Today’s posting on TastingTableLA, about micheladas, an iced beer-and-something cocktail in a salt-rimmed glass (and similar Mexi-food centered posts all over the web), got me thinking about the holiday that Americans have come to associate with my native country to the South, a holiday that here might be called National Mexico Day, or National Tortilla Chips and Frozen Margarita Day, but that should not be called or confused with Mexican Independence Day. That day, which unlike Cinco de Mayo, is an actual holiday celebrated by actual Mexicans in Mexico, is September 16, a day that few Americans even know about, maybe because el diez y seis de Septiembre doesn’t roll off the gringo tongue the way Cinco de Mayo evidently does.
For the record, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over the French (yes, French!), who were attempting to advance toward nearby Mexico City, located about 70 miles to the northeast, in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Neither the day nor the victory is much celebrated, probably because the French proceeded to invade and occupy Mexico City anyway a year later.
Since it would be impossible to disassociate the fifth of May from the concept of Mexico in the minds of Americans, and since I welcome holidays and any excuse to eat Mexican food, I think it would be grand if we went on celebrating the holiday but for what it was, mostly because the foods of Puebla (not to mention the city itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 200 square blocks of historically preserved architecture), are so rich and varied. My favorite Poblano dish to make, partly because it is infinitely quicker and easier than the better known mole Poblano, is tinga. A dish of pulled pork (or chicken) bound by a sauce of stewed onions and chipotle chile, tinga is basically the Mexican version of what’s known in the South simply as “barbecue.” It is slightly sweet, can be super spicy, and served, at least in my family, on a crisp corn tortilla with cool, tangy crema and maybe a slice of avocado. Mexican pork. Now that is something to celebrate.
Tinga de Puerco
Water (for boiling the meat)
1 kilo pork shoulder
1 whole small white onion
1 medium white onion, chopped fine
1 can of chile chipotle chiles en adobo, pureed in a blender or food processor
1/2 cup (possibly less) vinegar of sugar cane (the closest thing I’ve found to the smell and taste is apple cider vinegar)
1/3 cup corn oil
1. Boil the meat in a big pot of water with the whole white onion and enough salt to flavor the broth.
2. While the meat is cooking, sauté the onions in a soup pot with una puñita (a small fistful) of salt. You want the onion bits to get very soft and translucent, almost melted. But you don’t want them to get crispy at all, so this is best done over a low flame. When the onion is very soft, add the pureed chipotle and continue to cook for a few minutes over a very low flame.
3. When the meat is cooked, remove it from the broth. Reserve some of the broth for later. Shred the meat in thin strands into the pan with the chipotle and onions. Mix thoroughly with the chipotle-onions while cooking over a low flame. Add a bit of vinegar and enough broth so that the meat is not dry. It should have enough sauce to bind it but not so much that the meat would drip if you put it in on a tostada, which is what you’re going to do. The vinegar is really just to add that bit of tang. It’s really something you have to do to taste, adding a bit, tasting, adding a bit more.
Tinga is eaten, at least by my family, on tostadas that have been slathered first with a nice little dollop of Mexico’s rich tangy crema. Or made into little quesadillas made of corn tortillas folded in half (so the finished product is a half-moon. This is different than the quesadillas served in the U.S. that are made with two flour tortillas on top of each other. In Mexico City, that would be called a sincronizada. Anyway you probably know all this. Take your corn tortilla, some Oaxacan cheese, some tinga. Put the tinga and the cheese on half the tortilla, fold it over, fry it on both sides in corn oil and boy are they delicious.