On the menu: Pulled Pork Tacos
I’m back. The holidays are over and I am back to work in Maine after two wonderful weeks in Wisconsin. Two weeks filled with snowstorms and frigid temperatures mitigated by a very active kitchen, very active siblings, and a very active football schedule. I didn’t bake a single cookie before I left (unless you count the gingerbread house, which we didn’t consume…therefore it doesn’t count), but when I got home, there were no fewer than ten sweet treats to tackle. There were the traditional: Great-Grandma Ella’s Sugar Cookies (none of which were hatchet shaped because the hatchet cutter my mom ordered was out of stock!), Divinity, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Spritz Cookies, and Cookie Balls. There were the newfangled: Orange Creamsicle Truffles, White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge, Honey-Spice Gingerbread Moose (yes, moose) and Avalanche Bark, the runaway hit of the season. And there was the failure: a Buche de Noel, which refused to roll up into a neat little buche as we were putting the finishing touches on Christmas dinner.
Let me tell you about Christmas dinner: I was in charge. And my Grandma was going to be there. The concept was simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating. The menu was simple: beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and cheesy broccoli. I started preparing early in the day, enlisting my siblings to perform various tasks. I wish I had snapped a photo of my middle siblings at the sink, one peeling sweet potatoes, the other peeling baby reds. They were silent. For five whole minutes! It was a Christmas miracle. Dinner came together without a hitch, with the exception of that dang cake roll. Grandma Jo brought the rolls. Grandma Ann brought my favorite Jello mold. She gave away the secret recipe at the dinner table: cinnamon hearts, applesauce, and lemon jello. I was a little heartbroken to hear the truth, to be honest. It was like finding out Santa isn’t real. And everyone enjoyed their meal.
The days after Christmas involved a lot of sleeping, a lot of football, a lot of belly rubs for one very lucky golden retriever, a few tickle wars, and another surprisingly successful family meal helmed by yours truly. We were watching some cooking show on some cooking channel. I don’t have cable, so being at home is my rare chance to watch television. I barely recognize the Food Network that sparked my obsession with food back in high school, and who are all these folks on this Cooking Channel?! Anyway, my momma saw some pulled pork tacos on TV, and she says “I’d like to try that.” I look at her and say ” I can make something like that if you want.” She says: “That would be nice.”
Except my mom doesn’t eat tacos. Fortunately, my stepdad eats anything. And my siblings…what would the they think? We picked a night to try Mexican pulled pork when the kids wouldn’t be at home, to spare me the humiliation of a typical dinner night. You know, comments like “Pork again? I don’t like pork.” “This is too spicy.” “I don’t eat rice.” These are all common utterances among the youthful residents of my house.
On the night we planned to make these, the kids ended up at home. Oh, God. Panic set in.
Fearing the worst, I put the pork in the slow cooker before most of them were even awake. My baby brother was up, though. He helped me measure the spices with his usual gusto, then went postal when a) he saw me pour a can of beer into the slow cooker and b) learned that this pulled pork, not the usual ground beef, would be his taco filling that evening. Nothing like a ten year old’s temper tantrum to keep the spirits high. The kid came around a bit later, enough to help me make pickled red onions. He had never seen a red onion before, so we took a moment to marvel at it’s magenta hue. We cried when I sliced it into thin strips. We laughed after I asked him to measure some vinegar and sugar, then add them to the onions.
“This is the most disgusting thing I have ever done,” he said. True story, bro.
As the afternoon wore on, the house started to fill with the heady scent of cumin and chili. The living room was laced with the aromas of orange, oregano, and Miller Lite. One by one, my family members went out to peek at the slow cooker, but not one of them dared to open it under penalty of my wrath. The youngest and I checked on the onions to ensure they were properly pickled. When the meat was done, I set to work shredding it–shredding four pounds of pork is WORK, son!–and I arranged a plethora of toppings. There were the traditional: lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa. There were the newfangled: avocado, cilantro, and pickled red onions.
There was no failure with this meal.
Everyone in my house loved the pulled pork. Momma ate hers over rice and raved about its flavor. She thought it was going to be too spicy, but it was just right. My siblings loved its sweetness, which came from the orange juice it was cooked in. My stepdad went crazy over the pickled onions, so I wasn’t the only one eating them. I celebrated my success by consuming one too many tacos, topped with those onions along with avocado and cilantro. Also with a couple of Point Brewery’s 2012 Black Ales, a limited edition brew that had a bit of hype in my neck of the woods due to it’s apocalyptic inspiration.
I’m glad that the world didn’t end, because then I would have never created any of the amazing memories that I did at home the last couple of weeks.
Pulled Pork Tacos
adapted from Just a Taste
1 4-5 pound boneless pork roast
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I used 1/2 teaspoon of ground oregano. Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t either, until I saw it in my momma’s pantry.)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
12 ounces beer
1/2 cup salsa
Small flour or corn tortillas, for serving
Sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, and pickled red onions, for toppings
Rub the pork roast on all sides with the minced garlic, massaging it into the meat. Combine the remaining spices in a small bowl, then sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the meat, rubbing it in when you can. Place the pork roast in the slow cooker and add the liquids and salsa.
Cover the slow cooker and cook on medium for 6 hours (or low for eight hours). After 6 hours is up, shred the pork roast in the slow cooker by pulling the meat apart with two forks, being cautious not to scratch the surface of the crock. The meat will soak up the remaining liquid in the slow cooker, adding lots of extra flavor and preventing the freshly shredded meat from drying out.