When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to cook. I mean, he tried. I was a truculent little fucker even then, and I doubt I really listened. Still he taught at a catering college, and somehow some basics of technique and flavour sank in. I don’t think I really learned to cook though until a bit later, living in a grotty shared house, having rage-quit the family home, post graduation.
As tantrums go, “I’m moving to Cambridge” was a bit dumb, and more than a little expensive. But not wanting to let the cooking shtick wither entirely, my dad packed me off with a few books. Some core catering texts, a well-thumbed Delia, and a couple of quirky extras that have since become two of my favourites. They were Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, and Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican, and they massively influenced my early cooking forays. The latter introduced me to Tinga Poblana, one of the first things I learned to cook then really ran with.
It’s bound up in a whole bunch of memories – if I cook for you at all in person, the odds are you’ll have eaten some version of it. Hell, I’ve been titting about with Tinga Poblana for about ten years, and this won’t be the final version I settle on by any means.
It’s smoky and deep, with a sweetness I’ve brought to the front using sweet potato and extra onion. The chorizo and chipotle give some and darkness, so you don’t need much extra by way of spice. But I do like to add some allspice just to round it all out.
Pork, 600g (shoulder or a lean-ish cut, but basically anything except belly or tenderloin)
- Tomatoes, 5 medium to large
- Chorizo (the dried kind), 120-150g
- Onions, 2 medium to large
- Garlic, 4 cloves
- Sweet potato, about 300g
- Chipotles in adobo, 2
- Thyme, a sprig or two, or 1/4tsp dried
- Bay leaves, 2
- Allspice 1/4tsp
- Oregano, 1tsp
- Feta cheese, 150g
- Fresh coriander to garnish
- Oil for frying, black pepper, salt
Serves about 4
Chipotles in adobo aren’t exactly ubiquitous on British high streets, but they are essential here. These ones are decent enough and can be bought online.
Honestly, this is a bit of a faff, so we’ll start with the long way round, and I’ll mention some shortcuts at the end.
Put the oven on at about 200c. Set a pan of around a litre of water boiling.
Peel the sweet potato, and cut it into large dice, say 2cm cubes. Peel and quarter the onions. Peel and roughly slice the garlic. Rough chop the chilis. Chop the chorizo into small dice (say, a bit more than 1/2 cm).
In an oven dish, toss the diced potato and the tomatoes in some oil, and put them in the oven for about 30 mins, tossing/turning about half way through. We’re looking for the potato to be just done, picking up a little browning at the edges, and the tomatoes to roast with the skin flaking away a little. When they’re done, remove them and put them to one side. You can peel the tomatoes if you like, when they’re cool enough to handle, but I never bother. When they are, though, roughly chop them.
While that’s all roasting, boil the pork. Cut it into chunks if it’s in a large piece, and put it in the boiling water. A kind of grim foamy scum will rise as it boils. Skim this off and get rid of it. It’ll stop forming after a minute or two. At this point, knock it down to a low simmer, and add the thyme, bay, and oregano. Leave the pork simmering, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes. You may need to cover it if it starts to dry out too much, but we’ll be reducing the liquid to about 300ml later, so this is a nice point to save some time.
When the pork is done (which is just shy of fall-apart tender), fish it out and leave it to cool for a bit. Keep the liquid, and reduce it until you’ve got a serious, flavourful broth. We’re looking for around 300ml, but 500 isn’t a disaster if you get bored waiting. Strain the broth when you’re done. Once the pork is cool, roughly flake it into chunks.
The third section is frying everything together.
In a sturdy casserole or a generous frying pan, set the onions frying on a medium heat. Cook them for around 8 minutes or until softening with a bit of brown. Raise the heat a little and add the flaked pork. Fry it, stirring regularly, until it’s got some nice browning all over: say about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and chorizo, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the chipotle, the allspice, some black pepper, and at least 1 tsp of the adobo sauce. I like it a bit hotter, so I use a tablespoon. It’s smoky and rich and delicious.
Add the tomatoes, and the reduced pork broth, and stir to get everything amalgamated. Add the sweet potatoes, and simmer gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reduces just a little.
Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander and crumbled feta.
You can put this with a salad, or as a taco filling with appropriate fixin’s. Slices of avocado are usual, but I’ve never cared for the stuff.
If you somehow end up with leftovers, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you warm it, heap it over toast, and then grill extra cheese on top.
And no power in the ‘verse will make me apologise for that.
With the best will in the world, that’s at least an hour of continuous cooking, over two hobs and an oven. You can save some of that by not making the broth or roasting the tomatoes and potatoes. A tin of chopped tomatoes will do, for example. Add them at the same point as the roasted ones. You can omit the sweet potato entirely, or use some chunks of boiled conventional potato.
To dodge boiling pork, you can use a premade stock (cubes, liquid, whatever) and add the herbs. You’d then fry the pork from raw, probably in smaller pieces, before cooking the onions. I’d use a bit more stock if you’re doing that, and give it a slightly longer simmer to finish. The tinned tomatoes will appreciate that.
Heck, you could trust that finishing step to cook the potatoes, but I generally don’t.