If you haven’t guessed it yet, here at Cook Until Epic we have a real thing for pork. Add that love of pork to my love of Mexican food and you have, what I feel, is a truly epic dish. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would share this recipe. The preparation is straightforward and simple, and the results are as good as any restaurant.
I found this recipe while browsing the America’s Test Kitchen Feed site (login required), and since this is one of my favorite Mexican dishes, I knew I had to try it.
1 (3½- to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to ⅛ inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
2 cups water
1 medium orange, halved
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about ⅓ cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.
2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heat safe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.
That’s a pretty long winded recipe, but trust me its pretty simple. For some recipes, I mess around with the ingredients until they’re what I’m looking for. This is not one of those recipes. The biggest thing to take note of is the fact that it calls for a pork butt. I tried making this one night with a pork loin and it was terrible. You need the extra fat content that a pork butt has for flavor and moisture content.
I started off with filling my enameled dutch oven with the cut up pieces of pork butt. The butt that I bought had a little more fat than I needed, so I did end up trimming it as the recipe states.
Next, I added all of the spices, juices, fruit and onions to the pot. I’ve found that before I cut the lime to juice it, if I firmly roll it between my palm and the counter, it will juice much easier. The recipe doesn’t state what type of orange to use, but I usually buy navels due to their being seedless. After everything was in the pot, I filled my dutch oven with water until the pork was covered. This is one of the only deviations I make from the recipe. I found that the amount of water that is called for is inadequate to cover the pork, so I just fill the pot with water until the pork is covered. One thing to note here is that this is going to be relatively heavy. My dutch oven alone weighs 9.5 pounds, plus 5 pounds of pork and probably another 2-3 pounds of water and ingredients. So, depending on your setup you may be lifting 15-20 pounds into a 300 degree oven. Be careful!
At around the 1 hour point, your pork should be ready to be flipped and stirred. The orange halves and onion are pretty soft at this point and may fall apart on you, especially the orange. Once you’ve flipped everything around, put the lid back on and put it back in the over for another hour, and don’t worry about the brown haze on the sides of your dutch oven, it wipes right off.
After the second hour in the oven, its time to pull the pork out and shred it. When you remove the pot from the oven, remember, it’s still about 15 pounds only now you’re in the bonus round. That 15 pound pot is now roughly 300 degrees and is filled with boiling liquid, so watch yourself.
Set the pot on a burner, crank the heat up to get the liquid reducing (don’t forget to stir!), and start pulling everything out of the pot. I throw the onions and orange halves away; there isn’t much that can be done with them. The pork goes into a bowl and gets shredded with two forks, which should happen easily. I usually pan fry the pork to make it crispy, but you can also put it in the oven as the recipe does.
Once the pork is crisp and the liquid has reduced (it takes much longer than the recipe says), its time to chow down. I fill a tortilla with pork, pinto beans and a mild cheese; white american cheese, queso fresco, chihuahua, and Mexican melting cheese all work very well. This recipe is one of my favorites and it impresses time and time again.