Monday, March 5, 2007

Carnitas

I just cooked up my latest batch of carnitas for backup feeding for the week. I have learned a lot about carnitas in the past few months, but I have to give Kristen credit for teaching me the method that I have been using lately.
I used to buy a big ‘ol pork shoulder and chop it into 2x2 or 3x3 inch chunks and then boil in lard for 5 hours with a variety of spices and oranges. There is more to that method but it was time consuming and left me with about a gallon of lard that I would have to discretely dispose of somewhere outside.
These days I procure a large pork shoulder, preferably with a small bone cause I want the most fat for my buck, though Kristen says that the bone provides moisture and flavor. With the centimeter or so of fat in the bottom of the pan after cooking for a while I don’t worry about moisture very much though.
First I peel a head of garlic and halve the cloves. Stab the meat all over and insert as many half cloves of garlic as you think is reasonable. Push them in deep because the meat will constrict upon heating and the cloves may come out I liberally salt the pork (with Kosher salt……ironic huh?), ground pepper, some red pepper flakes and a liberal dousing with cumin and rub it all in with some olive oil. It is hard to overdo the seasoning at this point since the surface area to volume is pretty low.
Note: When I am out of carnitas I am not always at the top of my game, and may choose spices based on outward appearance rather than reading labels. Warning!!! Cinnamon looks just like cumin, and unfortunately it flows out the holes of the container much more fluidly than cumin. I don’t think you want cinnamon on your carnitas. To top it off, cinnamon is very water insoluble, so it is hard to wash off afterward. So read spice labels and don’t keep cumin next to cinnamon. Not that I have ever done this, this is strictly a hypothetical situation that I can envision happening, this kind of thing is way below me.
After all the spices are rubbed in, sear the meat in a hot pan with oil until crispy on one side, then flip it to the other side and put in a 250 degree oven. Roasting takes 4-6 hours depending on the piece of meat. The pork is done when it can be pulled apart and off of the bone just by looking at it. Put the pan directly onto a hot stove and and start frying to crisp it up while you tear it into smaller pieces.
At this point I add 1-2 cups of orange juice and mix well to get an even coating on the carnitas. I used to cook several sliced oranges with the pork chunks in the lard, but I've abandoned the lard method for now. I have also tried inserting orange slices into the pork shoulder, but that doesn’t work out too well so I am sticking to the OJ. Another failed bright idea was adding onions to the melted fat in the bottom of the pan. When I tried this I added them after only two hours and the onions were cooked way too long. It may work out well if the onions are added during the last half hour of cooking, but I haven’t tried this yet. Keep frying the carnitas in its own fat until it is too your desired crispness. At least make sure that all the water from the orange juice is boiled off before removing from heat. Carnitas are done!
Store in the refrigerator or frozen aliquots long term. Before eating eating them, fry them over high heat in their own oil until they get nice and crispy (if that is how you like them, I hate ordering carnitas somewhere and getting soft shredded pork.....). During my waking hours I like to eat them in a tortilla with some hot sauce and not much else, in the middle of the night a microwave and a fork is all I need. Just pure carnitas with fat dripping out both ends of the tortilla, some down my wrist, some in my mouth. I use both flour and corn tortillas but I like to quickly fry the corn tortillas in some hot oil to soften them up and prevent them from cracking and feeding the cats lurking below. At this point a little extra fat added to the tortillas is just a drop in the bucket. I recommend eating carnitas with El Pato (mild) or El Yucoteco (super habanero hot, Tigon likes it too) brand hot sauces. Both are strait outa Mexico and are sometimes in the mexican section of the grocery store rather than the shelf harboring the dread Pace Picante. Though it may be hard to resist, try not to eat carnitas every day until they are gone, your body will thank you.

2 comments:

shannie said...

I can vouch for the tastiness of the carnitas! Muy bien

Jeff said...

"Just pure carnitas with fat dripping out both ends of the tortilla, some down my wrist, some in my mouth."
The best damn quote I have read in a long time... had me laughing out loud while drooling at the same time.
Thanks!!!