Instant Pot Tomatillo Pork Carnitas


This recipe, based on two of my other classics, is an experiment on reducing the time needed to braise a pork shoulder so that it is tender enough to pull apart for tacos. In my test I was able to reduce the cooking time from almost 4 hours to 1.5 hours in the Instant Pot. Tenderness will depend on the volume of meat; you may need to compensate if needed.

The tomatillos and spices add a complex, well-rounded flavor that is unbeatable in a charred tortilla topped with the seasoned pork. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

2.5 pounds bone-in pork shoulder with some fat
4 tbs. XV olive oil
2 tbs. butter
10 husked, washed and cored tomatillos, halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 shallot, sliced
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
1 tbs. ground coriander
3 tbs. ground cumin, from toasted seed
1 tbs. ground Mexican oregano
2 dry bay leaves
1 tsp. ground dry chipotle, to taste
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1/2 cup chicken or pork broth

For the Tacos:
6-inch flour or corn tortillas
Chopped cilantro
Sliced scallion, with greens
Mike’s Famous Guacamole
Fresh diced jalapenos or serrano chilies
Diced red onion
Lime wedges
Sour cream
Grated Cotija cheese
Kosher salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Turn on the Instant Pot saute function and set it to HIGH. Add the olive oil and butter and wait until it comes up to temperature and starts to sizzle. Carefully add the pork shoulder to the pot and brown on all sides, about eight minutes total. Using a large tongs, remove the pork and set aside. Switch the saute function to LOW. Add the chopped garlic, shallot and onion. Saute for about four minutes until the onion has softened.

Cancel the saute function. Remove the vegetables and place in a food processor with the tomatillos. Pulse until smooth, about thirty seconds. Add the contents back into the Instant Pot. Add the dry spices and chicken or pork broth. Mix well. Place the browned pork shoulder in the pot and spoon over some of the sauce on the pork so it is evenly covered.

Place the cover on the pot and lock it. Seal the toggle vent. Set the function to pressure cook (HIGH) for 1.5 hours. After cooking, allow the pot to release pressure naturally, about 25-30 minutes. When the pin drops, open the pot lid. Remove the bone from the pork (it should easily pull out) and pull apart the pork into carnitas-sized bites, discarding any excess fat.

Set the Instant Pot saute function to NORMAL and reduce the liquid for about three minutes until thickened. Shut off the function and cover the pot until ready to serve. Discard the bay leaves. Keep the top pressure release vented or use the Instant Pot glass lid, available for purchase on Amazon.

OPTIONAL: For the full carnitas experience, fry the pressure-cooked pulled pork pieces in 1/4 cup canola oil until crispy. Promptly remove and drain on layered paper towel. Serve as shown.

Serve with fired tortillas and garnish with the toppings shown.
Serves 4.

Please Note: You will need at least 1/2 cup of liquid in order for the Instant Pot to come up to pressure and seal. This recipe was tested in an 8-quart Instant Pot Duo.

Mike’s Pulled-Pork Quesadillas


This is a fantastic recipe for using up leftover smoked pulled pork. Top with BBQ sauce, some homemade salsa fresca, guacamole or chipotle-lime crema, and you have an easy-to-prepare and satisfying entree or side dish. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

XV olive oil or butter
12 eight-inch soft tortillas (makes 6 quesadillas)
6 cups smoked pulled pulled pork butt (use 1 cup per quesadilla)
1/2 cup shredded Montery Jack cheese per quesadilla
1/2 cup shredded cotija cheese per quesadilla
Minced red onion
Cilantro leaves
Diced sweet bell or jalapeno pepper
Your choice BBQ sauce
Mike’s Salsa Rojo Diablo
Mike’s Famous Guacamole
Mike’s Chipotle-Lime Crema

Directions:

Divide up the pork into portions for each set of tortillas. Prepare the minced onion, cilantro and diced pepper. You’ll be working in batches for this recipe.

Using a pair of 12″ cast-iron skillets, place them over medium heat on two burners. Add a small amount of olive oil or butter to each pan and then place a tortilla shell in the center.

Cover the base of each shell with some Montery Jack and cotija cheese, topped with the pulled pork, minced onion, cilantro and diced pepper. Add more of each cheese to the top and then add the second tortilla shell to each, pressing the stack down with a spatula so the cheese sets.

When the underside of the tortilla is slightly browned, place a dinner plate over the quesadilla (bottom side of the plate on top of the quesadilla shell) and carefully invert the skillet while holding the plate. Set the skillet back on the stove and use the spatula to remove the quesadilla from the bottom of the plate, and place it back in the skillet to cook the other side. (This is the easiest way I’ve found on flipping a quesadilla without the risk of it completely falling apart.)

Cook the alternate side until slightly browned and then transfer each quesadilla to individual serving plates. Top with BBQ sauce, salsa fresca, guacamole and chipotle-lime crema.

Repeat this process for the remaining four quesadillas. You may cut each quesadilla in half or quarters if desired. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 quesadillas

El Sarape’s House Salsa


El Sarape's House Salsa Fresca | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my version of a popular salsa fresca served at El Sarape Mexican Restaurant, in Green Bay Wisconsin. Through experimentation, I’ve deduced they use two signature ingredients which puts their salsa in a class by itself. Control the heat by seeding the jalapenos — their version however, is quite spicy, which is how I like it.

On a side note, El Sarape is one of only two restaurants in the area serving authentic Mexican cooking. Their two-pound burritos are epic. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

1 10.5 oz. package cherry tomatoes
2 large jalapeno peppers (core and seed them if you want to control the heat)
1 small white onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 green stalk onion (scallion) roots trimmed, with greens
1.5 cups loose-packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1.5 tsp. salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Reserve the salt for the last step*. Prep and wash everything and place in a food processor with the ground oregano. Pulse until a fine texture is achieved (you may need to scrape down the work bowl with a spatula.) Carefully remove the cutter blade and salt to taste. Mix well and let stand ten minutes before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

*NOTE: Salt wreaks havoc on your food processor blade, dulling it very quickly. Add it last to avoid this issue.

Due to the large volume requirement, I suspect El Sarape’s salsa is processed in a blender. I prefer to present mine with a little more texture, using a fine-cut food processor pulse blade.

Mike’s Mesquite-Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup


Mike's Mesquite-Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my original version of a Mexican classic, with a bit of southwest flair infused by New Mexican Hatch chili powder and mesquite wood smoke. As a shortcut, you can fry the chicken in a pan or just boil it before shredding, but why would you want to? Taking the extra time by preparing it on the grill adds an entirely new dimension to this satisfying dish. On a related note, blackening or charring the tomatoes, tomatillos and poblano pepper is essential for the depth of flavor needed — do not skip this step.

I absolutely love this recipe! I hope you do too.


INGREDIENTS:

For the Chicken Marinade~
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 large cloves garlic, crushed then minced
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
1/2 cup XV olive oil
1 tsp. ground coriander
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

For the Tortilla Soup~
4 tbs. XV olive oil
32 oz. chicken broth
1 tsp. dry chicken base
4 large cloves crush garlic, minced
2 tbs. pure mild New Mexican Hatch red chili powder
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1 tbs. chipotle en adobo sauce
1 tbs. ground cumin, preferably from toasted seed
4 medium tomatoes, charred (2 10-oz. cans Rotel® fired diced tomatoes may be used as a substitute)
2 large tomatillos, charred and cored
1 large poblano chili, charred and diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 charred six-inch corn tortillas (preferably home-made) cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 14.5 oz. can black beans
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

Garnish With~
2 charred six-inch corn tortillas (preferably home-made) cut into 1/4″ strips
2 Haas avocados, cut in 1/2″ strips
Mike’s Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Thinly-sliced red onion or green scallion
Shredded Mexican Cotija cheese (Nuestro Queso is an excellent brand)

You’ll also need mesquite wood chips for the grill; about 3/4 cup

 

PREPARATION:

The night before, prepare the chicken marinade so the flavor has time to set up. Pound the chicken breasts flat by using a spiked meat mallet. This will ensure that they cook evenly on the grill and allow the wood smoke to penetrate the meat. Place them in a ziplock storage bag. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a bowl and pour in with the chicken. Seal tightly and double bag it using another plastic storage bag to prevent leaks. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

The next day, prepare an outdoor charcoal fire on a kettle grill. Use real lump charcoal, not briquettes. Prior to lighting the fire, soak a handful of mesquite chips in a bowl of water for about two hours. You only need a little as the flavor from the mesquite smoke is very intense. Place the soaked chips directly on the white-hot coals.

Grill the chicken over direct heat for about four minutes per side, ensuring that they have a nice crusty char on each side. Remove and let cool on a plate. You need not be concerned if they are a bit underdone. They will continue to cook in the pot in the next step.

While the chicken is cooling, heat a 5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until soft taking care not to scorch the garlic.  Dice the charred tomatoes and tomatillos and add to the pot. Increase the heat to medium, and stir occasionally for another 5 minutes.

Next, add the chicken broth, the New Mexican Hatch chili powder, chicken base, chipotle adobo sauce, Mexican oregano, salt and pepper. Increase the heat and bring to a slow boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the soup is simmering, cut up the charred tortillas and add them to the pot.

Carefully transfer this mixture to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return the ingredients to the pot.

Prepare the poblano pepper by charring it with a propane torch or stovetop gas burner. Dice and add to the pot. Using two forks, shred the chicken and add to the pot.

Drain the canned black beans and rinse in a colander with hot water. Simmer them in the soup for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with the garnish ingredients indicated. Leftovers freeze wonderfully.

Serves 4-6

 

Note: Use extreme caution if using a propane torch indoors.  I would highly recommend using a cast-iron pan on your stovetop as a makeshift heat-shield.

Tomatillos and Garden Jalapenos | Culinary Compost Recipes

Hand-Ground Cumin Toasted From Seed | Culinary Compost RecipesMesquite-Grilled Chicken Breasts | Culinary Compost RecipesFire-Roasted Tomatillos and Poblano Chili | Culinary Compost RecipesFired Tortilla Shells | Culinary Compost RecipesMesquite-Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup | Culinary Compost Recipes

Baja Fish Tacos


Baja Fish Tacos | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is my spin on a classic recipe from west coast Baja Mexico. I have had it served with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The ocean fish is traditionally breaded and deep-fried, but you can also get it grilled. I like it both ways, but the deep fried version is more authentic. Choose only the freshest fish — it should be market fresh and no more than a day old. Here in Wisconsin, you may have to settle for Atlantic cod fish, as halibut and mahi-mahi are extremely hard to find.  Charred corn tortillas are traditionally a staple with this recipe. The bright color and vibrant flavors are perfect for summer get-togethers. Enjoy-

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh, firm ocean whitefish like halibut or mahi-mahi (you may substitute Atlantic cod fish in a pinch)

For the Beer Batter~
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup cornmeal (masa)
12 oz. Mexican lager beer (Dos Equis)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbs. ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp. ground chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin, from toasted seed
1 tsp. garlic granules
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
2 tsp. baking powder

Top With~
Finely-sliced red cabbage
Diced avocado
Chopped cilantro
Mike’s Pico de Gallo salsa
Mike’s Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema
Your choice of Mexican hot table sauce

Six-inch fresh corn tortillas; preferably home-made, charred over a gas stove burner or with a propane torch
1 quart peanut oil for frying

 

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the salsa and set aside for an hour in the fridge. Prepare the crema and set aside in your fridge for at least two hours for the flavors to set.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the batter ingredients. Mix until just smooth and set aside for one hour before cooking.

Cut up the fish into 1/2″ by 2″ chunks and allow to sit on a serving plate, blotted with paper towel. Ensure most of the moisture is removed from the fish before frying. You may need to switch out the paper towel when it becomes saturated.

Next, place the fish pieces in the batter and evenly coat.

Heat a 4-quart cast-iron chicken fryer over medium heat with 1 quart of peanut oil. When the oil is ready for frying, a drop of cold water should sizzle on contact.
Working in batches, carefully place 10 to 12 pieces of battered fish in the fryer and cook until darkly-golden brown. Remove promptly with a strainer and set aside on paper towel to drain.

Serve over charred corn tortillas with the red cabbage, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, Pico de Gallo salsa, Mexican crema and hot sauce.

Serves 4-6

NOTE: For a crunchier coating, reserve the Panko bread crumbs in a separate mixing bowl and double the volume to one cup.  After dipping the fish chunks in the batter, roll in the Panko crumbs, then deep-fry as shown.

Baja Fish Tacos | Culinary Compost Recipes

A four-quart cast-iron chicken fryer is ideal for this recipe. You only need a couple inches of peanut oil.

 

Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema


Mexican Chipotle-Lime Crema Sauce | Culinary Compost Recipes

My version of a classic Mexican cream sauce, kicked up with zippy chipotle adobo and fresh-squeezed lime juice.

This condiment is a must on authentic Baja fish tacos. You can also serve it with huevos rancheros or as a dipping sauce for a variety of other needs. Double the recipe if you need more. Will keep for at least a week in your fridge.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayo (please do this dish justice and don’t use the low-fat version)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbs. + 1/2 tsp. San Marcos chipotle adobo sauce
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
Buttermilk (used as a thinner, if necessary)

 

Place the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Whisk vigorously for two minutes. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk.
Either serve in a dish or place in a plastic squeeze bottle. Refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Makes one cup.

Tuna Avocado Cucumber Salad with Feta Cheese


This is a Mexican/Mediterranean-inspired recipe based on one by Natasha’s Kitchen. The only addition I made is the feta cheese. This is a quick, healthy and refreshing side dish that’s perfect for your next outdoor BBQ.  Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 11-oz. foil package StarKist tuna
2 avocados, diced in 1/2″ chunks
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced in 1/4″ chunks
1 cup loosely-packed cilantro leaves
1/4 diced red onion
2 tbs. XV olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the tuna from the package and place in a mixing bowl. Break apart into medium-sized chunks. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the avocado, and season to taste. Mix gently.

Gently fold in the avocado and let chill for one hour before serving.
(It’s best to add the avocado last, so it doesn’t fall apart.)

Serves 4

Salsa de Chili Pequin


Salsa de Chili Pequin | Culinary Compost Recipes

This is an authentic salsa that originated in the Sonoran desert of Northern Mexico. It is popular in Arizona and New Mexico due to the availability of the hot dried chili pequin pepper. The pepper is a close relative of the very small chiltepin pepper — essentially from the same cultivar; Capsicum Annuum var. Glabriusculum. If you have dried chiltepin peppers on hand, feel free to use those instead — they tend to be more spicy.

My recipe is extremely hot – adjust the heat to your preference.  You may use a propane torch or your oven broiler to blacken the cherry tomatoes. Don’t skip this step, as it’s critical to achieving the smoky, charred flavor that makes this dish so special.

Let stand for an hour in the fridge before serving. En Fuego!

 

Ingredients:

30 cherry tomatoes, washed and drained in cold water.
3/4 cup loose trimmed cilantro leaves
3 small handfuls dried chili pequin peppers (about four tbs.)
4 cloves garlic with husks on
1 tbs. Bragg’s Organic apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried ground Mexican oregano
1 tsp. dried ground coriander seed
up to 3 tbs. cold water (use more if needed)

 

Directions:

Wash thirty small, fresh cherry tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim the fresh cilantro leaves.

Heat a small, heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the dried pequin peppers. Toast lightly, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Remove from heat. Toast the garlic in the husks using the same manner. The garlic will take longer to toast. Remove when slightly charred, and then peel.

In a heavy eight-inch cast-iron skillet, blacken the cherry tomatoes with a propane torch. Use extreme caution – when possible use this technique outdoors to prevent a fire hazard. Stir occasionally to ensure they are evenly blackened. Remove from the skillet and place in a blender with the cilantro, toasted pequin chili, the garlic, vinegar, salt and ground black pepper. Add the ground coriander and Mexican oregano.

Pulse until smooth. Add a bit of cold water if you need to. Remove and let stand in your refrigerator for one hour before serving.

 

Makes just over one cup.
Heat level: 8

 

Toasted Chili Pequin and Garlic | Culinary Compost

Toasted chili pequin and garlic in a cast-iron skillet.

Blackening Cherry Tomatoes | Culinary Compost

Blackening cherry tomatoes in a cast-iron skillet, using a propane torch.

Mike’s Borracho Beans


The Spanish word borracho literally means drunken. This is a recipe based on a signature dish served at Joe’s Texas BBQ in Green Bay Wisconsin. At Joe’s, they use their home-prepared smoked sausage and a small amount of burnt-ends, which I don’t have access to. I improvised and used chorizo and a ham shank on bone, using the water it simmers in as a savory reduction broth. Negra Modelo beer is also added. This is a really great recipe but you have to allow enough time for it to cook – it cannot be rushed or the results will be for naught.

Go easy on the salt!  The ham and chorizo are loaded with it.  Enjoy-

Ingredients:

1 ham shank on bone
Cold water
2 links spicy chorizo sausage
3 cups dry pinto beans
1 14.5 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup strong black coffee
1 12 oz. bottle Negra Modelo beer
32 oz. beef stock
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled, and minced
1 flame-peeled poblano pepper, diced
1 tbs. ground chipotle, to taste
1 tbs. ground cumin, toasted from seed
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground Mexican oregano
1/2 tbs. ground ancho chili powder
2 dry bay leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves – washed and stemmed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. rendered bacon fat
Dash of fresh-squeezed lime juice

Preparation:

Wash the dry pinto beans in a colander and cover in cold water overnight.
When ready, heat the smoked pork ham shank in a 5-qt cast-iron dutch oven, partially covered,  with enough water to just cover the shank. Simmer on medium-low for about 2 hours, until the meat falls off the bone.
Rotate occasionally to ensure even cooking.

Remove from heat and place aside in a dish to cool. SAVE  the water the ham shank was simmered in.
De-bone the shank and trim meat of all fat – cutting into bite-sized pieces. Discard the bone,  and place the meat back into the pot with the reserved water. Bring to a slow boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the can of whole peeled tomatoes and crush with a potato masher. Add the coffee and beer. Rinse the beans and add to the pot.

In a separate heavy pan, sautee the onion and garlic on medium-low heat in 2 tbs. rendered bacon fat until translucent – about 15 minutes. Take care not to burn the garlic.
Add to the pot with the dry spices and bay leaves.

Brown the chorizo sausage in a separate pan – cut into 1/2″ chunks and add to the pot.
Using a propane torch or a burner, blacken the poblano – peel and dice. Add to the pot.

Add the beef stock and simmer uncovered on low for about 4 hours, until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally.  Add the lime juice and chopped cilantro. Stir before serving.

NOTE: The consistency is not supposed to resemble baked beans. There should be a nice, rich broth. Add more beef stock or a bit of water if it becomes too thick.

Serves 6-8
Makes about 4 quarts

Simmered Ham Shank Boned and Cubed Ham Shank Chorizo Sausage Mike's Borracho Beans

Mexican Lime Crema


This is an authentic Mexican white sauce that is a must on fresh Baja fish tacos. The preparation is simple and it will keep for at least two weeks in your fridge.

 

INGREDIENTS:

Sour cream
Freshly-squeezed lime juice
minced fresh cilantro to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Ground coriander to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Determine the amount of Crema you need. Mix the sour cream and lime juice in proportion so it forms a “squeezable” sauce. Add the other ingredients.

Mix well and store in a plastic food-service squeeze bottle. Let it sit for three hours before serving. Serve over Mexican-style tacos.