Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It's Cinco de Mayo, Hurray for Carnitas

I am not Mexican. I lived in Guatemala for 12 years before anything really "Mexican" started to take over the US. Hard to imagine, I know! But the Mexican, or pseudo-Mexican foods are here to stay, I believe. As with my post yesterday about Tres Leches Cake (which I turned into my own spin: Coffee Flavored Quatro Leches Cake), today's is also a Mexican dish. Pork Carnitas. I have made pulled pork many times, but always to mix with barbecue sauce. In Guatemala there were Carnitas also, and though I never made them, I did eat them while down there. They were far different than this soft and juicy Mexican style.

Pork Carnitas with refried beans and cilantro

Jumping on the bandwagon, though in our house we do not celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I decided to try my hand at making this juicy pulled pork called Carnitas. "Carnitas", in case you have not seen it just about anywhere on the internet in these last few days, means little meats. To me, this term seems to fit the Guatemalan version better, as they were always little chunks, never "pulled." Whatever. I have eaten Carnitas in restaurants, and some were delightful while others were, well, not quite so delightful. 

As usual, I spent an hour or more perusing the web, looking at people's ideas on recipes for Carnitas. And then I shut down the web and wrote down what I wanted to try. As my recipe stands, it was delicious. Certainly it turned out worthy of the name. Wonderful all on their own, these little pieces of pork goodness were tender and oh, so flavorful. I had some ideas in mind to use in making this dish, and as it turned out, they were spot on. I wanted to use beer and orange juice. I wanted jalapenos in there. Check. This morning I got everything out and prepared to make Carnitas. 

This dish is best cooked low and slow, whether in a tightly-lidded Dutch oven in a very low temp oven, or in a slow-cooker. If in the oven, it is best to use a heavy enameled cast iron pot, if possible, just because they hold heat well and cook amazingly. For the oven, keep the temperature at whatever will maintain a low simmer, which is somewhere between 265 and 275 degrees in my oven. If cooking in a slow cooker, there are all sorts out there these days, some with actual temperature gauges, and some like my oldie, with three settings: Off, Low, or High. In this type of slow cooker, LOW is where it's at.
meat browned, seasoned   |  onions & Garlic sauteed   |       beer added           |         lard added           |        all in the pot    

Making the Carnitas as I chose to do, it was a messy business. Lots of cleanup after. Not what I usually like, but occasionally I make the effort. I chose to cut the meat into smaller chunks and sear it before putting it in the pot to cook. The meat came on a bone, so while I separated the meat from the bone, I still added the bone to the cooking pot, for flavor. This is what I did:

Pork Carnitas

Pork Carnitas
serves 6 to 8

1 (5 pound) pork butt or shoulder roast
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced finely 
12 ounces strong flavored beer 
1/2 cup lard
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaf
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
2 fresh jalapenos minced, seeds and stems removed, if desired
zest of one orange
zest of half lime
juice of 2 oranges (3/4 cup)
juice of one lime (1 1/2 tablespoons)

Cut the meat into approximately 3-inch cubes. In a hot skillet, melt the 2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard. Sear the meat until well-browned on all sides, removing to a plate when done. While meat is searing, mix together the salt, cumin, oregano, chipotle, paprika, black pepper and allspice. Sprinkle this over the meat, then move the meat to either a Dutch oven or a slow cooker. In the skillet, saute the onions quickly until nicely browned and tender. Add the minced garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Pour in the beer and deglaze the pan, then allow the beer to cook down by half. While beer is cooking down, add the thyme leaves, jalapenos, zests and juices to the meat. Once beer is reduced, scrape all the contents of the skillet in with the meat. If baking, have the oven preheated and allow at least 3 hours at very low temperature to cook until very tender. If in a slow cooker, start on high for the first hour, to get things started, then on low for about 6 hours in total. 
cooked meat cooling         |       shredded meat being fried         |        nicely crisped meat

Once meat is tender, remove the meat from the pot to a plate, until cool enough to handle. Shred with two forks, or just break into small chunks with clean hands. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add in some of the fat skimmed from the top of the cooking liquids in the pot. Let the meat become browned and almost crispy at the edges. Serve as tacos, mixed in with other ingredients for burritos, or just eat with plain rice. However you choose to use it, you will enjoy!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.