Having been born and raised in San Antonio, home to the nation’s best Tex-Mex, and having lived in Mexico and spent much time in D.F. (Mexico City) where authentic Mexican food is available at every turn, I am one who prefers to dine out for my occasional “Mexican food fix.”
There is simply no easy way to prepare authentic Mexican food–be it Tex-Mex or traditional classics such as moles, sauces and stews. It takes time, proper sourcing of ingredients, methodology and technique and lots of secrets you only learn by watching the experts or from what la abuelita taught you.
So this has been one cuisine that I haven’t taken the time to conquer. Yes, for fear of failing, but also because so many others do it so well and at such reasonable prices, why bother?
The August 2011 issue of Saveur magazine featured Mexican comfort food. A habit I have is to keep recipes that I want to make in a file titled “To Make.” Naturally, I had pulled the Carne Adobada recipe from this issue and placed it in my go-to file when I am in search of inspiration to make something new.
Lately, I have been trying to work from this file with more regularity (the baked hot chocolate was exquisite) and thought we should give the carne adobada a chance. It sounded easy enough and all I really needed from the store was a high-quality, all-natural pork butt. I had plenty of dried chiles (anchos and guajillos), fresh New Mexican chile powder, ground cumin, ground cloves and a pinch cayenne. Everything else the recipe called for were pantry staples.
Considering this was the first time I had attempted this dish, I was surprised how easy it was to make. There were really just two steps–making the sauce and browning the meat. I don’t consider simmering a step. One and a half hours later, we were sinking our teeth into an amazing carne adobada.
Our authentic Mexican plates included a side of Spanish rice, refried beans and homemade corn tortillas from our favorite Mexican restaurant near the house. I wasn’t lying when I said why bother making something when other people do it better.
The leftovers accompanied fried eggs along with a leftover corn tortilla for breakfast. The sauce is so good and neither spicy nor bland, but just right. The balanced flavors with the tender pork definitely would make anyone’s abuelita smile with pride and joy.
Carne Adobada (Red Chile and Pork Stew)
- 5 oz. dried New Mexico chiles stems removed (I used 4 Ancho chiles and 4 guajillos)
- 2 tablespoons New Mexico chile powder
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 lime juiced (1/2 in the sauce and then half at the end just before serving)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 lbs. all-natural bone-in pork shoulder excess fat removed and cut into 1-1/2" chunks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Warm corn tortillas for serving
Fill a pot or a tea kettle with water and place over high heat until the water boils.
Cut excess fat off of the all-natural pork shoulder and cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks.
Heat chiles in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and cook, turning once or twice, until puffy and toasted, about 5 minutes. Do not burn them. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of boiling water. Let sit for 20 minutes.
While the chiles soak, add chile powder, honey, white wine vinegar, cumin, cloves, cayenne pepper and juice of 1/2 a lime to the blender.
Remove chiles from the water, transfer to a blender and add 1 1/2 cups of the colored water that the chiles soaked in. Puree until smooth and set sauce aside.
Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat and add oil. Season pork chunks with salt and pepper and, working in batches, add the pork to the pot and cook until browned on all sides. This will take about 12 minutes.
Once all of the pork has cooked, pour the red chile sauce over the pork and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until the sauce is thickened and pork is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. (Note: Stay close to the Dutch oven for the first 15 minutes or so of cooking as you don't want it to cook too fast, but rather just barely percolate at a slow simmer...too much heat will create a big mess of splatters all over, and considering this chile sauce is definitely in the familia de manchamantel [stains the tablecloth], I don't recommend this.)
At the end, squeeze the juice of the remaining 1/2 lime in the pot and stir well to combine. Cook another five minutes and then serve.
Serve with rice, beans and warm, homemade corn tortillas.
If there are any leftovers, which there may not be, serve for breakfast the next day with scrambled or fried eggs.