I peel the mesh covering off the slow-cooked pork shoulder and place the pork on a cutting board. I’ve seared it good and brown, and it doesn’t take more than a nudge to get the meat to start flaking off in fat, juicy strips. My heart does that little pork dance, and I preheat the oven and set out corn tortillas and cheese in anticipation of a Top 10 Spicy Enchilada experience.
The pork has been braising all day in a mixture of various hot peppers, chicken stock, garlic, and limeade (work with me here, it was in the fridge), and the meaty, spicy scent had me checking the clock all morning long. After I take the pork out, I add a few peaches, for sweetness, and blend the whole thing into a greenish liquid with the consistency of tomato soup.
Then the night’s success screeches to a halt.
I try the sauce. It’s so spicy I can hardly breathe for a few minutes, like when you put your head under water in a too-cold lake and everything feels like it’s caving in in in. My capacity for spicy food is admittedly challenged, but this is – to me – unpalatable. My husband comes upstairs, so I hand him a soup spoon full of the stuff, which by now I’ve put on the stove to boil down, in the event that he can actually eat it. (If a food nearly kills me, I almost always immediately hand it to him. I realize this and wonder if it says something about us. Or just me.)
His eyes light up. “You made hot sauce!” he says. “That’s so cool!”
This is why I married you.
So the brilliant idea to reduce the braising liquid to make a green enchilada sauce sort of fizzles, because eating it would mean frying my taste buds and the majority of the soft tissue lining my throat. But I think it’s salvageable. I blend up a giant can’s worth of diced tomatoes, intending to add some of the green monster to the tomato puree until I get a flavorful, palatable concoction thick enough to use as enchilada sauce. But halfway through pouring a cup of the (now simmering) spicy stuff into the tomatoes, I zone out and pour liquid green magma across the top two sections of all four fingers on my right hand.
Instead of marching to the freezer right away for the trusty bag of peas I keep frozen just for moments like these, I muffle my scream and finish making a pretty good – for patchwork – enchilada sauce. Tito figures out that something is Not Right – because I’m still ignoring my hand but my body language must show I’m pissed – and begins to ask how he can help, grating cheese, etc. I manage to wrestle six too-dry corn tortillas around my random mixture of the pork, cheese, and some of the sauce, and plop them unceremoniously into a pan and top them with sauce and cheese before shoving it all in the oven, setting the timer, and heading for the peas.
Meanwhile, Tito senses my impending collapse, and finagles the remaining ingredients into another pan: He layers the tortillas, meat, cheese, and sauce into a sort of Mexican casserole, the way he’s seen Kelly do it when she makes her mom’s amazing Mexican Lasagne (which, for health purposes, should be avoided, simply because I really believe it’s made with equal parts meat, cheese, and sour cream, with perhaps a sauce or a tortilla somewhere in there as a garnish). He takes my ripped, sad-looking enchiladas out of the oven because he knows we don’t need both dishes, and because his dish looks better (though not much). He wraps them up properly for freezing (my, he’s learned some things), first with foil, then with plastic, then bustles about, reporting cheese melting, cheese bubbling, cheese browning, etcetera. I give up on reading, because I can’t hold the peas on my hand and hold my book at the same time, and I try to take a shower, but the water’s too hot for my hand to stay in long. I put on pajamas, and refuse to brush my wet hair. Crankiness spreads to every cell. I’m pouting over the sauce that could have been so beautiful, and my boiled fingers.
Then dinner is ready. I hobble to the table (somehow the burn on my fingers has affected my lower body as well), and the casserole is warm, perfectly spicy, and heinous to look at. But the meat is perfect, and there’s a giant pot of really good hot sauce on the stove.
And it occurs to me, with a surfable wave of relief, that we had planned to have company for dinner.
Today, I’m sprouting little blisters along the tops of my fingers, and a few of my knuckles actually appear bruised, which I can’t figure out. And we now have a healthy supply of hot sauce.
I’m not sure how to give you this recipe. The pork is delicious (and really only slightly spicy) on its own, but the intended enchilada sauce should probably not be used as such, as is. Below is what I actually did, so you can make pulled pork and homemade hot sauce – if you want to make enchilada sauce, combine a blended 35-ounce can of diced tomatoes with enough of the blended green sauce to give it the heat you like (but watch your hands). That should give you roughly enough sauce to make two (11×7 )pans of 6 enchiladas each, mixing them meat with a little of the sauce and a few big handfuls of shredded cheese for filling.
It’s clear that the slow cooker and I are not meant to be working together right now. More in cooler weather.
Pepper-Braised Pork and Homemade Hot Sauce (PDF)
(AKA Failed Spicy Slow-Cooked Pork Enchiladas)
Recipe 256 of 365
Pile juicy, moist pulled pork into sandwiches, burritos, or quesadillas with cheese and anything else that strikes your fancy, and serve with the hot sauce for dipping.
I used Newman’s Own limeade. (“Made with tart virgin limes,” it says. As opposed to what other kinds of limes?)
TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings, plus lots of hot sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (2 1/2 pound) pork shoulder roast, patted dry, tied with string (most come tied)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Anaheim chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 serrano chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 jalapeno chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
1 small red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups limeade
3 cups chicken broth
2 large peeled, pitted peaches, chopped
Heat a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and cook the pork for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until well browned on all sides.
Transfer the pork to a slow cooker, add the remaining ingredients except the peaches, plus a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and cook on low heat for 8 hours, turning over once during cooking (not crucial, but preferred).
When done, transfer the meat to a cutting board, remove the string, and shred with a fork and knife. Use as desired.
To make the hot sauce, carefully puree the cooking liquid, along with the peaches, in a blender or food processor. (This is best done in batches, unless you have an immersion blender, in which case you can whirl everything together right in the slow cooker.) Transfer to a large saucepan, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Let cool to room temperature, then store in airtight containers in the refrigerator and use as needed.