Our newly married friends were moving to Istanbul — what better way to show love than by crowding eight souls around a happy, noisy table? The feast featured pork and chard tacos with pickled onions, black beans, and chile-glazed sweet potatoes. One guest, a chef, added a colorful platter of savory beets and zucchini. The bride brought wildberry and mango sorbets for dessert, each scoop adorned with candied hibiscus flowers.

But enough about the menu: tonight was our pork’s first real trial. We’d already sampled the bacon and decided it beat store-bought hands down, though what omnivore isn’t swayed by a few crispy, salty strips of bacon? The tacos would demand a little more in the way of cooking skill, as the cut of meat was the tough and gristly shoulder. In the morning, I took the meat out of its paper wrapping, which was stamped with the butcher’s name and address of Basin City, Wash. The raw shoulder felt firmer than its commerical brethren, as if the pig had perhaps done actual walking. It was a lovely pink-brown color, and I was happy to see a hunk of bone left in for flavor. There was good marbling but none of the usual veins of fat that melt during cooking. I worried that the pork might come out dry.

The pork roasted for three hours in an achiote spice mixture with lime juice, filling the house with a rich aroma, then came out of the oven and fell off the bone. The meat seemed very clean, without gristle or appreciable grease, and remained firm even as I crumbled it into the dense cooking juices. Wrapped in a tortilla with pickled onions, queso, and cilantro, the flavors were otherworldly. The chef, seated to my left, offered his compliments and took a second helping.


Achiote-Roasted Pork Shoulder for Tacos

3 cloves garlic / 1 tsp salt / 2 tbl achiote seeds / 2 tsp allspice / 1 tsp dry oregano/ ¼ tsp black pepper / 2 tbl cider vinegar / ¼  cup lime juice / 3 lbs pork shoulder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mash garlic with salt. Mix in the next four spices, vinegar and lime juice. Rub mixture all over shoulder, place in heavy overproof container, and add 1 cup water to the pot. Roast for 3 hours, then pull meat off bone and combine with roasting juices. Feeds 10. Adapted from Rick Bayless