Friday, May 8, 2015

Using Leftover Carnitas in a Wonderful Casserole

Well, Cinco de Mayo is now days past. If you, like me, made Carnitas with a nice big 5-pound roast, you probably have a lot of leftovers. We sure do. Yesterday I was really desirous of something other than tacos, delicious as they were. So as usual, I went to Google. There are lots of great ideas out there, and some were tempting, but I settled on a sort of Taco Casserole. I did see a recipe out there that I used as my layering idea, but that was where any copying left off. 
Carnitas Taco Casserole

One of the recipes I have used for years and years is Creamy Corn Casserole. It does have some sweetness involved, in that it uses a Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix as its base. The recipe also includes a little brown sugar. As a side dish, particularly with pork, it is just fabulous and we both love it. I wanted to use this casserole for the base of this dish, so I eliminated the sugar and added a small can of green chiles. 

The next step was an enchilada sauce. While red enchilada sauce is available in any grocery store, I have used a can of red enchilada sauce possibly once in my life. At age 65, I figured I would just try my hand at making one. There are oodles of red enchilada sauce recipes out there from simple to complex. Being me, mine was a little more complex than many, but it certainly had really great flavors. If you prefer, just use a commercial can of sauce. Here is what I did for mine:

Red Enchilada Sauce
Red Enchilada Sauce

makes about 3 cups

1 dried Ancho chile
1 bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon chicken "base"
1 tablespoon green pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaf
1 - 2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon agave syrup, optional
more salt, if needed

Set the Ancho chile into a small pan of boiling water and boil until it is softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Once soft, remove from the water, and reserve the water aside. Remove stems and seeds from the chile and put it into a blender container. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the chile cooking water, straining out any stray seeds. If there is not enough, add more water to make 1 1/2 cups. Add the chicken bouillon cube or the chicken "base" into the hot water to dissolve. Add this liquid to the blender. 

In a very hot, dry skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring and tossing continuously until they are just lightly browned and have begun to pop. Remove them to the blender. Add in the cumin seeds and toss quickly until fragrant; remove to the blender. Add to the blender container the oregano, chili powder, chipotle powder, smoked paprika, cocoa powder, pepper and cinnamon.

In a medium to large skillet, over medium to medium-low heat, saute the onion in the first teaspoon of olive oil until tender and golden. Add in the garlic and saute about 3 minutes more, until very fragrant. Add this mixture to the blender and leave the skillet aside. Beginning on low, puree the mixture in the blender until it is completely liquid. In the skillet, melt together the second tablespoon of olive oil with the flour, then add in the contents of the blender. Cook the mixture over medium heat, lowering to a simmer once it begins to spatter. Allow the mixture to cook, stirring often for about 15 minutes. Add in agave syrup if desired for a little sweetness. Add more salt if needed. 
Carnitas Taco Casserole

Once I had the idea of how I wanted to layer this casserole, and had the enchilada sauce made, all that was left was to put it all together. The Pork Carnitas were waiting in the fridge. However, I was missing two ingredients: the sour cream needed in the Corn Casserole (and for topping the casserole when serving, of course) and the shredded cheese to top the casserole. I didn't want to have to stop and run to the store, so I called my husband who was just leaving work. He said he would be happy to stop for these two items. I said, ". . .sour cream and one of those Mexican mixes of shredded cheeses". He brought me Mexican Taco Cheese, which was chock full of taco seasonings. This was not what I had in mind. I wanted one of those blends of cheddar, jack and maybe something else. While this makes absolutely no difference in flavors except for personal taste, ultimately all those taco seasonings made the cheese all brown, when melted together. I intended to have a pretty yellow topping of melty cheese. Do with this part of the recipe as you choose. 

Carnitas Taco Casserole
Carnitas Taco Casserole

makes one 9 x 13-inch casserole

1 recipe Creamy Corn Casserole
1 (4-ounce) can mild green chiles (or hot if preferred)
1 recipe Red Enchilada Sauce (above), or 2 cups commercial red enchilada sauce
2 1/2 cups leftover pork carnitas or other pulled pork
6 ounces shredded cheese (cheddar or a blend of cheddar jack)
Sour cream, to serve
Cilantro leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection Bake). Prepare the corn casserole as directed, eliminating the sugar and adding in the can of green chiles. Mix all the ingredients in a 9 x 13-inch casserole and bake for 30 minutes. The casserole may be slightly soft, though it will be well set. Remove from oven and leave the oven on.
Sauce finished  |  Corn Casserole, holes poked in  |  sauce and meats layered on  |   in the oven     |   just out of the oven    

Have the enchilada sauce made (or bought) and ready, the meat measured and the shredded cheese handy. Poke holes into the corn casserole as shown in the photo above. Ladle on half of the enchilada sauce, spreading around. Top evenly with the shredded carnitas. Ladle on the remaining enchilada sauce. The sauce does not have to be completely even. Top with the shredded cheese and bake the casserole until heated through, about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is well melted and the casserole is bubbling around the edges. Serve hot with sour cream if desired. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

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.