chipotle-cinnamon braised pork shoulder

I’ve been working on this recipe for a while now and it gets more delicious every time.

The result is fork-tender shredded pork that is great in soups (see posole), excellent in tacos, empanadillas, whatever you want. The less I talk about it, the better.

Here’s the version I made tonight at Mark’s house.

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The Pig:

We used a cut shoulder of about 4 pounds, but I’m used to braising a whole front shoulder, bone-in & skin on, up to 8 or 10 pounds. You probably don’t need that much, but the final product will probably freeze just fine. Just adjust the seasonings and mirepoix as you see fit. It’s not necessarily an exact science, and chances are it’ll be delicious anyway.

The Mirepoix:

1 onion, 2 stalks celery, and an equal amount of carrot as the onion (peeled), all medium to large dice

8 cloves of whole garlic

The Spice & Wine:

2 Tbsp NM red chili powder

1 Tbsp oregano

1 big stick of cinnamon

2 dried chipotle peppers

1 bay leaf

2 Tbsp tomato paste

a few leaves of fresh sage

salt and fresh ground pepper

about a cup of malbec

and about a quart of H2O

The Process

Set up your mise en place. Rinse and dry the meat. Season the entire shoulder generously with course salt and fresh pepper. This is a fun and important step – every inch needs to be seasoned evenly. Don’t worry about using too much either. I should have taken a video of how we do it, but for now it’s not that big of a deal.

Heat an iron skillet or good sauté pan until it’s smoking hot and add a few tablespoons of olive oil so the skillet is good and lubed.

Carefully place the pork in the pan and sear it real good. That’s what I tell my cooks, with a bit of southern twang, “Sear it reeaaal nice and good-like.” It should be a dark golden brown on all sides. Take your time.

If the oil your using is smoking that’s ok, but if it’s burnt and dark go ahead and degrease and add fresh oil. When that’s hot, add your mirepoix and fry it up till your onions are nearly clear. Again, be patient.

Pour in your spices and sauté for a minute, then add your tomato paste and fry up until it has a nice rusty color and your kitchen is fragrant and sweet. Deglaze with a bit malbec and stir and stir until you don’t really smell as much alcohol burning off, maybe 2 to 4 minutes.

(Keep in mind all of these steps happen pretty quick and you should leave your flame on high the whole time.)

Pour in your water or stock, bring up to a boil, and then pour into the casserole or roasting pan until it covers a third of the meat. Arrange the veggies around the shoulder evenly, and neatly place the sage leaves around. Cover with tin foil. Poke a few holes in the foil to let the steam escape. I think this is to help keep the roast at a constant temperature. If it gets too hot in there the meat might cook too quickly and toughen. Throw into the preheated 325 degree oven and set your timer to 3 hours.

To check if it’s done, gently pull the bone away from the meat. The meat should just fall off. If not, throw it back in for another 20 minutes and keep checking. A big ol’ bone-in shoulder might take 4 hours.

Let it cool. It’s very important to let the meat cool in its own juices. It’s thirsty and dry, and as it cools it’ll pull in a lot of that flavor. Cooling also allows the juices within the meat to redistribute so that when you pull apart the meat you won’t lose any of it. After you pull it apart, throw in a few ladle-fulls of the braising liquid and maybe a touch of salt and pepper. Taste everything first, though.

I think that’s about it. We made tacos tonight. Thinly sliced red cabbage tossed with a bit of white wine vinegar, lime juice, and salt. Pico de gallo – tomatoes that had been seeded, diced, tossed with finely chopped red onion, jalapeño, cilantro, cumin, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and plenty more lime juice. And on the hot steamy corn tortillas, before everything else, I smeared a huge scoop of full-fat yogurt. Sour cream would be nice as well.

The tacos were pretty fantastic. Good luck!

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