides. Move the pork to a plate to rest and collect the juice it expels. Heat the marinade to a vigorous simmer, add in the pepper juice and the meat juice and reduce by about half. When it’s reduced and cooled slighty, mix in the mayo and a few splashes of Tiger Sauce. Toast your bread over the coals. Assemble your sandwich by adding a little sauce to the bread, several slices of solomo and a few pieces of roasted pepper and a little cheese. Eat and enjoy the view from the top of Sandwich Mountain.
Cheap red wine
Coke or Pepsi
Mix in a 50/50 ratio over ice and be extremely cautious.