Tacotopia, Episode #4: Air-Dried Pork?

People — gringos, primarily — are often shocked when they order a taco in Mexico for the first time, and are presented with a tiny little affair with almost nothing on it.

“But where’s the cheese?” they say, their Baja Fresh faces in a glum state of disbelief, “Where’s the lettuce and the tomato and the sour cream and the six choices of salsa?”

Dried pork tacos

Dried pork tacos

It’s a similar conundrum to pastas in Italy, where oftentimes the best offerings are simple affairs (the famed cacio e pepe, for example) composed of just a few of the finest ingredients. I remember the first time I ordered a cheese sandwich as a boy in Paris, and was dumbfounded at the chunk of baguette that arrived with nothing more than a smear of camembert. And it was a revelation.

But back to tacos, and the here and now. Unlike our American penchant for excess, as expressed in our oversized, overstuffed idea of a taco, Mexicans like their tacos small and simple. A little bit of grilled meat, some salsa, and a sprinkle of onions and cilantro. One of my favorite tacos is machaca, the miraculous air-dried-and-then-rehydrated beef of the Mexican desert.

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One day while browsing my fat Phaidon tome, “Mexico: The Cookbook,” I stumbled on a recipe for air-dried pork. Air-dried pork! Americans have a natural aversion to anything but overcooked pork, which for decades has been the prevailing wisdom and the ruination of pork. I, in recent years, have overcome this inbred prejudice and begun undercooking my pork — even serving it medium rare! But was I bold enough to actually try drying raw pork??

I was!

And thankfully so, for the air-dried pork was a world different than machaca, and was equally delicious tucked into a (tiny) tortilla, drizzled with salsa and sprinkled with a bit of onions and cilantro.

Just the way this gringo likes it.

Here, then, is my recipe for air-dried pork tacos, adapted from Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s “Mexico: The Cookbook,” should you be bold enough.

Enjoy!

*    *    *

Air-dried pork tacos
serves 4

1.5 lb. lean pork (loin, for example), sliced into 1/2-inch strips
2 cloves garlic
8 dried guajillo peppers
1 small bay leaf
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup salsa naranja
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. oil
12 small taco-size tortillas

Toast the chiles in a hot pan until they puff slightly.

Remove stems and seeds from chiles. Place in a blender with garlic, bay leaf, oregano, salt and cider vinegar, and puree until smooth.

Rub the meat with the chile mixture, and then place in bowl covered with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1-2 days, stirring occasionally.

Drain meat and place in a 150-degree oven (or food dehydrator) for 12 hours, turning occasionally, until meat is dry to the touch.

Heat a little oil in a pan over medium, and fry strips, a few minutes on each side, until beginning to brown. Set on a plate and keep in a warm oven until ready to plate. Do not clean pan.

Assemble tacos: Toast the tortillas in the pan you used to cook the pork, until golden. Set three tortillas on each of four plates. Spoon a little salsa over the center of the tortilla, top with some pork, and then sprinkle with the chopped onion and cilantro.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Apr 15, 2016 @ 15:30:03

    Interesting Sean-Have a great weekend.

    Reply

  2. Michelle
    Apr 15, 2016 @ 15:41:35

    Pork jerky? Count me in. You know I thought I hated tacos … Until I learned they didn’t have to have gross cheese, sour cream and other such crap on them. I guess I’m not a real American. 😉

    Reply

  3. Mom
    Apr 15, 2016 @ 15:41:54

    Num!!!

    Reply

  4. Leo Griffin
    Apr 15, 2016 @ 15:45:58

    Hi Sean – its been too long. I think this sounds fabulous, but my oven… not so much. I just proposed the idea by punching 150 degrees into it, and it replied “Error” and set itself to 170. I don’t think that will work because pork is ‘cooked’ at 165, right?

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Apr 15, 2016 @ 15:52:28

      Far too long, Leo. You could still get away with it. I would heat the oven to 170, and then turn it off and leave the pork in the oven for a couple hours. Take it out, reheat it to 170, and repeat. The idea is to kind of dry it out a bit, not like jerky. You just want the surface dry. Miss you brother.

      Reply

      • Greggie
        Apr 16, 2016 @ 01:26:05

        Oh don’t we hate technology that thinks it’s smarter than us. My old 1948 oven can be set at the temp I want but 12 hours??? Yikes!

      • scolgin
        Apr 16, 2016 @ 01:52:13

        It’s not like you have to sit there for 12 hours watching it, Gregg. You can leave it in the oven overnight. Or while you go out shopping or go to your friend’s house for a visit.

  5. heather reed
    May 06, 2016 @ 02:56:48

    THE TACO WHISPERER!!!!

    Reply

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