Pork cooked slowly for a very long time in chilli? Sounds like a good idea, right?
Here’s how to do it.
You’ll need some dried chillis to start with – two medium anchos and four medium guajillos. Both of these varieties are the work horses of the Mexican kitchen. The ancho has a smokey, mild and almost sweet flavour to it, whilst the guajillo has more in the way of heat.
It’s worth seeking out the correct chillis for this recipe, and most other Mexican cookery, for that matter. Try the good people at the Cool Chile Co. to start with.
Soak the chillis in hot water in a small bowl until they rehydrate and plump up, and then add them to a blender along with 175ml of the soaking water and two bay leaves.
Blend until you have a smooth paste, then add a teaspoon of mixed dried herbs, half of a small onion, a quarter of a teaspoon of allspice, two tablespoons of cider vinegar and a pinch of ground cloves. Blend again until the paste becomes smooth and thick. Add a little more water to keep the blades turning, if necessary.
The sauce needs some cooking to take the rawness off the onion and chilli, so heat a large tablespoon of lard in a pan until it starts to smoke, and then add the sauce. It should splutter indignantly, and you’ll be able to smell the chillis. Keep the heat moderate and stir constantly for about five minutes until the sauce sears and concentrates.
Season with half a teaspoon of salt.
Now for the meat. You’ll need about a 1.5kg of boned pork shoulder, skinned and sliced into thick slabs about four or five centimetres thick.
Lay the meat in a large pan, and tip the sauce over it, using a spoon to slather it around so that every surface of the pork is covered well. Add 150ml of water, put the lid on the pan and cook in the oven at 170c for at least two and a half hours, basting the meat periodically with the sauce and rendered fat.
When it’s ready, the pork will be tender to the point of falling apart.
Use a pair of tongs to lift the cooked meat out onto a chopping board and then tear and shred it apart into chunks using a pair of forks. You’ll be left with a pile of steaming hot, richly flavoured tender pork.
Reduce the sauce a little over a high heat, check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary, then pour liberally over the shredded pork.
It seems like there’s a lot of chilli in the sauce, but the long, slow cooking mellows the flavour considerably, and the pork soaks up and distributes the heat effectively. This is not a punch-in-the-face chilli dish, rather it has a more subtle and interesting flavour, and it doesn’t hurt when you eat it…
This pork is a fantastic building block. It can be eaten as it is, with rice and maybe a green salad, or used as a filling for tacos. Cold, it makes an extraordinarly good lunch.
This recipe is from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.
Bayless isn’t particularly well-known on this side of the pond, but he should be. His knowledge of Mexican food is unparalleled, and his books are a treasure trove of beautiful Mexican recipes.