I talk a lot about taking a casual food, such as tacos, and elevating it to a level of greatness, or restaurant quality by raising the bar with it. I don't change things drastically. After all, a taco should still be a taco in that it's something familiar and unfussy. But what takes a Mexican seasoned ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheese topped taco from "everyday" to "wow" is what I absolutely love. This recipe is a perfect example of that. I adore this recipe because it tastes genuine, real and authentic. All the familiar flavors of Mexico are there...chilies, tomatoes, beef, cilantro, onion, chile powder and cumin, but you can't discern that from one bite. All the ingredients meld together to form something else entirely and you know, right away that it's special. It's the type of taco that you would order and come back for. The type of thing you make for your friends once and for every other time you invite them, they forever request tacos.
You top these babies with cool shredded lettuce, cilantro sprigs, lime, quesco fresco cheese crumbles and a fresh salsa. The right toppings can make all the difference in authenticity and I don't suggest you stray far from this. Somehow, throwing some cheddar on top of this beautiful roast meat would degrade it in a humiliating way. There's that drama I'm known for. No but really, stay true to the Mexican cuisine when making this, it really will make it or break it. I made a quick blender salsa to go with these (tomatoes, cilantro, onion, serrano pepper, garlic, lime, lemon, a touch of cumin and lots of salt) and it was perfect.If you must buy salas from the store, lean towards the refrigerated pico de gallo varieties and stay away from the jarred stuff which is too sweet.
Mexican Pot Roast Tacos
adapted from "Dinner At My Place" by Tyler Florence
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds shoulder of beef (or pot roast)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, cut into wedges
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes (or regular canned plum tomatoes)
3 dried red chilies
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Fresh medium corn tortillas, warmed over an open flame
3 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1/3 pound Cotija cheese, crumbled (also sometimes called queso fresco)
2 limes, cut into wedges for garnish
Drizzle beef shoulder with oil, then season with plenty of salt and black pepper. Set a large, heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. Sear on all sides until you have a nice brown crust, adding additional oil to the pan as necessary to prevent sticking. Add onion and garlic to the pot and stir until they caramelize a little and have contact with the bottom of the pot. Add tomatoes with juice, chilies, cumin, chile powder, and the 1/2 bunch of cilantro. Add about 2 inches of water to the pot. You want the liquid to almost cover the meat. Crush tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Cover and simmer until the meat is is fork tender and comes apart with little resistance, about 4 hours. Once cooked, use a wooden spoon or two forks to break apart the meat. Mix the meat with the tomato pieces and onion from the pot and add a ladle of the liquid for moisture. Discard the rest of the liquid. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add the vinegar and mix to combine.
The rule of thumb, generally, is the longer you cook this the more tender it will be. If you need this tender faster, cut your meat up into smaller pieces before searing. Just check the meat with a fork after a couple hours. If it's falling apart tender, it's ready. If it's not, keep cooking it making sure to keep a low simmer.
Seasoning the meat with the salt, pepper and vinegar once cooked is key. The vinegar is a perfect compliment to the meat, making it come alive and taste fresh. When getting ready to cook the roast, you shouldn't need to add much more than a cup to 2 cups or so of water to your pot. If you need much more you should use a smaller pot so as not to water down the spices, especially since the vegetables will generate more liquid naturally, as they cook. When I made this, I noticed the meat that was under water was more tender than the meat that was poking out, which is fine, but is just a testimony to make sure there is ample liquid in your pot. You can double this recipe easily. I used a dutch oven and crammed all the ingredients in it and I think it made for a better pot roast.
My Safeway doesn't always have a "pork shoulder" like the recipe calls for. You can use any shape or sized pot roast for this recipe, however, if it's bigger than 3 pounds, I suggest cutting your meat into smaller pieces, like in thirds so it will get tender, faster.