Birria-Style Stewed Pork, photo by Sonia Mendez GarciaPhoto by Sonia Mendez Garcia

Birria-Style Stewed Pork

Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 6-8 servings

Birria is a dish typical of Jalisco, Mexico. It’s most commonly prepared with goat or lamb and sometimes beef. It is rarely prepared with pork, but that is up to you. I debated on whether to use the pork because I felt it would be too much like pozole, just minus the hominy. The results were a slightly different flavor without the influence of the hominy, but with the added subtle flavor of the cloves. The broth was thicker than a pozole and not too spicy. What I love about this dish is that it can be served two ways. You can serve the meat ladled with plenty of the chile broth, more like a soup. Or you can shred the meat finely and top with your favorite spicy salsa recipe for tacos. Either way you serve it, the dish is garnished with onions, cilantro and fresh lime. If you decide to go with the tacos instead of soup, save the broth and prepare a quick chicken tortilla soup simply by adding some store-bought roasted chicken and thick corn tortilla chips.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless pork shoulders (*Trim as much of the fat as you like. The pork will cook down and become really tender)
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 large white onion diced
  • 6 cloves garlic sliced
  • 2 chiles serrano or jalapeño or red Fresno peppers, diced
  • water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • teaspoons dried thyme
  • teaspoons cumin seeds crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 4 guajillo peppers
  • 3 chiles ancho
  • 2 whole cloves or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • For the Garnish
  • onion red or white, diced
  • cilantro chopped
  • Limes wedges
  • 2 cups favorite salsas
  • tortillas if making tacos

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Directions

  1. Slice the pork into pieces 2 to 3 inches long. Season with salt and pepper and let come to room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. In a large heavy pot, preheat 1/4 cup of oil to medium/high heat for 5 minutes. Sear and brown the pork pieces in batches for 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Once pork is all browned, in that same pan, add 1/2 of the onions, 1/2 of the garlic and all of the chile peppers. Reduce heat and saute for a few minutes. Add the pork back in and cover with water. Water should be at least an inch above the pork. Add the bay leaves, oregano, thyme, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried peppers and transfer to a sauce pan. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes. Drain all the water, transfer to the blender and add the reserved onions, garlic and 2 whole cloves. Add 1 cup fresh water and blend on high until smooth.
  5. Using a wire-mesh strainer, strain the chile sauce right into the simmering pot of pork. To make it easier, I ladle some of the hot broth right into the strainer to loosen the chile sauce. Use a wooden spoon to push sauce through. This process takes a few minutes, so be patient. Discard the pulp.
  6. Once the chile sauce has been added, I taste for seasonings and re-season to taste with oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook partially covered at a simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring now and then. Try skimming some of the grease off the top. You can serve the birria as-is with some of the chile broth or you can take some of the meat out and shred it slightly and top with spicy salsa. Garnish with diced onion, cilantro and lime wedges. Serve with tortillas.

Chef Notes

1. I like to brown the meat in some oil before braising, but you can skip this step. I think it adds more flavor to the dish as a whole. 2. Straining the sauce will give you a nice smooth finish without any chile skins left behind that may be hard to chew at times. 3. Birria can be served two ways. You can add some of the meat to your plate and garnish it with salsa of your choice, onions and cilantro for making tacos. Or you can ladle in enough broth to almost cover the meat and garnish with onion, cilantro and lime so it’s more like a soup.

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