Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, is all about celebrating. It marks the day in 1862 when Mexico defeated the French army in the Battle of Puebla. But it’s also an excuse for a Mexican-themed dinner fit for a crowd.
This recipe for Chili-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos, adapted from the May 2011 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, is just the ticket — and it’s authentic to boot.
These tacos are nowhere close to ones loaded with cheese, shredded lettuce and sour cream. These feature ultra-tender, semi-spicy pork topped with pickled onions, salsa and radishes.
They start out with a big, braised hunk of pork shoulder (also called pork butt or Boston butt) with a generous slathering of a chili paste. The pork is cooked, tightly covered, for several hours with onions, garlic and Mexican dark beer. The meat becomes so tender that it falls apart with the poke of a fork.
Pork shoulder is versatile and sold bone-in or boneless. An average bone-in pork shoulder weighs about 7 pounds, and boneless ones are about 5 pounds. If you use a cut with a bone, add at least another hour of braising time.
The recipe only looks daunting because of the number of ingredients. It’s the braising that takes the time.
But trust me — it goes together with just a little prep work.
You can make nearly all of the components ahead. The pork actually benefits if you coat it with the chili paste and chill it at least overnight or up to two days in advance. It’s like marinating.
The paste is made from dried ancho and de arbol chilies, rehydrated in boiling water so they soften. Ancho chilies, a dried poblano chili, are on the mild side. The paste, which also flavors the cooking and basting liquid, gets a spicy kick from the hotter de arbols.
Look for both chilies at specialty Hispanic stores.
Try not to skip the pickled onions. They take little effort, your guests will love them and they can be made a few days ahead.