“Mama Rita” just recently had a “big” birthday, the kind that requires a proper celebration. She’s loved by many, and widely known in our city for her art. Those closest to her know her amazing strength — you want her with you when times get rough. She is passionate about living Life to its fullest — which so often means practicing sacrificial love, and ignoring the world’s advice of putting herself first. And Rita, above all things, is wise. If you need to confide in someone, talk something out, or “vent,” you call this woman. She will encourage you and steer you onto the right path, even if that path is the least popular or hard to hear. Tears and belly laughing in the same hard conversation is very normal. She lives out her own mantra of “surround yourself with positive people.” Let’s put it this way, when a woman like this is your mother, you have cause to celebrate her years on this planet. She’s a gift to us all.
So with her birthday approaching, my sisters Emily, Megan and I got to work planning a special night. That basically means, menu planning, right? We wanted our mom to have a night of honor with people who love her, and memories she would enjoy over the next several decades. Fortunately, the food planning was easy… My mom grew up on the good food cooked by my Grandma Salazar. So I knew something simple, spicy, a little exotic and yet fun would ring her bell, and also be the perfect atmosphere for a party scene. I decided to create a taco bar, featuring a recipe I like to use when I have a large group and want a casual and fun atmosphere. Chipotle carnitas. These carnitas have huge flavor, and a heat that surprises but keeps the flavor bright for every single bite. I love to keep the toppings simple, so I made a fresh salsa verde of tomatillos, provided crumbled queso fresco, crème fraîche which is more like the crema they use in México, and chopped cilantro. (I also had Dave grill up some chicken I had in a chile pequin marinade, which we sliced and used for another taco option with homemade salsa Méxicana, but that’s a post for another day!)
I had started with about 8 pounds of pork shoulder and based on the little bit that was left at the end of the night, I think people enjoyed it! It was a gorgeous summer evening on the patio in Colorado, and the weather cooperated beautifully. There was Dave’s homemade rosé sangria (recipe HERE) to cool off the heat from the carnitas, and we built a fire as the sun went down for the guests to roast marshmallows for the S’Mores…an appetizer to the decadent chocolate cake my sister Megan made, complete with a dark chocolate ganache frosting. There was lots of laughter and merriment, and although delicious food makes for a great party, having an amazing woman to celebrate was the best part of our gathering.
Chipotle Carnitas Tacos
recipe by Stephanie Kunstle
Notes: I served the carnitas with freshly cooked corn tortillas (no I did not make dozens for the party, I just bought uncooked tortillas to throw on the griddle before the party started as I do actually like to sleep sometimes), crème fraîche, salsa verde (a good quality store-bought version works, but I’ll share my homemade recipe from my time in Oaxaca soon), crumbled queso fresco, and lots of chopped cilantro. Along with the chile pequin chicken tacos, I offered black beans cooked with red onion and cilantro, and fruit skewers with watermelon and pineapple, tortilla chips, homemade salsa Méxicana, and so much homemade guacamole. This recipe serves about 15 people but I doubled it, and you should feel free to do that too if you want your fiesta to be a bit bigger!
PS: If you love more pictures, go on Instagram to follow @sbkunstle for more detailed pix and inspiration… Like the sangria photo shoot, or a close up of that lovely pork shoulder all prepped for slow cooking.
- 4 lb. pork shoulder (it does not need to be tied into a roast, but a roast is just fine too)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chipotle chile powder
- 2 tsp. salt (plus more to taste after cooking)
- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- Prepare yourself for how easy this is about to be… Maybe you need a glass of sangria to celebrate the simplicity?
- Place your pork roast into your crock pot and pour the chicken or veggie broth over it.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, chipotle chile powder, and salt and mix well.
- Rub the pork with the chipotle mixture, making sure most of the top and side surface area (and any in between folds) is covered well.
- Scatter the chopped onion over the top and into the sides of the slow cooker around the pork.
- Cook on low heat for about 10 hours, a day in advance or overnight. The aroma is slow torture, but good things come to those who wait.
- Cool pork on a large platter or cutting board, leaving the juices in the slow cooker to cool. Once it’s cool enough to touch, begin removing fatty chunks, and shred the meat well into a large bowl (the idea is that all the carnitas you offer for tacos is quality and picked clean of yucky globs).
- Once you have a large bowl of carnitas, skim the fat pieces from the cooled pork juices that are in the crock pot. Pour some of this flavorful broth to taste over the carnitas to reintroduce moisture and that juicy, succulence that pork is known for. The broth is loaded with chipotle so pour about a 1/4 cup in at a time, mix well, taste, season with salt, and add more broth as needed, tasting as you go. It’s ready when it’s crazy delicious. SAVE the remaining cooking broth, as you may want to add a bit more after the pork has been reheated.
- Store in the refrigerator, covered, until you are ready for your party. Heat in the crock pot on low heat for about an hour or before serving, making sure you have plenty of moisture in the pork so it doesn’t cook onto the crock pot and dry out.
- Serve the meat hot with warm corn tortillas and all the toppings, a festive drink, and enjoy your party!