Mexican-Style Slow Cooked Pork from The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià

For years I have been both intrigued and repelled by the family meal, the meal cooked just for the restaurant staff to eat before service. Intrigued, obviously, because I have always wondered what the staff is eating without me. Repelled because, quite frankly, I have heard some awful stories about family meals being a way to unload unsaleable garbage onto servers and dishwashers. Many times it sounds like prison food without the cable TV. Or school lunches without Jamie Oliver. In a Washington Post article published a few years back, writer Matt Bonesteel reported that chef Bill Fuller used to make family meals out of “squash guts,” ostensibly the “remnants of yellow squash and zucchini that had had their yellow and green exteriors shaved off with a mandoline for vegetable spaghetti.”

“When the dishwashers stop eating it,” Fuller said, “It’s time to not serve it anymore.”

Having never worked in a restaurant myself, I can only speculate that some family meals are very nice, and some are as revolting as the ones shown on thisfamilymealsucks. True, some restaurants feed their staffs by having them order off the menu. (Now that sounds great!) However, in the case of many notable restaurants, it seems very unlikely that staff members are given free rein to have as much foie gras and caviar bubbles as they want. As put in the introduction to Ferran Adrià‘s newish book The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, “You might assume that the staff would eat the same food as the guests, but they don’t. In fact, people are often surprised when we tell them that we eat ordinary food.”

Note that he says “ordinary food,” not garbage, as it really should be in the restaurant’s best interest to keep their workers happy by feeding them well.

Also note that “ordinary food” coming out of elBulli‘s kitchen is more than likely extraordinary food for simple, common folk like you and me.

Restaurant family meals, good or bad, all seem to share two things: they are extremely economical, and they are meant to feed a crowd. This might explain why all the recipes in The Family Meal have the ingredients listed in a conversion table that allows you to adjust the recipe for parties of 2, 6, 20, and 75.

This recipe is adapted from Adrià’s in a few ways: I added garlic (weirdly missing), adjusted the amount of achiote paste (the original calls for 6 1/4 ounces, which is just a freakishly unappealing amount of annatto), and changed the cooking time and temperature (the book calls for 2 1/2 pounds of pork shoulder to be cooked at 400° for over 4 hours — not appealing either given I wouldn’t cook a 20+ pound turkey for that long).

The pork — even with less achiote and less time in the oven at a lower temperature — still turned out full and flavorful. It fell apart in a satisfying mess while I was shredding it with two forks. A sloppy, fatty, tangy yum-yum of a mess.

As for economical? Pork shoulder is a relatively inexpensive cut. You probably have the rest of the ingredients lying around the house, except for maybe the achiote paste.

Achiote paste can sometimes be found in the “ethnic” food aisle here in the US. Mine was only $0.99 at the Mexican grocery (slightly more expensive online). You can also make your own fairly easily.

(Man, I’m starting to feel like Frugal Feeding over here with all this talk of dollars and cents!)

I served the pork with some homemade guacamole and some fresh, juicy lime wedges on the side. Neither were suggested by the original recipe, I suspect out of respect for the bottom line. I can imagine fresh limes and avocados for 75 hungry staff members to be beyond the budget at ol’ elBulli.

But that doesn’t mean that you should hold back! Creamy avocado is a terrific, nay sinful counterpoint to rich and citrusy pork.

All in all, this was a meal that was far from ordinary!


1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder, tied

1 cup of orange juice

2 large pinches of oregano

2 large pinches of cumin

3.5 ounces of achiote paste

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 medium white onion, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

1 small red onion, sliced

Cilantro for garnish

24 6-inch corn tortillas

Fresh guacamole

Lime wedges

Special equipment:

A handheld immersion stick blender

How to prepare:

1. To make the marinade, combine the orange juice, the cumin, the oregano, the achiote paste, the apple cider vinegar and the garlic in a deep bowl. Using a handheld immersion blender, whizz all the ingredients together until the marinade is smooth and creamy.

2. Using the point of a small paring knife, deeply prick the meat all over so that the marinade can penetrate it. Season the pork well with salt and pepper.

3. Line a baking dish with a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the meat in the middle of it and bring up the sides to create a well. Carefully pour the marinade over the pork. Scatter the onions over the top. Fold the foil over the meat to make a tight parcel. You might need to use a second piece of aluminum foil to make sure the pork is completely covered. The most important thing is that you seal all of the edges well so that no steam can escape. Let the meat marinate for about 30-40 minutes on the countertop, or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roast the pork for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. After you remove the pork from the oven, let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before carefully opening the aluminum foil.

5. While the pork is resting, warm or toast the tortillas on both sides in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Nestle the tortillas in between a napkin on a warmed plate while you finish the rest.

6. Remove the pork to a cutting board and remove all the strings. Use two forks to gently shred the pork. Pile the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish. Skim as much fat from the surface of the saucy cooking liquid as possible, and spoon as much of it as you want over the pork. Scatter some red onion slices over the top, along with some sprigs of cilantro.

To assemble, pile a good amount of pork onto a warm tortilla. Top it with some of the remaining red onion, a dollop of guacamole and a spritz of lime juice.


18 thoughts on “Mexican-Style Slow Cooked Pork from The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià

  1. B.L.

    I’ve worked in several restuarants, and I loved family meal 🙂 🙂 I also love slow cooked pork, and I can’t wait to try your recipe!!

    • baconbiscuit212

      All the family meals in Ferran’s book seem absolutely amazing. After drooling on many pages (thankfully, the paper the book is printed on seems pretty sturdy), I just have to quote Liz Lemon in saying, “I want to go to there!”

      It sounds like you have had some great family meals too. It’s good to hear that there are restaurants out there that treat their staffs well!

      • B.L.

        Definitely!! My mouth watered the instant I saw the picture of that pork haha! It’s all I can think about right now. Will be making it Wednesday!!

  2. Andiamo!

    Its is so dissonant to read Ferran Adrià name and think about a cheeseburger and Caesar salad or some pork shoulder and guacamole 😉
    He is the flav’ master of the century and for what is matter his family meals at el bulli are awesome. Thanks for the recipe and pix. Will try it soon 


  3. rubyandwheaky

    I must admit that I don’t have that much experience with pork shoulder but this recipe sounds super fabulous. I have good memories regarding family meals. When I went to cooking school the students in the buffet class cooked for everyone. I’ll never forget the day they served us real homemade hot chocolate with top notch über expensive chocolate. Wowzer! Was that ever good! After cooking school I worked at a restaurant near Lake Champlain and all of the staff used to have lunch together. We would eat whatever was going to expire the next day or whatever the restaurant had a lot of. We always ate well and I don’t have any bad recollections. I think smart restaurant owners know that it’s in their best interest to treat their staff well. Happy staff members work harder and faster, and treat customers better.

    • baconbiscuit212

      That homemade hot chocolate sounds amazing!

      It sounds like a lot of people have fond memories of family meals. I feel like eating communally in a big group is so rare nowadays, but it really is much more enjoyable way to eat. As long as owners care about treating their staffs well, there is no shame in feeding them with ingredients that otherwise would go to waste, or things that they had in surplus.

      I think most people who have worked in restaurants despise throwing food out! I wonder if it’s because they see so much food tossed?

  4. Susan

    My FAVORITE thing about pulled pork is slowly pulling it to bits with two forks. (Okay, maybe my favorite thing is eating it after I’ve shredded it.) Love this recipe and love the source. I think family meal’s gotten to be more of a ‘thing’ — I know my ex-boyfriend, a chef, would almost spend more time planning family meal than he’d spend on the specials. (You probably know this, but in a lot of restaurants the ‘specials’ are just the things they’ve got to shift out of the kitchens before they spoil.) And I always am envious when I go to a Chinese restaurant late at night and all the staff eats a giant banquet for family meal….

    • baconbiscuit212

      I know! I love shredding pork with forks too! I also like pulling off every little bit of meat from a roast chicken with my fingers. Gosh, the thought makes me salivate.

      That is so funny about your ex spending so much time planning the family meal. It’s like a food mix-tape!

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