Back in 2013, I made one of the items on my food bucket list … tamales. But, first, I made the pulled pork filling to put inside them.
Making tamales is a multi-step process, especially if you want to make the best darned tamales EVER because you’ve been looking forward to making them for so long.
CREDIT: Although I used a combination of several recipes to come up with the pulled pork recipe below, the basic recipe I started with was found here on Ashlee’s “I’m Topsy Turvy” blog. Her green enchilada sauce sounds pretty good for a future chicken tamale filling … when I recover from this marathon session. 🙂
Making a pork filling for tamales can be as simple as roasting a piece of pork seasoned with some salt, pepper and maybe a bit of garlic and then sticking it inside your tamale, or as elaborate as making a braising liquid for the pulled pork using chiles, herbs and spices and then a laborious mole sauce with more chiles, ground seeds etc. and using the spiced meat and sauce to fill your tamales. I chose a method that was somewhere between the two extremes in the number of ingredients and techniques used.
This is the boneless pork shoulder blade roast I started with. The marks are from the large netting while held it into a roast shape.
The result, almost 3 hrs later, was a pulled pork which made me want to eat the whole thing in buns and forget making the tamales. By the way, it’s amazing how much shrinkage you get from a 3 pound pork shoulder, once you braise it and get rid off all the remaining fat and connective tissue. I can understand wanting to stretch the tasty meat by putting it inside a tamale. 🙂
Red Chile Pulled Pork
3 – 3 1/2 pound pork shoulder blade roast, boneless
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 each ancho, guajillo and red chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 medium onion, quartered
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
5 whole cloves
3″ cinnamon stick
4-5 whole bay leaves, dry toasted
6-10 whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano (Mexican, if possible)
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 cup diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 tsp salt
Chiles used for the Chile Colorado (red chile) braising liquid: Anchos (dark fat ones), hot red chiles (little ones) and guajillo (long reddish brown ones)
In a medium sized bowl, break up the chiles and pour in enough boiling water to cover well (1-2 cups). Use another weighted bowl on top to make sure the chiles are submerged. Soak for about 30 minutes, then remove the soaked chiles to a blender. Pour the soaking liquid through a strainer, leaving the grit on the bottom behind, and reserve the liquid to help puree the chiles later.
Cut the pork shoulder into 4 x 1 1/2-2″ thick strips. Brown all sides in vegetable oil in a Dutch oven at medium high heat. A couple of chunks at a time would be best as you don’t want to crowd the pan or lower the heat. Transfer browned pieces to a large bowl until they’re all done then drain off all the accumulated fat in the dutch oven, blotting off any remaining gently with a paper towel so as to retain the browned bits on the bottom.
Sprinkle the salt evenly over the 4 chunks of pork and place them into your dutch oven.
In a dry frying pan, char the quartered onion and the garlic cloves turning over so all sides are done. Remove to the blender with the chiles. Add the oregano and thyme as well as the diced tomatoes with any liquid. Add a bit of the chile soaking liquid and puree until you get a fairly even mixture. (I used all of the draining liquid and it was thick but pourable.) Use 1/3 of this mixture (about 1 cup) to braise the pork. Keep the rest (~2 cups) for another day.
Ground chiles, tomatoes and herbs
Charred onions and garlic cloves
Preheat the oven to 325 deg Fahrenheit.
In the same frying pan, toast the bay leaves until just beginning to bubble and brown. Add them to the dutch oven with the pork. Also add the chile-tomato mixture, the coriander and cumin seeds, peppercorns, and the cinnamon stick. If the pork isn’t covered by the mixture, rinse your blender with some water to get the rest of paste dissolved and then add more water as needed. You want to have enough water so that the pork just barely peeks out and is in only one layer in the bottom of the dutch oven.
Toasted bay leaves, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, cloves, cumin and coriander seeds
Place the dutch oven on the stove and heat the contents until they come to a boil. Cover and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise for 2 hrs or until the pork falls apart when you stick a fork into it.
Pork ready for braising
Remove the dutch oven to the top of the stove, tilt the pot and, with a large spoon, carefully remove as much of the accumulated fat on top as you can. Return the dutch oven to the oven and cook for another half hour, uncovered, to concentrate the braising liquid. You want about 2 cups of concentrated liquid to be left.
Remove the dutch oven from the oven to the top of the stove again. With a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the meat into a large bowl so that it can cool enough to be handled. When cool, remove fat from the meat and then, very coarsely, shred the meat.
Strain the braising liquid so as to remove the seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves etc. Refrigerate the liquid so that any remaining fat hardens and can be removed and then use the liquid to moisten your pulled pork.
Finished pork ready to be ‘pulled’ or shredded with 2 forks