Puerco Adobada (Red Chile Pork)

This is a traditional Mexican recipe of pork slow cooked in chile sauce (adobo). Yes, this recipe takes some time to make. Yes, it has LOTS of chilies in it.  But it is well worth the effort as much of the heat cooks out and you end up with these chunks of amazingly tender pork bathed in a warm, earthly sauce.

12 Guajillo Chiles, dried
8 Ancho Chiles, dried
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces Mojo Criollo
1 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Achiote paste
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, or about half one small piloncillo cone
1 ounce dark chocolate
2 teaspoons cumin, ground
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
10 pounds pork butt (shoulder roast), cubed

The Chilies – Wearing rubber gloves, stem and seed the chiles. I find this easiest to do with a pair of kitchen shears. Gently pull the stem  until it pops off (this often takes most of the seeds with it), cut open the side of the pepper, then spread it open and scape out the remaining seeds and veins.

Fill a large bowl about half full of hot water. Have this ready beside the stove.  Open a window and turn on the exhaust fan. In a dry skillet (no oil) over medium heat, fry the chiles in small batches for just for about 15-20 seconds a side until they start to change color and become fragrant. As they finish cooking, remove them to the bowl of water.

When all of the chiles are cooked and in the bowl, use a small plate to weight them down so they are completely covered in water. Let this sit overnight.

The Adobo – In a stock pot, heat the olive oil to medium and soften the onion and garlic. Drain the chiles, discarding the soaking water, and add them to the onion and garlic. Stir in the water, Mojo Criollo, chicken broth, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Blend the chile sauce until smooth. You can do this by running batches through a blend or food processor, but I find it easiest to just leave everything in the pot and use an immersion blender. Remove the pot from the heat and put it in the sink to help contain any splatters.

Return the sauce to the heat and add the salt, sugar, chocolate, cumin, and oregano. Cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat a large spoon heavily. Remove form the heat and let cool.

While the adobo is cooling, bone the pork butt and cut into half inch cubes. Place in a large, sealable container. A gallon-size freezer bag set inside a 9×13 baking pan works fine. Refrigerate until the sauce is cool, then add  to the meat, reserving 1/2 cup for later. Mix well, seal tightly, and refrigerate at least 24 hours (48 is ever so much better), turning often.

The Cook – You could do this recipe in the oven or on the stove, but then you’re missing out on all the wonderful flavor that wood smoke brings to the party.

Set your grill or smoker up for at least a five hour cook over indirect heat at 300°F. On my my Big Green Egg that means filling the firebox with lump charcoal and using the plate setter with a trivet on it to diffuse the heat. Once the Egg had stabilized at 300°F, I added a couple of chunks of hickory for smoke.

Pour the meat and marinade into a large dutch oven or other grill-safe pan (I use an old Griswold No 10 that I rescued from a life as a flower pot). Add the reserved sauce and stir well. Put the pot in the cooker uncovered. For the first few hours, stir the pork only once every hour or so. The longer you wait between stirring, the more the chucks of pork that bob to the top will start to brown.

Keep a close watch and stir more often once the adobo thickens up and the meat starts to fall apart. You may want to add a little water or stock to keep the bottom from burning.  Total cook time is about five hours. The dish is done when the meat completely falls apart and most of the liquid is gone.

We served the puerco adobada as tacos on corn tortillas with a dusting of cojita cheeese. Heaven. This recipe also works well as a filling for burritos or quesadillas, or mixed with masa as a tamale