FreshTartSteph Recipe: Pork Shoulder Braised with Chiles and Cinnamon

It is worth making this dish just to have the fragrant smells of chiles and cinnamon wafting through the house. The fact that you end up with enough falling-apart tender pork for more than one meal is just a convenient, delicious bonus.

Braise the pork Sunday and enjoy it as a juicy roast alongside other roasted fall treats (squash or root vegetables) and oh, let’s say polenta. In my book, the combination of pork and polenta is hard to beat. If you’re lucky enough to have a spot of tomato jam still in the fridge, use it here! That’s how I first tried the jam and fell in love with it. I’ve been enjoying it with bacon and alongside fried eggs, but atop braised pork and polenta remains my favorite. Click here for one of my favorite polenta recipes. And if you want to make the tomato jam, you can find that recipe here.

I got sidetracked. Sorry! Now back to the pork roast.

The next day, or a few days later, shred and crisp pork pieces in a skillet, then serve with warm corn tortillas and your favorite taco garnishes. I like any combination of pickled onions, crema, fresh cilantro, cabbage, lime, salsa, avocado, fresh chiles, queso fresco—think crunchy and creamy, salty and sweet, with something herbal, acidic, and/or hot to set it off, and you’ll nail it. Twice!

Pork Shoulder Braised with Chiles and Cinnamon

Serves 4 (twice!)
*Note: I’ve paired this recipe down to its essence. I don’t skim the fat from the pan juices because I like to store the pork with its fat to keep it from drying out. The only thing I don’t puree into the sauce is the cinnamon stick. This tastes great the day you make it, but even better the next day(s).

4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 equal pieces
Kosher salt
1 Tbs. bacon fat or vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 dried chiles, stems pull off, roughly chopped (dried ancho, New Mexico, chiles de arbol, and guajillo chiles are all easy to find; dried chipotles are smoked which adds a nice flavor as well; read the package to determine heat level)
2 c. chicken stock or water
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Sprinkle pork pieces evenly with Kosher salt.

Heat a Dutch oven (or use a deep casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid) over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When it’s hot, add two of the pork pieces. Brown thoroughly on all sides—don’t rush this step. Take the time to let each side achieve a nice brown crust. When the pieces are browned, transfer them to a plate and brown the other two pieces. Add them to the plate as well and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add onion, garlic, cumin and coriander, cinnamon stick, and chiles. Stir around for a few minutes, then pour in the chicken stock. Arrange the pork pieces on top of the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Cover and transfer to the oven.

Bake the pork for 2-3 hours, or until it’s very tender and pulls apart easily. Remove from the oven and transfer pork to a cutting board. Let cool while you finish the sauce. Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan and discard. With an immersion blender, puree the pan juices in the pan until mostly smooth. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and keep warm.

Pull the pork apart into bite-sized pieces and add them back to the pan. Serve the pork warm with pan juices. Store the pork and juices together in the refrigerator, tightly covered, in a narrow enough container to ensure the pork is covered with pan juices. Reheat slowly together in a saucepan, or fry pieces of the pork in a hot skillet until crispy.