Traditional Costa Rican Pork

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Costa Rican pork is an important Costa Rican side dish as you can use it in all kinds of recipes. Traditional Costa Rican food doesn’t generally use as much pork as it does fish, beef or chicken, but especially at Christmas, pork is a food we eat a lot.

This shredded pork recipe is the main filling for Christmas tamales, but you can also use it for taco night, or even as a side dish as the protein in a casado.

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Costa Rican Pork Recipe

Ingredients

(printable recipe below)

pork meat cut into large chunks
Salsa Lizano
white or yellow onion, roughly chopped
cilantro, roughly chopped (leaves and stems)
red bell pepper, roughly chopped
garlic cloves, peeled
salt
carrot roughly chopped
celery, roughly chopped
water
achiote (see product recommendation below)

Instructions

Sliced chunks of pork and whole cut of pork arranged on a white cutting board with a chef's knife.

Cut pork into large chunks for shredding later.

Roughly chop the vegetables.

Brown the meat in the pot, and then add the rest of the ingredients. Cover the pot.

If cooking on the stovetop, simmer on low for 2-3 hours until everything is super tender. Gently shred meat.

If slow cooker, cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. Shred.

If using a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, cook, sealed on high pressure for 30 minutes. You can then release the pressure or leave on warm.

Stir in achiote until pork is the desired color and there are no chunks of achiote in the meat. Shred and use the pork liberally in your tamales

Sliced pork for Costa Rican Tamales on a green cutting board.

Serving Suggestions

The main serving suggestion I have is to make this for the Costa Rican tamales– it’s the main filling along with arroz a la jardinera.

This shredded pork would be delicious inside of some tacos with chile del arbol salsa or a creamy green salsa.

You could serve this with some Costa Rican black beans and Costa Rican white rice and make your own casado- complete with a picadillo de chayote! Just don’t forget the Salsa Lizano!

Variations

In general, apart from the Christmas tamales I mentioned before, most pork eaten in Costa Rica is a pork belly made into chicharrones. This is part of a very popular dish called the Costa Rican chifrijo.

It’s essentially Costa Rican rice, red kidney beans, chicharrones, pico de gallo and tortilla chips in the same bowl. It’s delicious. You could easily substitute this shredded pork recipe for the fried pork chicharrones in the traditional chifrijo recipe.

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Man holding pot of shredded pork in Costa Rica.

FAQ

What type of pork should I buy?

I would use a pork shoulder or pork ribs but into large chunks and then shredded.

Where can I buy Salsa Lizano?

I buy Salsa Lizano on Amazon or at a local Hispanic grocery store.

What Type of Pork Should I Buy?

Good question- I think this is usually made with dark pork meat- otherwise the meat tends to dry out and doesn’t taste as good inside of the tamale.

However, I also make pork carnitas quite often with the pork shoulder meat that I buy at Sam’s, and it comes out really nice when I shred it. You could also use a pork roast. 

The bottom line is that by the time you shred this up and put it inside a tamale and then recook it, it will taste great. It ‘s more about the spices and flavor of the pork than the cut of meat. 

man holding pot of shredded pork in Costa Rica

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Yield: 2 lbs cooked pork

Costa Rican Pork Recipe- For Tamales

Man holding pot of shredded pork in Costa Rica.

This Costa Rican pork is the main filling for a Costa Rican tamale, and is also used as a side dish for a Costa Rican casado.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours 4 seconds
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 6 hours 15 minutes 4 seconds

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs pork meat cut into large chunks (see notes)
  • 3 TBSP Salsa Lizano
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped (leaves and stems)
  • 1/2 red pepper, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 TB salt
  • 1 carrot roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 2-3 TBSP achiote (see product recommendation below)

Instructions

  1. Put everything into a pot and cover. If cooking on the stovetop, boil for 2-3 hours until everything is super tender. Gently shred meat.
  2. If slow cooker, cook on low 6-8 hours or on high 4-6 hours. Shred.
  3. If using a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, cook, sealed on high pressure for 20 minutes. You can then release the pressure or leave on warm.
  4. Stir in achiote until pork is desired color and there are no chunks of achiote in the meat.
  5. Shred and use the pork liberally in your tamales! 

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Christa Jimenez

Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!

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2 Comments

  1. Do you remove the fat from the pork? Great recipe by the way, this matches closely what I remember my abuela doing when I was a child and I used it to recreate her tamales.

    1. Hi Adriana! I don’t remove the fat until I shred the pork. Then I remove all the bits and pieces I can. Thank you for the compliment on the recipe- I hope the tamales turn out perfectly! Pura vida! ~Christa