This recipe was lovingly extracted from a Food and Wine article by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame. Andrew, known primarily for scarfing, ahem, exotic world cuisine ranging from swamp rodent stew to sheep eyeballs (and sometimes just … balls), took some of his favorite adventurous eats and made them a bit more refined and approachable to the average palate.
The inspiration for this particular dish was Mexican street tacos. And not the undersized, overpriced finger food variety dished out at the local margarita bar, but actual street cart fare from the heart of Mexico. Like most street food, they were greasy and delicious – but you probably didn’t want to know exactly what was in them. In this case, it was pig small intestines, fried up and served with fresh salsa – a sort of chitterlin’ taco, if you will.
To retain all the rich, greasy, crispy, salty, porky goodness with none of the digestive tract, Andrew subbed in a confit of well-seasoned pork shoulder. Confit, for those of you with a limited (i.e. normal) internal culinary dictionary, is a French (imagine that…) cooking style in which meat is slow-roasted gently in its own (or added) rendered fat. Originally intended as a preserving mechanism (cooked meat packed in fat will keep for a few days without refrigeration), now confit just tastes good. It is, of course, exactly as delicious and rich as something cooked by slow deep frying sounds.
To complement the rich pork confit is an equally enticing grilled pineapple salsa. The smoky, caramelly sweetness of grilled fruit works beautifully with the pork, and the pineapple tartness combined with a touch of fresh mint lend an excellent bright counterpoint to the unctuous shredded pork. Wrap it up in a warm corn tortilla with a touch of queso fresco and a dollop of crema, and you’re in pig heaven (or maybe not heaven for the pig, since you are eating it, after all).
Hopefully that description was sufficient to get you salivating despite the reference to sheep (eye)ball consumption in the opening graph. On with the recipe…
Assemble your ingredients. Note that here I’m using pork loin because it’s easy to get in a more manageable size, but pork shoulder would be a bit preferred for this treatment.
Cut the pork into 1 1/2″ cubes.
Assemble your seasonings: kosher salt, white pepper, thyme, garlic, cilantro, and juniper berries. Juniper berries (the primary flavoring component of gin) may be a bit hard to find (I got these at Whole Foods and saw them nowhere else), but they provide a wonderful aromatic quality and shouldn’t be left out. They need to be crushed (physically, not emotionally – you can use the flat of your knife) just before use. This releases their flavor, but does so quickly, so wait until you’re ready to use them.
Throw the pork and seasonings into a large plastic freezer bag, seal it, and toss to coat the meat. Place in the fridge to marinate overnight or up to 16 hours. Don’t go much past that, as the meat may become overly salty.
Place the meat in a large enameled cast iron casserole (you can get away with most any oven proof pot, but my sapphire blue Staub coque au vin is so very much prettier) and pour the oil over it, deep enough to just cover the meat.
Heat it on your stove until it just begins to simmer, then place it (using oven mits, obviously) in a 300 deg. oven for ~2.5 hours.
While it’s cooking, get started on the salsa by slicing up your onion, pineapple, and tomatoes. Brush all sides of the slices lightly with oil.
Cook the produce on a hot grill a couple minutes per side, until you have nicely charred grill marks and the slices are softened.
Add cilantro, chipotles, mint, and lime juice to a food processor…
… and process until finely minced.
Add the grilled produce…
… and pulse a couple times until well mixed but a bit chunky. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.
Once the pork is done (it should be extremely tender) remove from the oven.
Grill the pork chunks over a hot flame a couple minutes per side until nicely charred (all you’re going for is a charred, crispy exterior, since it’s already fully cooked). The pork is so tender that it may be difficult to manipulate while on the grill. I had some success by placing the pieces on skewers, but sometimes this causes the pieces to fall apart, so you may have better luck just tossing them on the grill individually and flipping them with a spatula.
Shred the pork with your fingers (you’ll need to let it cool a bit after the grill, obviously) and serve on warm corn tortillas, topped with the salsa and, if you want, queso fresco crumbles and a bit of crema.
Pork Confit Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa
From Food and Wine
- ¼ cup kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
- 3 Tbs. white sugar
- 2 Tbs. crushed juniper berries
- 1 Tbs. ground white pepper
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 sprigs thyme
- 6 Tbs. cilantro, finely chopped and dived in half
- 2½ lbs. boneless pork shoulder or loin, cut into 1½” cubes
- 2 cups vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
- 12 oz. fresh pineapple, sliced ~½” thick
- 1 yellow onion, sliced ~½” thick
- 4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 3 Tbs. chopped mint
- 2 Tbs. red onion, minced
- 2 canned chipotles, chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- Warm corn tortillas, for serving
- Crumbled queso fresco and fresh crema, for serving, if desired
In a non-reactive (glass or plastic) container (or a large freezer bag), combine ¼ cup kosher salt, sugar, juniper berries, white pepper, garlic, thyme, and half the cilantro. Stir to combine, then add the pork. Toss to coat the pork pieces evenly. Cover and refrigerate, tossing occasionally, overnight or up to 16 hours. Do not overmarinate, as it may become over-salted.
Heat an oven to 300°. Scrape most of the seasoning off the pork and place in a large enameled cast iron casserole (or any heavy oven-proof pot with lid). Pour oil over the meat – add additional oil if necessary to just cover the pork. Stir to ensure the meat is evenly coated. Heat the casserole on the stovetop over medium-high heat until it just begins to simmer. Transfer to the heated oven (using pot holders, obviously) and bake for ~2½ hours, until very tender.
Heat a grill to medium-high. Brush the pineapple, yellow onion, and tomatoes with vegetable oil on all sides. Grill all of it for a coupe minutes per side, until softened and nicely charred. In a food processor, finely process the mint, lime juice, chipotles, and cilantro. Add the grilled produce and red onion, then pulse a couple times until well blended but still chunky. Transfer to a storage container, cover, and set aside (can be made ahead – store in refrigerator).
Remove pork from the cooking oil. Grill the pork pieces over medium-high heat until charred all over. It may help to place the pieces on skewers before grilling, but be careful as the pork is tender and easily falls apart. After grilling, allow the pork to cool enough to handle and shred the pieces by hand or with two forks.
Serve the pork with the salsa and tortillas. Add queso fresco and crema to the tacos if desired.