I think it's important to try new things, to take calculated risks. It makes life more interesting and at the very least, one gets an interesting anecdote. These are the things that keep us moving, keep us growing. I'm all for it.
That said, I've been going back and forth about whether or not to try a new pulled pork recipe for months. Part of me thought, Why mess with a good thing? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush--or something like that. But another part, the part that won, knew that it's just a recipe and if it doesn't work, or isn't as good, well then now I know. Plus, braised pork is never a bad thing. Ever.
That being said, I went through my file of recipe clippings from various magazines and found a recipe from the May issue of Bon Appetit for Chile-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos. Tacos. Yes. If all else failed, I would still have tacos. Calculated risks, people.
I started making my braised pork by boiling some water, then pouring that boiling water over 6 dried Hot New Mexico Chiles.
I put a smaller lid on top and pushed down so that they were all submerged. Those got a nice soak for about 30 minutes, until they were soft, and then I removed the stems and transferred them to a blender. I blended the chiles with some sugar and lime juice and a little splash of the water in which they had been re-hydrated, then blended it all up.
Meanwhile, I took a whole pork shoulder, bone and all, and placed it in a large bowl. With a very sharp knife, I trimmed off most of that fat you see there on top.
Then I poured the chili marinade on top and rubbed it all over the pork.
That went into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, while I started building the base of my braise. In a large pot, I sauteed onions, garlic, some bay leaves, dried oregano, cumin, and all spice.
I let that cook until the onions were softened, then I added a 12 ounce bottle of beer. The recipe calls for Negro Modelo, but I didn't have any, so I used the lone bottle of Harpoon IPA that had been sitting in the back of my refrigerator, waiting for an opportunity like this. Once the beer had come to a boil, I lowered the pork down into the pot, poured on any remaining chili mixture, covered it with a heavy lid, and stuck it in the oven.
The pork braised for 4 hours on very low heat, and every hour or so, I took it out, turned it, and basted it with the braising liquid. After it was done cooking, I removed the pork from the pot, and skimmed off as much fat from the top of the braising liquid as I could. After the fat was (mostly) gone, I put the pork back in the braising liquid, then shredded it with tongs.
Ok, so, pulled pork on its own isn't that pretty.
At this point, I tasted the pork and man was it bland. I had a moment of panic thinking: THIS is why you don't mess with a good thing. Four hours of cooking and what do you have to show for it??? Then I took a step back and realized it was probably bland because I hadn't used salt once in this recipe. See, I overlooked the one part in the recipe where it says season the pork with salt liberally on all sides. Oops.
Obviously this would not do, so I added some salt and a couple of pinches of chili flakes to up the spice factor. I thought the chili rub would make it spicier, but I think all that cooking time mellowed them. Once the seasonings were adjusted, and the spices and flavor was to our liking, we assembled our taco station.
It looked a lot like our taco station from the last time we ate pulled pork tacos:
Sour cream, guacamole, cheese, hot sauce; you get it. This time, however, I found cojita cheese, and while K preferred your standard shredded Mexican blend cheese product, I thought this new variety was delightful. It was salty, crumbly, delicious.
While the pork flavor on it's own wasn't knock-your-socks off like my other pulled pork recipe, the flavor paired perfectly with other Mexican ingredients. While the original pulled pork is divine, it's flavor is pretty strong, which means it can overpower whatever it's on top of or next to. This pork doesn't do that. This pork has wonderful flavor, but still lets the rest of the taco ingredients do their thing.
The pork itself was tender and fell right off the bone, which, if you watch any Food-Travel-Extravaganza shows, is always their test for perfectly cooked pork shoulder.
Trying new things can be fun and delicious. And who says a person can't have two pulled pork recipes in her rotation?
Not me. Not anymore!
Here's the recipe:
*I don't know much about dried chiles, so I bought what I could find, which were "New Mexico hot chiles." The recipe calls for 4 dried ancho chiles and 2 chiles de arbol or japones. If you can procure these, or know what they are (or even better, what they taste like!) definitely go for it.
Mexican Braised Pork Shoulder (adapted from the May issue of Bon Appetit)
- 6 dried chilis*
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 7-pound Pork shoulder (i used bone-in)
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons Olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 12-ounce bottle Dark beer
- 1/2 cup crumbled Cojita cheese
- sour cream
- hot sauce
- Place chilis in a medium bowl. Add enough boiling water to cover, then place a plate or a smaller lid on top to submerge. Let soak for 30 minutes, until softened. Drain chilis, reserving about 1 cup of soaking liquid.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chilis, sugar, lime juice, and 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid into a blender. Blend until a smooth paste forms. Add more soaking liquid if necessary.
- Place pork in a large bowl and trim most of the fat off with a sharp knife. Season pork generously with salt on all sides and spread paste over pork. Cover and chill.
- Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, and allspice. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 7 minutes. Add bear and bring to a boil. Add pork to the pot, pouring on any additional chili paste left in the bowl. Cover with a heavy lid and transfer to oven.
- Braise pork, turning and basting every hour, until fork-tender, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours (depending on the size of your pork)
- When done, remove pork to a platter and skim off the fat of the braising liquid. Return pork to pot and shred, using two forks or tongs.
- Heat tortillas either in the oven or in the microwave and assemble your taco bar. Serve pork and tortillas on a plate, and put all other taco ingredients in bowls. Make your own tacos!