Let’s talk tacos. Tacos made from a deeply flavorful slow-roasted pork shoulder bathed with a simple chocolate-infused mole, served with a tangy cabbage slaw and queso fresco. With a side of black beans and rice, it’s perfect for a crowd – as we hosted on Friday night (House Morell, party of 10).
I’ve been thinking about tacos quite a bit this month. Growing up in Detroit, the Sunday night tradition was Old El Paso taco nights – the classic feast of crispy shells with ground beef and shredded cheese and lettuce and tomatoes and black olives and sour cream. (At this point you might be thinking: Does this chick remember anything from her life if it doesn’t involve food? The answer is: Not really.)
Aunt Shari and Uncle Dan and their kids would always be a part of this Tex-Mex fiesta. Our house or theirs. We took turns. While the grown-ups drank Genessee Cream Ales, we occupied ourselves by staging “elaborate” theatrical productions presented on the brick fireplace at the end of the evening. I understand my 9-year-old self was quite bossy in trying to eke out the best possible performances from my 8-and-under crew, but this I don’t recall (Obviously. Food wasn’t involved.) As the skits were often based on scenes from The Sound of Music, I suspect they were the sort of plays only parents smitten with their darling small children could love. (After drinking a few Gennessee Cream Ales.)
Over the years, we moved to different corners of the world, but I always felt the love of this wonderful family from afar. Whenever we reunited at family gatherings, the conversation invariably returned to these beloved taco nights.
Sadly, Dan passed away after a long illness over the holidays – on the Feast of the Holy Family. He had a wonderful life – and leaves a treasured family who will miss him dearly.
So that’s why I’ve been thinking so much about tacos.
This taco has evolved from the classic version we enjoyed back in the 70s. But with the rich, tangy, chocolate mole-drenched meat, the crispy buttermilk-lime slaw, and the crumbled queso fresco, they truly are wonderful tacos.
Share them with your friends, Make tacos your tradition. Build wonderful memories… to salute this great man who had a wonderful life.
And another note. My wise cousin Krista, the only divorce attorney I know who encourages her clients to work things out (not a great business model), also wrote piece about our Uncle Dan. It’s beautiful (as is all her writing), and you can find it here.
And special thanks to Sydney Combs, photographer extraordinaire, who shot the photos for this blog post – and gave me a dozen helpful tips in less than 20 minutes.
Chocolate Mole Carnitas Tacos with Cabbage Slaw
Servings: 10 or More
- Cabbage Slaw (See Below)
- Chocolate Mole Carnitas (see below)
- Small corn tortillas
- Crumbled queso fresco
For the Cabbage Slaw:
(Adapted from a recipe on the Food Network)
- 4 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1 cup shredded or grated carrots
- 5 scallions, chopped, green and white parts
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Carnitas:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 pounds pork shoulder
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 4 cups beef broth
- 2 ounces. 70% bittersweet chocolate**
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (To taste, I used 2)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
** My brother John, the chef (who once was made to play Rolf), suggests using a Mexican drinking chocolate like abuelita and dropping the brown sugar.
Make the slaw:
- Add the shredded cabbage, carrots, and chopped scallions to a large serving bowl with the chopped cilantro.
- Mix the buttermilk, lime juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a separate bowl.
- Add the dressing to the grated cabbage.
- Allow the mixture to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before serving.
Make the carnitas:
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Liberally salt and pepper the pork roast. Add olive oil and butter to large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high until butter melts, but does not burn. Add pork roast to pan and brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes in all.
- Take the pork shoulder out of the dutch oven, set it on a plate, and cover with foil.
- Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic sauté for another minute or two.
- Add the chili powders and oregano and sauté for a minute, stirring constantly, so the onions and garlic are covered in the spices and the mixture is fragrant. Add the beef stock and bring to a boil.
- Return the pork shoulder to the dutch oven. Cover, and put in oven. Braise for 3 to 4 hours, turning every hour or so.
- The meat is done when it’s practically falling apart. Take it out of the sauce, put on a cutting board and pull it apart with two forks.
- Meanwhile, place the dutch oven back on the stove top, and reduce the braising liquid by about a quarter. Whisk in the chocolate, brown sugar, and vinegar until the chocolate is fully melted. Return the shredded meat to the pot, heat gently until it is warmed through, and serve on corn tortillas with queso fresco and cabbage slaw.