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March, 2012

Lightened–Up Cabo San Lucas Pulled Pork Tacos

By Heidi Allison

The secret to keeping this lean meat both tender and juicy is two-fold: using a low-and-slow cooking temperature of 218 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and adding a few pork baby back ribs to the braise.

If you thought Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos were off the menu because you’re trying to lose weight, or, are concerned about heart health… think again! This slimmed-down, authentic rendition of Pulled Pork Tacos is not only heart–healthy, it also keeps those pounds in check by cleverly switching out the traditional fatty pork shoulder, aka pork butt or Boston butt, for lean pork tenderloin (3.5 gm total fat; 1 gm of sat fat per serving). And, it manages to pull this off without any loss of flavor– no easy feat for a cut as lean as roasted chicken!

Chile PepperThe secret to keeping this lean meat both tender and juicy is two-fold: using a low-and-slow cooking temperature of 218 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and adding a few pork baby back ribs to the braise. This culinary technique not only enhances the tenderloins “porky” flavor via the bones and small amount of fat, it also maintains moisture in the meat. A regional (Cabo San Lucas) Mexican pork cooking sauce, which includes 4 different types of chiles and roasted vegetables, keeps the flavor profile authentic. The sweet, “raisin” taste of the ancho chile is juxtaposed with the smoky heat of the chipotle and smoked serrano, while the guajillo imparts a deep, rich, orange-red color and slightly tannic, sweet heat to the mix: this sauce is surprisingly complex, yet, not too hot. Another crucial step is caramelizing the onions, tomatoes and garlic, which not only adds a sweet richness and depth, but also creates a bit of texture by thickening the sauce without using fat. Don’t skip this step— it adds depth and “mouth-feel”. Although there is a bit of prep work in making the pork cooking sauce, it’s well worth the effort. Moreover, once in the oven, the pork is virtually done.

Lightened–Up Cabo San Lucas Pulled Pork Tacos
Serves: 6-8

Lightened–Up Cabo San Lucas Pulled Pork Tacos Pulled pork cooking sauce (Makes 6 cups)

2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
4 large Roma Tomatoes
4 cloves Fresh Garlic, peeled and smashed
2 White Onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup Ancho Chili Powder
1/6 cup Guajillo Chili Powder
½ teaspoon Chipotle Chili Powder
1 Smoked Serrano Chile (can substitute with a Morita chile)
5 cups Chicken or Turkey Stock, heated
2 Green Bell Peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 Tablespoon Whole Cumin Seed, toasted
2½ Tablespoons Brown Sugar
5 Black Peppercorns

Pork
1 Pork Tenderloin
3 Pork Baby Back Ribs

Salsa Cruda
3 large Roma Tomatoes, chopped
1 Green Jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 Red Jalapeño, chopped (w/ seeds)
1 Dried Smoked Serrano Chile, seeded and minced
¼ White Onion, peeled and chopped
Juice of 3 large Limes
Kosher Flake Salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons)
6-8 corn Tortillas

Garnish:
1 Hass Avocado, sliced
1 bunch Cilantro Leaves, chopped
1 head of Ice Berg Lettuce, shredded
5 ounces Cotija Cheese, crumbled

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle oil over tomatoes, onions and garlic and toss to coat. Place veggies on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in oven till caramelized and soft— about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Remove skin from tomatoes. Add roasted, skinned tomatoes, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, ancho chili powder, guajillo chili powder, chipotle chili powder, smoked serrano, black peppercorns, roasted bell peppers and brown sugar to a food processor and puree till smooth. Add stock and puree again. Add roasted vegetable/chile sauce, pork tenderloin and baby back ribs to a heavy, 4-quart Dutch oven and cover. Reduce heat in oven to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Place Dutch oven on the middle rack in oven and cook for 3 hours, then stir the meat. Cook for and additional 2 hours, or until meat is fork tender.

While meat is cooking, make the salsa by adding tomatoes, jalapeño’s, smoked serrano, onion, lime juice and salt to a bowl and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to “marry”.

After 5 hours, remove the pork from oven, uncover and allow to cool slightly. Remove pork tenderloin and baby back ribs and place on a cutting board; then shred meat with two forks. Add shredded meat back pork cooking sauce in Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cover until ready to use.

Taco assembly: Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat until hot. Run warm water over corn tortillas and shake off excess. Place moist corn tortilla in skillet and cook until warm and pliable. Turn over and cook until heated through. Place in a plastic bag and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat this process with the remainder of the tacos. (You can also heat covered tortillas in a microwave for 10 seconds.) Ladle 3 tablespoons of slow-roasted pork into warm tortillas and top with lettuce, cilantro, salsa, avocado and top with cotija cheese.

Serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:
The pulled pork freezes and reheats well. This versatile pulled pork recipe can also be paired with a tomatillo salsa and cotija cheese; or switch out the salsa for chopped, grilled pineapple and use flour tortillas (sans the cotija cheese) for a change.