Tostadas de Tinga and a Jicama-Cabbage Slaw
In my post for Father’s Day last year, I mentioned that my Dad has a specific set of tastes. I’d sum it up as Southern Californian Mexican meets 50’s child nostalgia meets snack-hungry sweet tooth. He loves when I’m around the house because there’s always some sort of treat he can have after dinner, and he asserts that pineapple upside-down cake is an under-rated dessert that is a sad example of lost food trends getting the best of people’s palates. Most food “bores” him, but he’s made a meal out of cereal or cheese and crackers more than anyone I know. Even though he’s not very picky, it’s hard to truly impress him with food.
We don’t really make a big deal out of things like Mother’s or Father’s Day around my house (sorry Mom, Dad), but I liked the excuse this past Sunday to try and cater to my Dad’s tastes for dinner. This year, it meant Mexican food in the form of spicy shredded pork tostadas, a spicy jicama-cabbage slaw on the side, and a white chocolate banana cream pie for dessert.
Sound awesome? It was.
(Well, besides the dessert part. Which is odd, because usually baking as opposed to cooking is the thing I can always rely on—if I’m making something sweet, I usually have faith that it’ll turn out well. But tell that to the pile of cornstarchy-tough-crust-overly-sweet mush of a pie sitting in the fridge uneaten at the moment. It seems like I’m making a pattern of Father’s Day, seeing as last year I served a good dinner with a mushy, falling-apart pineapple upside-down cake. Anyway.)
This tinga doesn’t taste like the regular carnitas you get at the taco truck, but I like that. They’re a little sweet, from the tomato sauce and onions, pretty spicy from the chili in adobo, and completely flavorful, complex, and delicious. And what’s more, they were pretty straightforward and easy to make: you simply boil the chopped and trimmed pork in some water and aromatics until the pieces are tender, saute half of that pork with onions and to get it crispy and browned, and finally combine it all back together with reserved stock and tomato sauce until it bubbles and reduces down.
I served them on 6-inch corn tortillas that I fried in oil to make tostadas out of them, but next time I’d fry up 4-inch tortillas—6-inches left a little too much room for the juicy tinga to fall all over our chins when we were eating it. Better yet, I’d go ahead and recommend buying the tortillas already tostada-fied from the store actually. Or! Do like I did, and serve some of the tinga on soft just-warmed corn tortillas. Which, you know, obviously takes away the whole “tostada” part of this dish, but whatever. Whatever you do, make sure you serve it with some crumbled queso fresco, some cilantro, and a good squeeze of lime. That part is definitely necessary.
Before I send you off with the recipe, I have to comment on the slaw that we ate the tostadas with. To cut to the chase, it’s really, really good. I think I loved it more than anyone else at the table, but maybe that’s also probably because I saw how much oil I used to fry up the tostadas and so I was naturally counter-balancing that with some craving for the tangy, spicy, crunchy and always-healthy cabbage and jicama. The dressing, a spicy-sweet mixture with lots of lime juice and jalapeno, was what probably made the slaw for me—I swear, you could serve that dressing on anything.
Oh, and one last thing about dessert: Though I stand by everything I stated earlier about how that banana cream pie went, my Dad still ate a good serving of it by scooping it out and eating it on graham crackers. Because as he says often when he sees a culinary mishap of mine, “it still has all the right ingredients.” And even though I think that all the “right” ingredients are very capable of producing something very “wrong” indeed, I can’t help but appreciate that my Dad’s uncommon food tastes sometimes cause my family to gather around some really great meals. Whether it’s these tostadas, or a pile of cheese and crackers.
Tostadas de Tinga (Spicy Shredded Pork Tostadas)
Adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook
Serves 6 to 8
As mentioned above, I wouldn’t feel the slightest bit guilty in buying tostadas already deep-fried from the grocery store. A good brand is Mission, or so I’ve heard.
3 to 4 pounds boneless pork boston butt roast
2 large onions, quartered
4 garlic cloves, smashed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chipotle chili in adobo, minced
2 (14.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
4-inch corn tortillas
1 to 2 cups vegetable oil
queso fresco, crumbled
cilantro, roughly chopped
To prepare the shredded pork, pull apart the pork at the seams and trim the pieces of its fat. It may be impossible to get all of the fat trimmed off, but do the best you can; any fat that’s leftover will translate to chewy pockets of greasy fat when it’s all finished. Cut the pork into rough 1-inch pieces, and combine with the quartered onions, smashed garlic, thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 8 to 9 cups of water in a large dutch oven. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat and skim off any grayish foam that rises to the surface. Once the water is steadily simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook until the pork is tender and falls apart when pierced with a fork, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
While the pork is cooking, make the tostadas. In an 8-inch skillet, heat a little more than a cup’s worth of vegetable oil until its hot enough so that a sprinkle of flour sizzles when dropped in. Working with one at a time, fry each tortilla for about 30 seconds, or until its crispy throughout and slightly golden. While the tortilla fries, it helps to hold it submerged under the oil with a metal potato masher. Once each tortilla is done, remove from the oil, place on several layers of paper towels to cool, and sprinkle with salt. The tostadas can be kept at room temperature for up to a day.
Once the pork is completely tender, remove and reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, then drain the pork and discard the onions, garlic and thyme. Returning the pork to the pot by itself, mash with a potato masher until very roughly shredded. Be sure to not shred it too much—it will continue to break down before being served.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the diced onions and dried oregano until the onions are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add half of the shredded pork and cook with the softened onions, stirring often, until the pork gets browned and a bit crispy. Stir in the minced garlic and minced chili until it all becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Return the pork mixture back to the dutch oven pot with the other half of the shredded pork. Use some of the reserved 2 cups of pork cooking liquid, about 1/2 cup, to deglaze the browned pork left in the skillet by scraping up any browned parts. Once completely deglazed, add this liquid to the dutch oven with the pork, along with the remaining reserved cooking liquid, tomato sauce, and bay leaves. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until the mixture is reduced until almost no liquid remains. Discard bay leaves, and season with salt to taste.
To serve, spoon the shredded pork tinga onto the center of each tostada and garnish with queso fresco, cilantro, lime juice, and avocado.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook
However you slice, shred and cut the red cabbage, carrots and jicama, just try and keep them within the same size range and small enough so that the pieces can actually fit in your mouth.
1/2 cup lime juice, from about 4 limes
1/4 cup sugar
1 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeds removed, and minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 head red cabbage (1 pound), core removed and sliced thin
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 pound jicama, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup minced cilantro
In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, sugar, jalapeno, garlic, cumin and a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oil in a small stream.
In a large bowl, combine the shredded and sliced cabbage, carrots, jicama and cilantro. Drizzle the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss it all to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Season and taste for salt and pepper before serving.