Recipe: Roast Pork with Mexican Oregano Spice Paste (Puerco con Pasta de Oregano)


Note:New York chef and cookbook author Zarela Martinez contributed this recipe for her October cover story on spice rubs. It was, she wrote, the first spice paste dish she ever learned to make. This is how she described it: "The cowboys at our ranch in Chihuahua used to slather (a spice rub) on whole cows or steers, which they then wrapped in gunny sacks wet with sotol, a rustic cousin of tequila. Previously they'd have dug a hole in the ground big enough to accommodate the whole animal and set a gigantic fire in it, using the scrub oak that surrounded the ranch house. Once the embers were blazing hot, they would arrange big rocks on them, place the cow or steer on the rocks and cover the hole. It would take 24 hours to cook, but the result was definitely worth the wait -- succulent, garlicky, peppery, herb-infused hunks of meat.

"My mother would make her salsa de chile verde, a roasted green chile sauce, and we'd flavor the meat with the salsa and roll a flaky flour tortilla around it. Here I suggest a recipe for chipotle salsa. In Guadalajara, they put this roast pork on French-type rolls called bolillos to make sandwiches called tortas ahogadas. Plenty of sauce goes on top so that the sandwiches are 'drowned' in it-which is what the word ahogada means. My mother cooks wonderful meatballs in (the salsa), and in Veracruz they poach fish and shrimp in this sauce. It also makes a delicious sauce for pasta. For a milder version, leave out the sauce that comes with the canned chipotles, or remove some (or all) of the chipotles before pureeing.

"You can use (the oregano) paste on chicken or beef for roasting, or spread it on fish before grilling or baking. I add a teaspoon or two to plain vinaigrette to add some zing to a salad. I also put some in olive oil or herb butter. When I want something hot, I add minced jalapeno and use it to saute shrimp or boneless chicken pieces. With fresh mint, I use it to flavor a seafood stew."

1 (4 1/2-pound) pork butt

Oregano Spice Paste

Chipotle Salsa

Using small, sharp knife, make gashes 1 inch deep all over roast and rub Oregano Spice Paste into gashes. Place meat in shallow roasting pan and roast at 475 degrees 20 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and continue to roast until tender and thoroughly cooked, about 2 hours 15 minutes.

Remove roast from oven. Let stand 20 minutes. Carve into thin slices. Serve with Chipotle Salsa. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Each of 12 servings contains about: 388 calories; 583 mg sodium; 94 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.64 gram fiber.

Oregano Spice Paste (Pasta de Oregano)

8 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, crushed between palms

2 teaspoons salt, preferably kosher

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Put garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in mortar, blender or food processor. Process into paste.

Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Chipotle)

2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

Pan drippings from roast pork, optional

5 to 6 large tomatoes, or 1 (28-ounce) can plain-style tomatoes without liquid

1 1/2 teaspoons Mexican oregano


1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 to 3 canned chipotles en adobo, with adobo sauce to taste

Heat lard in medium saucepan until almost smoking. Add onion and garlic. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add pan drippings, tomatoes, oregano, sugar, salt and chipotles. Stir thoroughly and simmer uncovered over low heat 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Puree sauce in blender. With wooden spoon, force through sieve.

May be frozen or stored, tightly covered, up to 3 days in refrigerator. Makes 3 to 4 cups.