Today we’re eating the pork in tacos, so it will be seasoned accordingly, but you could use the same cooking process for a barbequed pork sandwich by switching out the seasonings for barbeque sauce or rub.
The closest grocery store is a New York-based chain (going nameless here) that is a little upscale, and you can seldom find the right pork cut for this dish, because they must have some sort of bias against too much pork fat. Rarely you can find a bone-in pork shoulder, which also works, and probably the bone adds good flavor to the meat, but I have a bias for the boneless roast all neatly encased in that stretchy elastic web. So, I more often shop for meat at the local Giant Eagle or Walmart where the boneless shoulder or butt is always available. Maybe it’s the butt name that the high-end store finds distasteful, even though it comes from the shoulder. Hey, where did the butt name come from, anyway? Let’s ask Wikipedia.
The pork butt in Walmart is from Tyson®—is that the company from Arkansas or Georgia? (two states in which I have lived)—and I have to say that their netting is a little looser than most. At first I thought it was odd, but it turns out that it roasts the meat more quickly, so it has become my first choice.
Roast Shredded Pork Butt
Preheat oven: 350°
3.5 lb boneless pork shoulder (leave the elastic netting on)
3 cloves peeled garlic
Lots of salt and pepper
Place the pork butt in a roasting pan in which it is not crowded or touching the sides of the pan, where it will stick and burn. Cut the garlic cloves into about 3 slivers each and place them in cuts all over the top of the roast. I stick in a sharp paring knife, turn the blade 90°, then slide the garlic in next to the blade. Leaving the blade in makes it easier to slide the garlic in. Sprinkle liberally with salt and cracked pepper, cover and place in oven at 350° for about two hours before checking for doneness. After two hours, if it seems to be close to that falling apart stage, you can remove it to a cutting board and remove the netting for the third hour. Sometimes the roast will fall into big pieces when the netting is removed; sometimes not. Roast for about another hour, checking halfway to see if it’s ready to shred with a fork. I don’t know what happens on those days when it takes much longer or those days when it cooks more quickly. I suggest you make it on a day when you are flexible and unstressed. If you think the meat is unusually dry or your oven is super hot, you could add a little water to the bottom of the pan, but don’t overdo that. You want primarily roasted meat, not braised.
Remove the meat to a cutting board and shred with two forks. What you do next depends on how you want to eat it.
My roasting pan is one of those cheap dark blue speckled things. They are not heavy pans and that surely has an effect on cooking time and the final product. If you are lucky enough to have a covered enameled cast iron roaster, you might know how that changes the whole process. I looked at Le Creuset roasters earlier this summer and confirmed that I can’t afford one.
Shredded Pork Tacos
3.5 lb cooked shredded pork butt
2 onions, chopped and sautéed in olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano (why do I only have ground oregano in the cupboard today?)
2 dried ancho peppers, reconstituted and puréed ( about 1 cup, see below)
1 small can chopped green chiles
salt and pepper to taste
Soft taco flour tortillas or corn tortillas/taco shells
Condiments: queso fresco, avocado slices or guacamole, green or red salsa
You could do lots of things differently here. You could use a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which has a nice smoky flavor and is hotter than the ancho purée. I like the combination of the ancho purée and the canned green chiles; I like the brightness of those canned chiles. You could use a shredded cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce and tomato for a traditional taco flavor, but I like the mild creamy crumbled queso fresco and avocado. Whatever you use, the steps to putting it together is quick once the meat is cooked and shredded. You could do that a day in advance.
- Sauté onions until translucent over medium heat
- Add cumin and oregano, salt and pepper, stirring for 1-2 minutes
- Add ancho purée and bring to boil
- Add canned chiles and shredded pork to sautéed mixture and heat
I don’t think I need to tell you how to put tacos together.
Leftovers: This recipe makes a huge bowl of shredded meat. If you have leftovers, you could eat them with red beans and rice, or even some polenta.
Reconstituted Dried Chiles
We lived in Texas for three years after grad school and got used to Tex-Mex cuisine, so I had to learn how to use dried chiles, because, for one thing, THERE ARE NO TOMATOES IN CHILI. I have no problem with beans in my chili, but there should be no tomatoes. Don’t argue with me on this point. Eventually, I will share my chili recipe.
- Rinse dried chiles, remove stems and seeds
- Tear into pieces so it fits in a small container or bowl
- Cover with boiling water; cover container with plastic wrap
- Set aside for about 45 minutes
- Place reconstituted chiles in blender with part of the liquid, adding more as needed to make a purée about the consistency of tomato juice (ironic, isn’t it?)
- Strain puree through a fine strainer to remove large pieces of pulp
You can’t keep this purée or freeze it, as it will separate and just not be the same. I have a cup that came with a long-gone hand blender that I always use for soaking the chiles. It holds two cups of water. For seasoning the tacos, I used only 1 cup of water for two chiles.