When you grow up with something, you tend to take it for granted. You don’t realize that it’s special, or unique, or even downright weird. It makes for a somewhat, well, insular situation. And often, it takes someone wholly outside the situation pointing out the oddities to make you realize that whatever you took for granted is special, unique, or downright weird. Culinarily speaking, that’s what marrying a non-Texan did for me. It made me realize that the cuisine there is very special, and maybe, just maybe, sometimes a little odd.
Matt not only didn’t grow up in Texas, he never set foot in the state until we were seriously dating each other. Seeing Texas through his eyes has been quite an experience for me. It’s been somewhat enlightening, occasionally frustrating, but mostly just funny.
“How can you not know how to square dance? Didn’t you learn that in elementary school gym class?”
“Where are all the highway signs saying ‘Don’t mess with Pennsylvania’?”
“At the wedding, we’ll have to dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe! Oh, you’ve never even heard the song? Huh?!”
“Really? Your gas stations didn’t sell freshly made tacos?”
Yep, some gas stations in Texas have little kitchens in the back and they sell freshly made tacos. Some of them even have an area where you can sit down to eat them. Now to be clear, not all gas stations in Texas sell freshly made tacos – not by a long shot. In fact, most of them don’t. But a few of them in Dallas do, enough that it’s become kind of a Texas thing. Enough so that the natives can walk into a gas station that smells like a delicious taqueria and think nothing of it. And enough so that born and bred Texans like myself don’t really realize it’s weird to have a little Tex-Mex restaurant in the back of well, a gas station.
Fortunately, I have a loving, darling husband who had no problem pointing out the oddity of it all. So in response, I just made him some pork tacos that are reminiscent of those you would find in a gas station taqueria. He still thinks the idea of selling fresh, delicious tacos out the back of a gas station is peculiar. But I must add that he said this in between bites of scarfing the tacos and proclaiming them to be utterly amazing. So there you go.
4 dried pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
1 canned chipotle in adobo
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of ground cloves
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 tbs white vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tbs vegetable oil
6 jalapeno chiles
Corn tortillas, warmed
Garnishes of your choice, such as minced cilantro, salsa, guacamole, diced yellow onion, and lime wedges
Toast the pasilla chiles in a dry, medium saucepan over high heat on each side for about 10 seconds, just until fragrant. Fill the pan with enough water to cover the chiles. Leave it over high heat until the water boils, then shut off the heat and cover the pot. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.
While the pasillas are working, rinse and thoroughly dry the pork with paper towels. Trim the fat then dice into half-inch-size pieces.
Once the pasillas are rehydrated, lift them out with tongs and place them in a blender. Add to the blender the chipotle chile, garlic, oregano, cumin, cloves, orange juice, pineapple juice, vinegar and olive oil. Blend until a smooth puree forms. If it’s not cooperating, add a little bit of the chile soaking liquid to make it come together. Season to taste with salt.
Place the pork in a large resealable plastic baggie and carefully add the chile puree. Seal the bag and squish it around so the pork is completely immersed in the puree. Set it in a baking dish or mixing bowl and refrigerate for 8 hours.
Before cooking, let the pork sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. To cook the pork, heat two large skillets over medium heat and drizzle in the vegetable oil (1 tbs for each skillet). Divide the pork equally between the two skillets and fry for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
While the pork is cooking, place the jalapenos in a single file line down the middle of a baking sheet. Turn your broiler to high. Place the pan under the broiler as close as you possibly can to the heat source without touching it. Cook for 10 minutes, turning once, until blackened and softened. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, then slice the jalapenos.
To assemble the tacos, place some pork in the warmed tortilla and top with some sliced roasted jalapenos* and whatever garnishes you like.
* Um, roasted jalapenos – where have you been all my life??? These were some of the best, if not THE best jalapenos I’ve ever tasted. I am definitely using this trick again and again!!