SPICY, PORKY, CRUNCHY, AND FRESH—ALL IN ONE BITE
True Mexican shredded pork—or tinga—is a far cry from the bland burrito-joint version often found languishing in steam tables in this country. As with good barbecued pulled pork, tinga’s moist, tender shreds possess an intense, almost sweet, meatiness. To make this dish, pork is typically braised until tender and then sautéed until it acquires deeply browned edges that stay crisp even after a quick simmer in a chipotle-infused tomato sauce.
To play off its supple texture, tinga is served on crunchy tostada shells (toasted or deep-fried corn tortillas) and then garnished with avocado, sour cream, queso fresco, cilantro, and lime wedges. Every bite of this messy dish (use a fork and knife, please!) includes a mix of complementary flavors and textures. This is Mexican cooking at its best.
As might be expected, this recipe starts with the same cut used for barbecued pulled pork—the shoulder. The cooking takes place in two phases. The meat is traditionally simmered in salted water until tender, drained, and then shredded. This requires several hours but little attention from the cook. For the next phase, the shredded pork is sautéed with onion and then simmered in tomato sauce. The key here is to really brown the meat and finely chopped onion, both of which should be almost crisp by the time you add the liquid ingredients—the reserved simmering liquid (rich with porky flavor) and canned tomato sauce.
At this point, everything comes together in a mad rush. As the tinga simmers, you’re frying corn tortillas (or using our easier oven method), so make sure all those garnishes are ready for the table.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Cube and Simmer
Boneless pork butt is well marbled and suited to tinga’s cooking method. Cut it into 1-inch pieces and simmer it in water with onion, garlic, and thyme for a subtle vegetal flavor.
Shred and Crisp the Meat
Once the pork is tender, drain it (reserving some of the braising liquid) and shred the pork using a potato masher, which maximizes the surface area for optimal browning. Sauté the meat in olive oil, along with some chopped onion and oregano, until the pork is browned and crisp. Add more garlic toward the end of cooking.
Finish in Sauce
Finish the pork with a simmer in a smoky tomato sauce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Canned tomato sauce works best; it contributes a smooth texture and bright tomato flavor. Canned chipotles might seem like an obvious addition, but in this application, we found that they varied too much from brand to brand—some were more salty, sweet, and vinegary than spicy, while others offered searing heat and not much else. Instead, reach for ground chipotle powder, which may be harder to track down, but it delivers a consistent, deep, and complex smokiness. As for the pork liquid you reserved earlier—pour that into the pan, too, where it will enrich the sauce with its meaty flavor.
Creating Crispy Tostadas
Traditionally, the tinga is served on top of crisp tostada shells (flat fried corn tortillas). To fry the shells, cook them one at a time in hot oil in a skillet. Use a fork to poke the center of each shell before frying—this will prevent puffing and allow for even cooking. Wash off the potato masher you used for the pork and use it to submerge the tortilla in the hot oil so that the top and bottom cook simultaneously, eliminating the need for flipping.
Braised pork shoulder is browned until crisp and then braised in a spicy tomato sauce.
Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork (Tinga) Tostadas
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 2 hours to trim, simmer, and shred pork (mostly hands-off; prepare garnishes)
- 20 minutes to make tinga (if you like, start to fry tostadas while tinga cooks)
- 15 minutes to fry tostadas
- Large saucepan with lid for simmering pork
- Fine-mesh strainer for draining pork
- Potato masher for shredding pork
- 12-inch nonstick skillet for preparing tinga
- 8-inch skillet for frying tostadas
- Paper towels for draining tostadas
Substitutions & Variations
- We prefer the complex flavor of chipotle chile powder, but two minced canned chipotle chiles can be used in its place.
- Tinga is traditionally served on tostadas (crisp fried corn tortillas), but you can also use the meat in tacos and burritos or simply serve it over rice.
- The cheese, cilantro, sour cream, avocado and lime wedges are excellent garnishes but other classic Mexican table accompaniments are appropriate, too, including pickled radishes and/or onions and a tangy cabbage slaw. And feel free to replace the diced avocado with guacamole.
- If you prefer not to fry the tostadas, use this oven method: Arrange tortillas in single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Brush both sides of each tortilla with vegetable oil (about ¼ cup total). Bake on upper-middle and lower-middle racks in 450-degree oven until lightly browned and crisp about 10 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking
Boneless pork butt roast is often labeled Boston butt in the supermarket. The trimmed pork should weigh about 1½ pounds. Make sure to buy tortillas made only with corn, lime, and salt—preservatives will compromise quality.
- 2 pounds boneless pork butt roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 onions (1 quartered, 1 chopped fine)
- 5 garlic cloves (3 peeled and smashed, 2 minced)
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile powder
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
- Queso fresco or feta cheese
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Sour cream
- Diced avocado
- Lime wedges
- For the Tinga: Bring pork, quartered onion, smashed garlic, thyme sprigs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 6 cups water to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to surface. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook until pork is tender, 1¼ to 1½ hours. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid and drain pork. Discard onion, garlic, and thyme sprigs. Return pork to saucepan and, using potato masher, mash until shredded into rough ½-inch pieces; set aside. (Pork can be prepared through step 1 and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
- Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add oregano, shredded pork, and chopped onion; cook, stirring often, until pork is well browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomato sauce, chipotle powder, bay leaves, and reserved pork cooking liquid; simmer until almost all liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard bay leaves and season with salt to taste.
- For the Tostadas: Heat oil in 8-inch skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. Using fork, poke center of each tortilla 3 or 4 times. Fry one at a time, holding metal potato masher in upright position on top of tortilla to keep it submerged, until crisp and lightly browned, 45 to 60 seconds (no flipping is necessary). Drain on paper towel–lined plate and season with salt to taste. (Tostadas can be made up to 1 day in advance and stored at room temperature.)
- To Serve: Spoon small amount of shredded pork onto center of each tostada and serve, passing garnishes separately.
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