I’ve been spending a bit of time each week preserving our favorite late spring/early summer produce by cleaning, blanching and freezing things in small batches, so we have been trying hard to make space in our freezer by using up many of our stockpiled proteins. During a recent freezer inventory, I discovered a bag of cubed pork shoulder left over from the piece Mike bought for his last batch of chili. Since the pork was already cut into nice big chunks, I thought it would be fun to season them with a smoky rub, skewer and grill them, and serve them in warm corn tortillas – pork tacos influenced by the ones we get at Matamoros Puebla in Williamsburg.
The cilantro in our garden had gotten so tall that it was beginning to tip over, so I also decided to make my first batch of salsa of the season. While the tomatoes around here aren’t quite good enough yet for a fresh salsa, they work just fine in this version, where the main ingredients are charred over hardwood before being blended to a chunky puree.
To season the pork, I combined a half teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander, chipotle powder, smoked paprika and dried oregano, along with one teaspoon each of ground cumin, kosher salt, and adobo from a can of chipotles. I added the pork (about 1 lb.) to the spice mixture and tossed it to coat all sides well, and then let it sit in the fridge until we were ready to grill it.
For the salsa, we placed two whole poblano peppers, four medium-to-large whole plum tomatoes and one red onion (peeled and halved but with the stem end still attached so it wouldn’t fall apart) directly over the hot side of the grill. I also peeled two large garlic cloves, drizzled them with a teaspoon of olive oil, wrapped them up in a small piece of foil and placed that on the grill with the other veggies. We cooked these for about 10-12 minutes total, turning them occasionally. When the skins of the peppers were blackened on all sides and the tomatoes were charred and beginning to split, we pulled them off the grill and I took them inside to cool for a few minutes.
I placed the onion and garlic into a mini chopper and pulsed it until it was chopped pretty fine, then set it aside. I quartered the tomatoes and added them, along with their juices, to my blender. When the poblanos were cool enough to handle, I peeled most of the blackened skin off of them, removed the seeds and stems, and tossed those into the blender as well. The chopped onion/garlic mixture went in next, along with the juice of a lime, a healthy pinch of kosher salt, and a splash of sherry vinegar. I pureed this for just a minute or two, so that it would be relatively smooth but still have some texture, and then I poured the salsa into a bowl and stirred in a handful of chopped cilantro.
While I finished mixing up the salsa, Mike skewered the pork and grilled it (about seven minutes a side, he tells me). He also warmed a stack of tortillas, sprinkled with a little bit of water and wrapped in foil, over indirect heat for a few minutes until they were soft and pliable.
When the pork was done, we pulled it off of the skewers and placed chunks onto our warm tortillas. We topped each taco with a little bit of grated cotija cheese, chunks of radish, and a spoonful of the charred salsa. On the side, I served cumin-spiked black beans, a couple of wedges of lime to squeeze over our tacos, and cold Mexican beer.
The pork and salsa definitely had some heat, but the smoky flavors imparted by the grill, plus the freshness of lime and crunch or radish mellowed them out just a bit. As spring winds down and we head into summer, this was a nice taste of things to come.