Published March 1, 2010.
The spicy Mexican shredded pork known as tinga boasts all the smoke and fork-tenderness of good barbecued pulled pork. Even better—it never leaves the stove.
True Mexican shredded pork is a far cry from the bland burrito-joint version often found languishing on steam tables.
We set out to perfect the methods that give tinga its characteristic crisp texture and smoky tomato flavor.
We trimmed and cubed a Boston butt (chosen for its good marbling and little sinew), then simmered the pieces in water that we flavored with garlic, thyme, and onion. Once the pork was tender, we drained the meat (reserving some of the cooking liquid for the sauce) and returned it to the pot to shred. The meat was so tender, it fell apart with nothing more than the pressure of a potato masher. We then sautéed the meat in a hot frying pan along with the requisite additions of finely chopped onion and oregano. Minutes later, the pork had developed crackling edges crisp enough to survive the final step of simmering in tomato sauce.
Instead of the sweet and tangy sauce typical of American barbecue, tinga relies on a complex, smoky tomato sauce. We tested a variety of tomato products and were surprised to find that canned tomato sauce worked best, contributing a supremely smooth texture and bright taste. The reserved cooking liquid diluted it to an ideal consistency, and bay leaves added herbal complexity.
For the all-important smokiness, tinga relies not on wood chunks but on chipotles. We turned to ground chipotle powder, which is a little harder to find than the other option of canned chipotles in adobo sauce, but is far more consistent, with a deeper, more complex smokiness.
We also developed a variation that uses homemade chorizo. Tinga is often cooked with Mexican chorizo for even more complexity, but since this type of sausage is virtually impossible to find in some parts of the country, we made our own. We ground pork in a food processor along with spices and vinegar, then briefly sautéed it and set it aside while we crisped the shredded pork in the rendered chorizo fat. Then we returned it to the pan along with the sauce. For those occasions when we had a little extra time, the chorizo version would be well worth the effort.list of recipes