The other day, my husband and I were snowed in so I decided to use the opportunity to make a delicious, slow-cooked comfort meal- braised pork tacos with corn jalapeno salsa. You do need to plan ahead a little with this meal because it takes a few hours to make, but it’s well worth the effort. Plus, once the pork is in the oven, you can forget about it for the next 2 hours and watch a movie or read a book. It’s perfect for a Sunday meal or on a blizzard day when you don’t plan on leaving the house.
The secret to my braised pork is the chipotles in adobo. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos peppers that are canned in a delicious flavorful sauce with herbs and vinegar. They can be found in specialty food stores and increasingly in traditional grocery stores. Chipotles are very spicy so I usually remove the seeds (where most of the spice is) before using them. If you touch them with your hands, be very careful to wash your hands thoroughly otherwise they will burn your eyes if you touch them. Unfortunately, I’ve learned this the hard way, so I always mince my chipotles with a knife and fork.
Besides chipotles, I like to use a lot of the spices typically found in Mexican cuisine, like cumin, garlic, and oregano (if you have Mexican oregano, that’s even better). I also add some allspice for depth of flavor but you can leave it out or use ground cloves as a substitute. Near the end of the cooking process, I add a touch of vinegar to add some acidity and brightness to the sauce. I also wait to season with salt until the very end because as the sauce reduces, the flavors concentrate and you may over-season if you do it too early.
I use pork shoulder (aka Boston butt) in this recipe. A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of braising a meat, but it’s really not too difficult- the key is that you need to choose a cut of meat that has enough fat in it so that it will stay moist during the long cooking process. Once it’s done cooking, it will be so tender that you can pull the meat apart with two forks. For those of you who don’t eat pork, you can substitute other meats such as beef, lamb, chicken or turkey and adjust the cooking time. If using chicken or turkey, I would select the dark meat thighs rather than the breast meat which tends to dry out more easily.
The corn jalapeno salsa is one of my favorite accompaniments- it’s great with tacos and burritos but also as a simple salsa with grilled fish, meat or even burgers. I make it a lot in the summer time when fresh corn on the cob is abundant. I like to drizzle it with olive oil and grill it, then cut the kernels off. In the winter, I use canned corn. The sweet corn mixed with the spicy jalapenos and tangy lime juice are a perfect, bright complement to the rich pork. I also usually serve my tacos with sour cream, lettuce, and lime wedges on the side so that people can use whatever toppings they like.
The leftovers are great, often even tastier the next day as the flavors really seep into the meat. And if you want to try something different the next day, you can mix the pork with barbeque sauce and make a pulled pork sandwich or make a pork taco salad with your favorite vegetables.
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2.5-3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ½ -2 chipotles in adobo, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from the can)
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken stock or water
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (I like to use cider vinegar but you can use any)
- 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or canned)
- 1/3 cup minced red onion
- 2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 12 medium soft tortillas
- ½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 1 head Iceberg or Romaine lettuce, shredded
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pot over medium high heat. Trim the pork of excess fat and cut it into 4 or 5 equal pieces. Season the pieces generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the pot and brown the meat on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the pork from the pot and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium and add the onions. Sweat the onions until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, cumin, oregano, allspice, diced tomatoes and chicken stock (or water) and stir to combine. Add the browned pork back to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook 2-2 ½ hours until meat is fork tender.
While the pork is cooking, make the corn jalapeno salsa. Mix all of the ingredients for the salsa together in a medium bowl. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
When the pork is done, remove from the pot from the oven. Remove the pork pieces from the pot and place them on a cutting board or plate. Using two forks, pull the meat apart into pieces. In the meantime, bring the sauce in the pot to a simmer on the stove. Add the vinegar and simmer another few minutes. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the shredded pork back into the sauce and stir to coat all of the meat with the sauce. Add more chicken stock or water as needed. The meat should be juicy and coated with sauce but it should not be soupy.
To assemble the tacos, place some of the braised pork on a tortilla. Top with some corn jalapeno salsa. Drizzle with sour cream and shredded lettuce if desired. Serve with lime wedges on the side. Enjoy with a cold Mexican beer or beverage of your choice!