Make this legendary dish at home: Roots' jerk pork nachos
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There's nothing like taking the time to unplug and cook at home every now and again. It's even better when you can create a much beloved restaurant experience right in your own kitchen.
Take for instance the jerk pulled pork nachos served at Roots Restaurant, which closed in 2012.
When I think about restaurant dishes that I've enjoyed over the years in Milwaukee, these particular nachos always stand out in my memory. There was plenty of succulent flavorful jerk pork, enough fresh salsa to offer balance and (of course) gobs of melted cheese. There was even a bit of magic in the tortilla chips, which struck both sweet and salty notes all at the same time.
So, when a friend asked me to hunt down the recipe, I was a willing participant. And, fortunately, all it took was a hop over to Lake Park Bistro to chat with former Roots chef and owner, John Raymond.
The nachos, says Raymond, came on the heels of Roots' jerk pork sandwich.
"The sandwich was so popular we tried it in nachos. They became a staple food of many 'Cellar Dwellers,' a phrase we used to refer to our regular Root Cellar clients."
The nachos became such a popular seller that Raymond says they couldn't take them off of the menu without countless customers expressing disappointment. Even staff at the restaurant harbor fond memories of the dish.
Ah, the memories
"Oh man, oh man, oh man," says John Trusky, former Roots bartender. "I think half the bar staff lived off those and the pulled pork sandwich. Just a great balance of flavor from simple jerk marinade, jalapenos, white cheddar. All the other ingredients were just accouterments. The chips were thin and crisp (El Rey if I remember right) and held up to the juicy onslaught of the pork. There was near no way of eating those without three or four napkins at hand. Heck, the linens weren't enough for the task most of the time."
Trusky notes that the nachos were popular across the board.
"Here you are in Milwaukee's premier (at the time) farm to table restaurant where there was Sushi Grade A seafood, Kobe-style beef from Montana, vegetarian dishes that knocked the socks off of us meat eaters, flavor profiles that just weren't had in Milwaukee at the time, and the nachos sold better than anything else. But there is a certain sense to it.
"The Cellar was the live spot, the happening scene. Nachos fit a lot of pocketbooks and taste buds just fine, and they helped to keep the vibe up, keeping things casual. You could eat em with a few friends, juice dribbling down the corners of your mouth, and no one would look down their nose. They're nachos. They're not pretentious and subject to all the criticisms that the other menu items were subjected to in regards to flavor and technique. They provided a common ground between the suits and the heads that would show up for shows and DJ's. White collar, blue collar, no collar... everybody ate 'em just the same."
Michael Collins, a former sous chef at Roots, says he was in charge of making the pork for years, and he recalls suffering numerous burns from "awkward splash of screaming hot liquid pork fat."
"I like to think it's because I made it better than anyone, but perhaps that's my ego talking," he recollects. "I would sear the pork fat cap side down in some dry, screaming hot large saute pans until every side was deep mahogany brown. I felt that it needed to have that flavor, almost like it had been grilled over an open fire. Others would shorten this step, but I thought that was key to taste and texture in the final product."
"I'm kind of surprised that I miss those nachos as much as I do, after thinking about all this," Collins adds. "I think I can say with some certainty that they were the best nachos I've ever eaten, and I love nachos."
Roots Restaurant & Cellar jerk pulled pork nachos
Thanks to Chef Raymond's generosity, we are pleased to be able to release this recipe to readers for the very first time. For the full "unplugged" experience, go old school and print out the recipe before proceeding.
- Jerk pulled pork (see recipe below)
- 1 lb. grated white cheddar cheese
- ¾ cup salsa verde (recipe below)
- Fresh pico de gallo
- ½ bunch green onions, chopped
- Tortilla chips, preferably freshly fried
- Plenty of napkins
Preheat oven to 350- degrees, on oven safe large platter, or split on two smaller plates. begin assembling nachos. Begin with cheese on the bottom, layering with tortillas, pork, tortillas and cheese. Bake for eight minutes until cheese is melted. Finish with salsa verde, more pork, pico de gallo and chopped green onions.
Jerk barbecued pork
- 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 inch by 4 inch blocks
- 1 large Spanish onion, julienned
- 1 habanero chile, cut in half, seeded
- salt and pepper
- vegetable oil, for browning
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 2 cups braising liquid
- ¼ cup "Walkers Wood" Jerk Marinade
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Season pork with salt and black pepper. In a large roasting pan
begin browning pork. After all the pork is browned, add 6 cups water, onion, and habanero pepper. Cover with fitting lid or aluminum foil, braise for 2 hours in preheated oven. When pork is fork tender, remove from oven, "Pull" pork, remove meat, onions, and chile pepper place ingredients in sauce pan, add tomato juice, pineapple juice, 2 cups braising liquid, Walkers Wood marinade and brown sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes, until sauce thickens. Remove from heat, adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
- 1 medium spanish onion, quartered
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
- 3 tomatillos, peeled and cut in quarters
- 2 jalapenos, seeded, cut in half
- ½ bunch of cilantro, rough chopped with stems
- 2 tsp whole cumin seed
- 2 tbl vegetable oil
- juice of 1 lime
In a large saute pan on medium high heat, add oil and all ingredients with the exception of lime juice, cilantro and cumin seed. Toast ingredients until slightly scorched. add cumin seed, toast one minute longer. Add enough water to barely cover the ingredients,about 1 1/2 cups, simmer until tender. Once tender, turn off heat, add cilantro and lime juice. Cool ingredients. In high speed blender, puree ingredients using liquid from the pan. Note you may not use all of the liquid. Blend ingredients until thick. Adjust lime juice salt and pepper. Cool. This can be made days ahead. It is a staple sauce in my cooler.
Thank you for posting this! I was a regular in the Cellar and had these nachos all the time. I've been thinking about them ever since Roots closed and can't wait to try them at home.
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