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Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa Salad with Tomatillo Dressing

23 September 2008

(This post originally published here as part of the Whip It Up challenge.)

I can’t believe Whip It Up is over! This little recipe challenge has done amazing things for my cookery/lack-of-cookery skills. I actually feel comfortable in the kitchen with all the pans and gadgets and things. I have been saving the best of my summer domesticity for last, partly because I wanted to feel a little more comfortable in the kitchen before attempting to make Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa Salad from scratch…and partly because I didn’t actually find the recipe (hiding in the bottom of my pile of recipes) until recently. For those of you who know the goodness, nay, the divinity of Cafe Rio, you are about to enter . Mecca. Please remove your shoes and give your toesies a good scrub before proceeding. For those of you who do not subscribe to the Cafe Rio religion, you are in for a TREAT! There are not many words in the English language (or possibly even the English AND Spanish languages combined, although I am nowhere close to even conversational in Spanish) that can accurately describe the epicurean nirvana that is Cafe Rio. So I’m not even going to try. All I can say is that regardless of your cookery skills, and despite the seemingly never-ending wait for the pork to get done (18 hours in a crock-pot, your nostrils will be tantalized for HOURS!), this is so worth it. On Sunday I threw a little dinner party, and if you are questioning the edibility of these recipes, please contact Vanessa and Cole, or Aaron and Amy for their opinions. (Hint, in their opinion(s), this was a-MAY-zing!).

My Cafe Rio night consists of several different recipes, all super-easy, although I did have a very Handsome Sous Chef at my disposal. (Is it against Policy to sneak the Sous Chef a kiss? Hope not!) After the break will be recipes for Pork Barbacoa (sweet and spicy shredded pork) and the Creamy Tomatillo dressing, as well as a quick guestimation of my Pico de Gallo recipe. Also required for a true Cafe Rio salad is Cilantro Rice, which I posted about here. To build your salad, you start with a flour tortilla, add a smidge handful of cheese, a spoonful or two of black beans, a spoonful or two of rice, as much pork as you think you can get away with, pile on shredded romaine lettuce, a couple of spoonfuls of pico, some guacamole if you have it, the tomatillo dressing and then homemade tortilla strips (which I forgot to take pictures of…sorry). This high-piled concoction will change your life. Seriously.

See? Don’t you feel changed? Don’t you believe me? A-MAY-ZING! Before I get into the details of the cookery, here are the nitty gritties:

  • Total Prep-Time: 18 hours, technically. But most of that is just waiting for the pork to cook. I’d say active cook time for the entire meal was perhaps an hour, maybe 1 hour 15 mins. Lots of this meal (dressing, pico) can be made before-hand and kept in the fridge until it’s time to eat.
  • Was the recipe easy to follow: Extremely easy. It’s mostly chop, dump and marinate. Easy-peasy.
  • Are the ingredients easy to find: It took me a bit of searching in the Mexican Food section to find Chipotle Chilies in Adobo Sauce, and also a bit of googling to figure out what, exactly, a tomatillo looked like. But I found everything at my grocery store.
  • Do you need special equipment: Large-ish crock pot and a blender. A food processor would make quick work of the pico, although I chopped mine by hand.
  • Does the end result taste delicious: Oh. My. Freaking. Laws. YES! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. This was the best meal I have ever made, hands down, no questions. And there were enough leftovers for my neighbors, and my room-mate, and a couple of meals for me. This makes a ton of food, but it will be eaten quickly. Try it, taste it, and you’ll understand why. Fan-tabulous!
  • Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa

    5-6 lb. pork roast
    21 oz. Dr. Pepper (or Coke, do NOT use diet soda)
    1 cup brown sugar
    3/4 cup white sugar
    1 clove garlic, minced
    7 oz. can chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
    6-ish oz. red taco sauce (I used hot)
    1 tsp dry mustard
    1 tsp cumin
    1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

    Place roast in crock-pot, cover half-way with water and cook on low for 12 hours. (I started my Pork Adventure at midnight and everything worked out perfectly for Sunday dinner at 6:00 pm.) After 12 hours, drain pork (retain liquid if you want sauce for burritos, simply mix with a can of verde enchilada sauce and away you go).

    Mix remaining ingredients until sugar dissolves. I didn’t keep the actual chilies, I dumped the can into a bowl and added enough Dr. Pepper to get all the sauce off of the chilies, then I tossed them. I also rinsed out the can with Dr. Pepper for more adobo goodness. My version had a fairly good kick to it, but if you LOVE hotness, then blend everything + 2 or 3 chilies in the blender. (Also, the adobo sauce tends to stain plastic, using a glass or metal mixing bowl will make your clean-up of adobo sauce considerably less frustrating).

    Add Dr. Pepper mixture to the roast and cook on low an additional 4 hours.

    Take out roast and shred, add back into sauce and cook for 2 more hours. At this point the meat was so tender it practically shredded itself.

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Cafe Rio Tomatillo Dressing

    Do not skip this part, the dressing is my favorite part of the salad! Creamy and spicy and zesty, it is absolute heaven. I actually use leftover dressing for a tomatillo-cilantro salsa, this stuff makes regular, everyday corn-chips taste like exotic, savory treats. (Because we all know, corn is not exotic on it’s own.) If it can transform corn chips, just IMAGINE what it will do for your salad! Besides, it takes 3 minutes to put together.

    1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix

    3 tomatillos (remove papery skin), rough chop
    1 cup mayo
    1 cup buttermilk
    1 cup (or more) cilantro, rough chop
    3 cloves garlic
    1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
    2 tsp green Tabasco sauce
    juice from 1 lime

    Dump everything in a blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate in air-tight container (or your entire fridge will smell like garlic and cilantro).

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Easy Pico-de-Gallo

    3 tomatoes, diced

    1/2 bunch of cilantro, minced
    1/2 sweet onion, minced
    1 section of green pepper, minced
    3-4 cloves garlic, minced
    about 1/3-1/2 cup vinegar (use your best judgement)
    salt and pepper

    Mix it up really well and refrigerate. I put my pico in a Tupperware and shook it up really well right before serving to re-mix.

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Now, invite some people over and get cooking! Do you remember how to put together the salad?

    • Tortilla – you can make your own, mine came from a package.
    • Cheese –it is a good idea to warm these two up so the cheese is a little melty.
    • Beans – black or pinto (mine came straight out of the can, warmed in the microwave with a little garlic powder and green Tabasco sauce).
    • Rice – don’t be stingy now!
    • Pork – I am actually salivating while writing this post…
    • Lettuce – Shredded Romaine, you want small enough pieces to get a little of everything on your fork
    • Pico de Gallo – I like extra pico, so I give myself an extra scoop.
    • Tortilla Strips – slice a corn tortilla into strips, brush with olive oil and salt and pepper and bake on a foil-covered sheet for 15-20 minutes at 350-ish.
    • Creamy Tomatillo Dressing – I like to keep mine on the side so my lettuce doesn’t get too slobbery.
    • This is really best served with a cold Dr. Pepper with a few slices of lime squeezed into it, but if that seems like Dr. Pepper overload, your beverage of choice will probably be fine.

    Enjoy a little ginormous taste of the Utah original, Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa Salad.

    1. dee permalink
      20 November 2009 9:20 pm

      K here i go> I have my shopping list…. Give me a day or to and i will post.

    2. Curtis permalink
      3 January 2010 11:38 pm

      Just wanted to say thanks for the great recipe! My wife and I entertained a large group of friends and we served this with hard and soft tacos. It tasted delicious and everyone loved it. Next time I will blend up some of the chipotle peppers into the sauce, because it really wasn’t spicy at all, but it still tasted great!

    3. Susan patty permalink
      29 June 2011 10:52 pm

      I used a can of ginger ale rather than the asked for Dr. Pepper. then I found some stewed plums (of all things!) in my refrigerator and realized someone told me Dr. Pepper was based upon a recipe of prune juice and fizz, so I figured why now. I dumped about 1/4 cup of the thick juice into the dish. It may sound disgusting, but the flavor was very wonderful. I think with that much sugar in it, a person cannot go wrong in flavor. Ihave never tased Cafe Rio before, actually didn’t know it was a restaurant until I looked it up–so I cannot compare theirs to mine, but I liked the results. Made mine with cabbage instead of lettuce, and loved the crunch it gave.

    4. diana permalink
      28 August 2011 5:49 pm

      What a great recepie I use this recepie to cooked in Young womas camp and they love it, I reduce the amount of heat because I knew this girls will not like it so hot, I make it super midle and they love it, Your tomatillo sause was a great succes we have no left overs and we where so please to se them enjoying every bait.

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