In the U.S., it’s widely believed that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. However, Mexicans celebrate their independence on the 16th of September, the day that the criollo, Father Hidalgo, rallied the indigenous masses in the town of Dolores with “el grito”– the shout urging them to overthrow the oppressive yoke of colonial Spanish government. The ensuing fight for independence would last ten years.
On the 15th of September every year, the president of Mexico stands at the balcony of the Palacio Nacional to commemorate this moment. There is a sort of call and response that takes place before the explosion of fireworks. It goes like this:
¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la independencia nacional!
The thunderous roar of the crowd’s response is exhilarating and the excitement reminds them they are hungry and thirsty. Naturally, food abounds in celebrations like this where families have gathered afterwards at friends’ homes for such traditional fare as mole or chiles en nogada. Further south, in the Chiapas area, perhaps you’ll find a roast pork that’s been cooking for hours ready for the moment when famished guests arrive after celebrations.
My sister, Laura, makes the best one I know of. Here’s her recipe.
- 4 dried chiles anchos, cleaned of seeds and veins
- several sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 4 cloves (whole)
- 2 tablespoons allspice
- 1 stick cinnamon bark
- 5 cloves peeled garlic
- ⅔ cup vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt
- 5 pounds pork roast (shoulder, with outer layer of fat, if possible)
- 1 cup very hot water
- 2 cups thinly sliced white or bermuda onion (for the garnish)
- 1 cup thinly sliced radishes (for the garnish)
- 2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce, dressed with oil and vinegar (for the garnish)
- Cover the chilies with the very hot water and leave soaking for 20 minutes.
- Drain and place in a blender jar.
- Crush the herbs and spices and add them, as well as the garlic, vinegar, and salt to the blender.
- Blend until smooth, add water if necessary to blend into a smoother consistency: a loose paste.
- Pierce the meat all over with the point of a sharp knife.
- Smear the meat with this mixture and let it marinate in the refrigerator for about 4 hours, but preferably 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Put the meat in a covered casserole dish and cook for 1 hour.
- Turn the meat, scraping the paste that is sticking to the bottom of the pan and diluting with about 1 cup of warm water and cook for another hour still covered.
- Turn the meat again and cook for another 2 hours, or until it’s very tender, but keep basting with the pan juices.
- There will be plenty of sauce left in the casserole when the meat is cooked.
- Serve the meat sliced with some of the sauce from the pan drizzled on top and with plenty of onion rings, cilantro, sliced romaine lettuce and warm corn tortillas.