Carne Adovada: Braised Pork in Red Chili Sauce
The cooler weather and shorter days have brought with them a craving for some heartier fall fare. In the summer months I usually set aside my Dutch ovens and slow cookers, because when the air is so hot and thick with humidity that my body carves a route from my car to my desk, I hardly feel like stews or heavy dishes. However, as soon as autumn comes, I am once again all about the braise.
There’s something so simple and satisfying about a flavorful and tender slow braised meat. I get a thrill every time I witness the majestic transformation of cheap, scorned and rejected cuts of beggars meat as they become tender morsels of richly flavored gastronomic joy. I like it even better still when I can accomplish this feat in my slow cooker, rather than having to monitor the slow simmer of a Dutch oven for four hours.
Speaking of simple and satisfying, my first braise of the season is carne adovada, a rustic New Mexican dish of braised pork in a red chili sauce. Although this might be simple, peasant fare to many of you, for the longest time it was an exceptional challenge to get good dried chilis in Ontario. Without good dried chilis, you can’t make a red chili sauce. Oh yes, and without red chili sauce you are denied the opportunity to eat succulent chunks of slow braised carne adovada. I suppose it’s because of the chronic chili shortage in our grocery stores (a pox on you, Canadian global supply chains!) that any time I make something rich with dried chilis it always seems like an ‘event’. Is this dish complicated or time consuming to make? Absolutely not. Does it cook while I’m toiling away at work? Sure does! Is this some type of New Mexican peasant food? Well, yes. To me, each one of those is a reason enough to fall in love with pork all over again.
Carne Adovada: Braised Pork in Red Chili Sauce
- 2.5 lb (1.1 kg) stewing pork *
- 10-12 dried guajillo chili peppers **
- 4 chili de arbol
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp cumin seed (or ground cumin)
- 4 whole cloves (or 1/4 tsp ground clove)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
* You can buy pre-cut pork stewing meat, which is usually a tough but flavorful cut, or chop your own. Your best choice would be pork shoulder. If you are chopping your own meat, be sure to trim away as much fat as you can.
** If you cannot find guajillo chili peppers, New Mexico chilis , Ancho, Mulato or Anaheim chili peppers will suffice. If you use a slightly spicier chili (such as Ancho) you may wish to reduce the chili de arbol, however despite the volume of chili in this dish the heat level is still fairly mild, or medium at best.
Chop the pork into bite sized cubes (about 1 – 1.5″) and season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides.
In a dry skillet, toast the chili peppers over high heat until they are slightly puffed and fragrant. Be careful not to burn the pods or they will become bitter.
Toast the cumin seeds and cloves as well. If you’re doing this at the same time as the chili, add them to the pan about 20-30 seconds before you take it off the heat because they’ll toast up delightfully fast.
Pour the stock into a medium sized pot and add the chili, cumin seeds, oregano and cloves. Peel the garlic and onions. Chop the onion up into large chunks (quarters is fine) and add them to the stock. Simmer this mixture for 20 minutes or so, until the chilis are fully re-hydrated and the onion is soft. Take the pot off the heat.
Remove only the chilis from the stock and pour the rest into a blender. When the chilis are cool enough to handle, remove their woody stems and slit them open to remove and discard the seeds.
Add the chilis to the blender and process the liquid until it is smooth. Et voila! Red chili sauce is yours.
Of course, this was about the point in time where I forgot to take pictures, but hopefully the carnage in my sink will assure you that I do, indeed, follow process.
Pour the red chili sauce over the pork and let it marinate overnight in the fridge, if possible.
When you’re ready, put the pork into the crock of your slow cooker and set it to cook on low for 7-8 hours. When the pork is done, the meat will be tender and pliable, easily falling apart with very little provocation. Check for seasoning and adjust the salt if the flavor doesn’t pop.
I like to serve carne adovada with plain white rice and fresh corn tortillas to sop up all that decadent chili sauce. This time I also added a simple cucumber and onion salad to at least nod in the direction of a serving of vegetables.
Given the choice though, I probably would have just stuck with the meat. After all, slow simmered pork is a culinary pleasure, but when you add to that a smoky, earthy flavored red chili sauce, I’m sold.
It may not be much to look at, but the utter simplicity of this dish warms my heart as much as my belly. I guess I’m really not very sad at all to say goodbye to summer….and hello to braising!