CHILE-BRAISED PORK TACOS
If you’re wondering why I’m posting another pork taco recipe, try to understand that this is the type of food that I crave. Comforting, flavorful food that fills the belly and is easy on the pocketbook. Anyone who’s read my blog knows by now that I love Mexican food, so instead of waxing poetic about the various influences that have colored my fondness for all fare south-of-the-border, let me explain what makes cooking dishes like this so appealing.
For me, a bowl of chile-braised pork sitting in my refrigerator represents a week’s worth of filling meals and tasty snacks to come. A 3-pound piece of pork shoulder will make somewhere close to twenty tacos. That’s ten servings coming from a piece of meat that costs somewhere around $11. 00 – $12.00 dollars. Not a bad deal if you ask me. Strapped for time on the weeknights? Make this recipe your “Sunday braise” and reap the benefits of succulent homemade pork for the entire week. It might take a bit of time and planning to prepare the chile paste, but if you do any kind of Mexican cooking at home, odds are you already have everything you need in your pantry.
If you’re adverse to heat, its important to know that the dried chiles in this recipe render a dish that is by no means spicy, but rather earthy and complex — subtly perfumed with spices like clove, allspice and oregano. Still, as delicious as this may be, even I can tire of tacos. Fortunately, this recipe makes for an outstanding all-purpose Mexican pork. It’s just as delicious in a burrito, rolled up with beans, sour cream, salsa and guac, or in a cheesy quesadilla. I’ve even had it alongside eggs or topped on tortilla chips like mini tostadas. Next time I’ll be throwing it in a soft roll and serving it as a torta.
CHILE-BRAISED PORK TACOS
Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen
Outside of making and searing the chile paste, this recipe is as easy to put together as any other slow-braised pot roast. When soaking the chiles, I like to make sure they are completely covered by the warm water by adding in a smaller, inverted bowl to keep them submerged for the full 30 minutes. If you don’t have any guajillo chiles on hand in the pantry, try substituting New Mexico or California chiles. Don’t have any dried chipotles? Use the canned ones packed in adobo instead. Searing the chile paste in a hot pan is an essential step in the development and concentration of chile flavor in this dish — stir constantly to avoid scorching and watch out for splattering. This dish can be completed through step 4 and refrigerated overnight. If you decide to go down that route, store the meat separately from any leftover braising liquid and reheat them together over low heat before serving. Finally, I like to warm and toast my tortillas slightly over an open gas flame. After flipping them a few times to make them pliable, stack them wrapped in tin foil or a clean kitchen towel until ready to serve.
- 2 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 4 medium dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and seeded
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1/2 small white onion, roughly chopped (plus a few thinly sliced rings for garnish)
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt (plus more to taste)
- 3 pounds, boneless pork shoulder
- Warm corn tortillas
- Sour cream, hot sauce, thinly sliced radishes and cilantro, for garnish
- Place the chiles in a small bowl, cover with very warm water and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 2/3 cup of the soaking liquid, then transfer the rehydrated chiles and the reserved liquid to a blender.
- Pulverize the bay leaves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and add them to the blender along with the vinegar, onion, garlic, oregano, allspice and cloves. Process to a smooth puree, adding water if needed to keep the mixture moving through the blades. Press through a medium mesh strainer into a bowl.
- Set a large, 6-quart pot with a lid over medium-high heat and add the oil. When very hot and almost smoking, pour in the puree and stir constantly until it sears, concentrates and darkens into a spicy-smelling paste, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and season the sauce with salt.
- Preheat the oven to 325°. Cut the pork shoulder into slabs about 3-inches thick. Lay the meat into the pot with the chile paste, then flip it over to cover evenly, spooning on more sauce over the top to coat the pork well. Pour 1/2 cup water around the meat, cover tightly and place in the oven. Roast for 2 1/2 hours, basting the meat every 30 minutes with the liquid and rendered fat that accumulates. If all of the moisture evaporates, feel free to add more water to the plan to allow you to continue basting. Let the pork rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.
- Shred or pull the meat apart into-bite size pieces using two forks. Toss the meat to incorporate any of the leftover chile braising liquid, check for seasoning and add more salt to taste.
- Place the chile pork in a warm bowl and serve alongside the warm corn tortillas. Have your guests assemble their own tacos, adding their own garnishes to taste.
Makes about 20 tacos