In Scout’s new How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
The Vancouver taco debate starts and ends in the same place for me: La Taqueria. The fat-slicked softness of the tortillas; the unapologetic nods to offal; the refusal to stoop so low as to allow people to decide on their own toppings for tacos (please reconsider all of your life choices if you have ever lamented the absence of cheese on a taco). Carnitas are the truest gauge of a taco joint’s authenticity and La Taqueria’s nail it every time.
Part of this recipe – really an homage to one of Vancouver’s most beloved taco shops – is adapted from a Chris Morocco recipe for carnitas meat that I saved from a 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. I added new ingredients and tweaked quantities to make it my own take on the deliciousness I remember from La Taqueria. While many traditional carnitas recipes depend on a heavy dose of lard to get the job of braising done (blessed is the pig and its delicious fat), my version relies on the rendering of the fat already found on the pork shoulder in combination with Mexican lager as the braising liquid of choice. Beyond that, the recipe below asks almost nothing of you other than to be paired with something pickled – perhaps a batch of quick-pickled red onions – to counterbalance the rich sumptuousness of the meat.
Note: You can source all of the Mexican-specific ingredients for this recipe from the South China Seas Trading Company (located in Granville Island Public Market or on Victoria Drive). Despite the name, they carry an excellent range of Mexican food products, including the dried chiles and small white corn tortillas called for in this recipe.
Tacos de Carnitas
Serves 6-8, depending on how many tacos your average guest can put away
2-3 dried Guajillo chiles (see note above), quantity should vary based on spice preference
3 ½ – 4 lb boneless, skinless pork shoulder (aka pork butt)
1 ½ cups Mexican lager
1 cup chicken stock
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 tbsp kosher salt + more to taste
Toppings and Assembly:
½ red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into half-moons
1 cup white wine vinegar
~2 lb small, white corn tortillas (see note above)
1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked, stems discarded
1 white onion, peeled and finely diced
Lime wedges, to serve
Hot sauce, to serve (optional, but also not)
Directions | Toast chiles in a large heavy pot/Dutch oven set over medium heat, turning regularly, until puffy and slightly darkened (~2 minutes). Transfer the chiles to a cutting board, slice off the stems, and shake out (then discard) the seeds from inside. Cut the chiles open lengthwise and set aside. Do not forget that scratching anywhere on your face is currently off-limits unless you wish to spend the next half hour Googling cures for chile burns out of bleary-eyed desperation.
Cut the pork shoulder into (roughly) 2-inch hunks, discarding any particularly gristly bits that you may notice. Place the pork into the same pot that the chiles were toasted in; add beer, chicken stock, garlic, salt, and prepared chiles. Bring the liquids to a boil then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and partially cover. Cook for 75 minutes, checking every 15 minutes to submerge the pork as best you can. Uncover the pork completely and increase the heat to medium, cooking for another ~20 minutes or until most of the liquid has reduced and the pork is fork tender. Do not let the liquid completely evaporate as you will need some to keep the pork juicy after shredding. Scrape the bottom of the pot as the liquid reduces. You should eventually have a thickened pool of liquid covering the bottom of the pot (at least 1 cup’s worth).
While the pork cooks, prepare the pickled red onions by combining the sliced red onion and white wine vinegar in a jar, submerging as many of the onion slices as possible. Cover and let sit for 1-2 hours. This is also a good time to prep the other toppings. When the meat is tender, use 2 forks to shred the pork, leaving some slightly bigger, juicier chunks throughout the carnitas (try to avoid perfectly uniform shreds – texture is exciting!) Pick out and discard any papery chile skins that do not easily shred. Taste the meat and season with more salt if desired. While the pork cools slightly, wrap half of the tortillas in a clean kitchen towel, covering them completely. Microwave in 30-second bursts until the tortillas are steaming hot (~1-2 minutes total). Keep the tortillas wrapped up until you are ready to assemble the tacos. Heap generous forkfuls of carnitas onto the warm tortillas and garnish liberally with pickled red onion, cilantro leaves, diced white onion, limes, and hot sauce. Serve immediately.
ABOUT MACIEL PEREDA
Maciel was born in Vancouver and raised bilingually with a deeply instilled sense of East Side pride. She has persistently wondered “¿que hay para cenar?” (what’s for dinner?), and was ushered into the kitchen at a young age by her wonderfully patient grandmothers. She has a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from UBC and balances out the rewarding – yet taxing – demands of a healthcare career with a deep love of all things food. In 2017, she launched Some Like It Salty, a blog dedicated to her ongoing home cooking projects. In her spare time, she can be found purposefully strutting down Commercial Drive or staring mindlessly into the fridge while eating mayonnaise directly from the jar.