Yucatan-Style Slow-Roasted Pork Tacos

When the James Beard award-winning editor of The Washington Post food section writes a cookbook, you know you better buy it. In my case, I blurbed it–(look for me on the back cover!)–because the book in question, Joe Yonan’s “Serve Yourself,” is truly excellent. It’s not one of those cookbooks full of familiar recipes that have been tweaked in such minor ways you wonder why you bought it; here everything is fresh, smart and mouth-watering. Especially the recipe on pg. 66: “Yucatan-Style Slow Roasted Pork.”

I’ve roasted pork before. I’ve slow-roasted pork before. But the flavors have always been somewhat tame.

Not here! Here you make a rub with annatto seeds (I couldn’t find them, but found annatto powder at Whole Foods)…


…whole black peppercorns, toasted cumin seeds, garlic, cilantro, a whole orange, beer, red pepper flakes, allspice, smoked paprika and a ground-up ancho chili. The resulting rub is so enormously flavorful, it would take some major kitchen travesty to make this taste bad. Like your kitchen would have to burn down for this to taste bad.

To serve it, I made David Lebovitz’s pickled red onions:


And I bought some of the most authentic tortillas in New York; the ones from Hot Bread Kitchen (which are sold on Wednesdays only at the Union Square Farmer’s Market):


I bought yellow, white and blue tortillas (they come 8 to a package and we had a lot of people coming).

But the star of the show was definitely the pork. Look at the huge reactions when I carried it out from the kitchen:


(Ok, that’s a lie. The pork was already on the table when I shot that picture; I think Diana said something shocking about something controversial.)

The point is: make this pork and buy Joe Yonan’s book. I blurbed it for a reason: it’s just that good.

* * * * *

Yucatan-Style Slow-Roasted Pork

from Joe Yonan’s “Serve Yourself”

Makes 4 to 5 cups, or 6 to 8 servings


3 tablespoons annatto seeds

3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds

3/4 cup peeled garlic cloves

3/4 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt

1 seedless orange, peeled and cut into large chunks

1/4 cup beer of any type (you can drink the rest while you cook!)

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)

1 teaspoon ground ancho chile (I did this directly in my spice grinder, after removing the stem and the seeds)

3 pounds fresh pork shoulder (Boston butt or picnic shoulder)

1. Preheat the oven to 275 F.

2. Using a spice grinder (such as a coffee grinder reserved for spices), grind the annatto seeds, peppercorns, and cumin seeds to a fine powder.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic cloves, cilantro, and salt and process until finely chopped.



Add the orange, beer, red pepper flakes, allspice, pimenton, ground ancho, and the ground annatto mixture and process until a fairly smooth paste forms.




4. Lay a 2-foot sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface. Set the pork in the middle of it.


Spread the spicy paste over the pork, coating it on all sides…


…then tightly roll up the pork inside the foil, tucking in the sides as you go, as if you’re making a burrito. Use another long strip of foil to create another layer, being sure to seal the pork tightly inside the foil. Place the pork packet in a roasting pan, fill it with water to come a couple of inches up the side of the foil wrapped pork…


…then use another piece of aluminum foil to cover and seal the whole pan.

5. Roast the pork until you can feel it falling apart inside its package if you push on it, and a skewer inserted through the top of the foil and into the meat encounters no resistance, 4 to 5 hours. (If you’re not sure, err on the side of longer cooking; you really can’t overcook this.)

6. Remove the roast in its foil from the pan, transfer to a platter, and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before slashing open the foil. Discard any large pieces of fat, and use two forks to shred the meat. Combine the meat with enough of the sauce created from the spices and pan drippings so that it is very juicy but not swimming, reserving the rest of this sauce for other uses, such as spooning onto pan-fried pork chops or adding extra moisture to a pulled pork sandwich.


7. Eat one serving* of the meat however you like (with tortillas, pickled onions, and sour cream is a good bet) while letting the rest cool to room temperature.


Refrigerate the leftovers for up to 1 week or divide into 4 to 6 portions, seal in heavy-duty plastic freezer bags, removing as much air as possible, and freeze for up to 6 months.

* I forgot to mention that Joe’s book is about cooking for one. If you serve this at a dinner party, as I did, you won’t have any problem using up all the meat.

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