Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Favorite Recipes :: Costa Vida Sweet Pork

I cannot claim to be (a) a talented chef or (b) a great photographer. So for me to side step into food blogging is a bit frightening & embarrassing. However, there are a few great recipes that I can't resist sharing! So we will take a break from our regularly scheduled rambling to bring you a brief culinary, domestic distraction.

As I said, I am not a talented chef. I am fairly adept at baking desserts, but I rarely find a good dinner recipe that I adore. It has to both taste great and be easy to prepare with three young ones demanding attention. Being inexpensive is always a bonus! Given those guidelines, my latest discovery is my favorite! It's a simple, 3.5-ingredient recipe for making Sweet Pork like you might find at Costa Vida or Cafe Rio. I am fairly certain that Costa Vida's is one thousand times better, but this is pretty dang sweet. (Pun intended.) It tastes great, was cheap and was a snap to prepare. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Sweet Pork ala Costa Vida/Cafe Rio

Pork butt roast (mine was 99 cents per pound, 4-5 pounds, bone in, marbled with fat all through it. Ick. Yum. Ick.)
Enchilada sauce (I used two cans to cover about 1/3 to 1/2 of my roast in liquid. Adjust as needed for the size of roast you have.)
Brown sugar (This ain't science, so you can do this "to taste." I used about 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, which is a ton, but... see title of recipe.)
(Oil for browning roast)


In a large pot (or crock pot), combine enchilada sauce and brown sugar and set aside.

Bring a large frying pan to medium-high heat and drizzle in enough oil to create a thin sheen on the bottom of the pan. Using tongs, lower the roast into the oil and let it sizzle and pop until a medium brown color. Use tongs to turn it and repeat until all sides are browned. Transfer the roast to the large pot (or crock pot) and make sure you have enough liquid to cover one-third to one-half of the roast in the liquid.

Set over low heat and let it cook all day (turning occasionally to let it cook evenly) or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. I allowed mine to cook for probably 8-10 hours, but this ain't rocket science. You don't want to under cook this, but a little extra time on simmer won't do damage too quickly. Give yourself plenty of time and experiment!

Note: I was VERY skeptical about this as it was cooking because it smelled overwhelming like plain old enchilada sauce and that wasn't what I wanted. Be patient. The final product won't really taste like that at all.

To finish it off, pull the pork out (piece by piece, because it should be falling apart) and let it sit for a few minutes to let the juices settle. Take the bone out, discard any fat you can find, and shred what is left. At this point, it won't be terribly flavorful so don't be disappointed if you pop some in your mouth and it tastes overwhelmingly like plain old pork.

While you are shredding, deboning and taking out the fat, turn up the heat on the sauce and let it reduce down to approximately half of the original volume. This is the trick to turning something so-so into something ooh-la-la! I also skimmed off any floating fat or gick that was left in the sauce.

Once your sauce has reduced and thickened up, put the shredded pork back into the sauce and simmer it together a while longer until you like the meat to sauce ratio.

Mine was better the next day, so I would recommend making it in advance, refrigerating it for a day or two and then re-warming to serve, but that's your prerogative. Mine just seems to taste better each time I try it. It's gone from "not too bad" to "pretty good" to "I know I shouldn't have another serving, but dang!" in four days.

Total cost: approximately $7 for many, many servings and more to freeze!
Active prep time: 10 min before cooking, 20 minutes to shred and prep sauce after cooking
Serving suggestions: taco salad, sweet pork tacos, quesadillas

Bonus recipe to go with this:

Corn ala Deliciousness
Do you love that corn they serve with your food at Bajio? Me, too! Try this as a super fast at-home alternative!

After you sear your roast and add it to the larger pot, drain off as much oil as possible from the pan and then set it over medium-high heat again. (Hey, why dirty two dishes, right?) Add a little* butter and let it sizzle until it melts and starts browning a few seconds later. Throw in a couple cups of corn kernels, chili powder, garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper. Stir it all together and let the corn get toasted a bit but not dried out. Dump that into a bowl and do the same with some precooked rice if you like! Add these spicy two-minute side dishes to your meal later on and turn up the heat a bit!

* By a "little" butter I mean a lot of butter, like a couple tablespoons! But don't cook this too often 'cause it ain't heart healthy!

Acknowledgements: I used the following resources to put this recipe together and you might find some great tips to make this recipe work better for you:

1. Methodology: the executive chef of Costa Vida, Dave Prows, braises his sweet pork, so I had to do it the same way. Here is some more info, which makes me already want to do things a bit differently next time! (I really debated whether or not to use two separate pans... I decided on two to minimize oiliness, but next time I might just use one for reasons mentioned in that article.)

2. Recipes: famfavoriterecipes, suite101, epicurious, recipezaar, bellaonline, mealsmatter, dinner-inspiration. Note: almost all the recipes use canned soda pop for making sweet pork, but I just refused. Why should I? It just seems gimicky, like you really want to have that "secret ingredient" to tell people. But it's just not necessary and it's not the secret to yumminess! One site I read said that the soda is for tenderizing, but if you're using the braising/slow cook method, that shouldn't be an issue. Mine turned out great without soda, but do your own thing if you want!

3. Other resources I browsed: Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food" and the Culinary Institute of America's "Professional Chef"


  1. I will have to try the pork! I love it! How about we go out to lunch some Saturday?

  2. I have to try one.
    I love sweet pork!
    It looks soo good!!!

  3. Your blog post came up when I searched for Costa Vida's sweet pork recipe on google... THANK YOU so much! We moved away from Costa Vida and I've been so sad (and constantly craving a good sweet pork salad)... I can't wait to try this recipe!

  4. You're so welcome, Caitlin! I hope you enjoy it. Several of my friends have played with this recipe and had lots of success!