Making authentic Mexican food can sometimes feel out of my comfort zone, but after discovering delicious carne de puerco at a favorite local joint, I knew it was high time I try. Now that I know how easy it is to achieve this dish of tender pork smothered in a charred tomatillo sauce at home, I may never again need to "go out" for Mexican ever again.
My friends and I have a few requirements for whichever Mexican restaurant we currently claim as "our own." First and foremost, it must serve from-scratch margaritas (the stronger the better). Second, it must be within close enough proximity to allow enjoyment of said margaritas. Obviously the food is important, but it seems to factor in below cocktails, at least to some.
Considering my backyard—also known as Buford Highway—is crawling with some of the best ethnic food in Atlanta, it means our "go-to" Mexican joint is always changing. After a few months of "regulars" status and too many carnitas to count, we begin to tire of the same and set out in search of another The One.
Our latest discovery happened by accident. Our usual restaurant shut its weekday doors early, and so our rowdy bunch was forced to drive on. We ended up at El Torrero, a sad-looking place taking up residence in a former Wendy's. Never deterred by looks, we sat down with the only goal to eat, drink, and be merry.
Most of us ordered the usual suspects, but my fiancé veered off course by ordering carne de puerco. I didn't pay much attention to his dish until he blatantly waved a forkful in my face. I snapped at the bite and my eyes must have rolled back in glee: it was unlike any other dish I'd tasted at an otherwise typical run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. Cubes of pork tenderloin were swimming in a tangy tomatillo sauce, just begging to be wrapped up in a warm tortilla and drizzled with cheese.
It tasted complex and wonderful, simple and comforting all at the same time. After a few trips back to El Torrrero for more (seriously, we could not get enough of the stuff), the carne de peurco seemed like it might actually be doable at home.
The main components seemed to be pork tenderloin cooked in a flavorful salsa verde, two things I figured I could do. I seared the meat while I roasted the tomatillos and other aromatics, and before I knew, it they were all simmering together in the pot. I truly couldn't believe how quick and easy it was!
I almost squealed with delight upon tasting the final results. Success! In fact it turned out better than I could've even hoped for! I served the tender, tangy pork with toasted tortillas, Mexican red rice, bacon-y black beans, and a stiff margarita to wash it all down. The only problem? Now our go-to Mexican joint is my house!
Pork Tenderloin in Tomatillo Sauce
Serves 4 - 6
For the tomatillo sauce:
2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
2 large jalapenos
1 large onion, cut into wedges
6 - 8 large cloves garlic, peeled
Handful of cilantro stems, leaves attached
Juice from 1 lime
For the pork:
Bacon grease, lard, or vegetable oil, for browning (See Recipe Notes)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into cubes
1/4 cup Mexican-style beer
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Small corn or flour tortillas
For the tomatillo sauce, place an oven rack a few inches from the broiler. Place tomatillos, jalapenos, onion wedges, and garlic on a roasting pan and broil for 5-6 minutes until starting to char. Flip all of the ingredients to the other side and broil for another 5-6 minutes, until tomatillos are soft and blackened.
Allow the vegetables to cool for about 20 minutes. Split the jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. (If a hotter sauce is desired, reserve some of the seeds to add to the blender.) Transfer the roasted vegetables and their juices to a blender. Blend until the ingredients are pureed but still a little chunky. Add the cilantro, lime juice, and a generous pinch of salt and pulse a few more times. (The sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance.)
For the pork, heat a few tablespoons bacon grease (or oil) in a large Dutch oven or braising dish over medium-high heat until sizzling.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, and cumin in a large mixing bowl. Add the pork cubes and gently toss to coat. Working in batches, add the pork to the hot grease and cook until browned, about 1 - 2 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon, set aside, and continue with the remaining pork.
Pour the beer into the hot skillet to de-glaze the pan and scrape up any leftover browned bits as the beer bubbles. Return the browned pork cubes to the skillet along with tomatillo sauce. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil; reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes to allow flavors to marry. (This dish only gets better with time, so feel free to make a day or two in advance. When reheating, add a glug of chicken stock or water to thin if necessary.)
Serve with warmed tortillas, rice, beans, cilantro, and lime wedges.
If using bacon grease: in the same Dutch oven or braising dish you will use for the pork, cook 4 pieces of thick-cut bacon at medium heat until the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and discard or reserve for another use (such as adding to black beans).
(Images: Nealey Dozier)