Tag Archives: carnitas

Carnitas

Anybody who has dinner at my house will eventually have carnitas.

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There’s something kind of magical about carnitas.  The sweet-savory aroma as they cook is irresistible, and guests smell it as soon as they walk in:  salty, fatty pork; sweet cinnamon and orange; the smell of cumin and oregano from a pot of beans; corn tortillas frying on the stove top.  It’s welcoming, but not overwhelming.  They’re not too fancy, and each person gets to add what they want.  It’s like a grown-up taco bar. (And I love a good taco bar, believe me.)

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The thing that puts them solidly in the “Entertaining” column is that almost all of the prep is done ahead.  The only thing you’re doing when your guests arrive is sliding them under the broiler, just above a stack of freshly-fried tortillas.   Little bowls of cilantro, queso fresco, diced onion, and avocado are already on the table.  You’ve got time to mix a couple of cocktails, pull a bowl of red cabbage slaw out of the fridge, and then dinner is served.

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I had tried crockpot carnitas, but they were always a bit dried out and dusty by they time they made it onto our plates.  At the same time, I refuse to fry 4 pounds of pork cubes in a vat of oil in my kitchen, and definitely NOT when I have people coming over.  Then I stumbled on this article by Serious Eats’ The Food Lab, and things got real.  Instead of cooking the pork in water-based liquid, you still cook the pork in fat- it’s own fat.  By packing it tightly in the dish and cooking it slowly, the fat is rendered out of the pork, filling the dish and effectively frying the meat.  It’s genius, simple, and deliciously fatty while being not at all messy.  The best part is that the pork can be cooked ahead – days ahead! – and all it needs is a quick crisping-up under a hot broiler.  Brilliance!  I use the fattiest pork shoulder I can find, and although that means I have to buy a heavier cut and thus pay more, it’s worth every penny.

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Carnitas
Serves 4-6
Adapted (barely) from Serious Eats

3.5-4 pounds pork butt roast (shoulder)
1 medium onion
1 orange
1 lime
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into 3-4 small pieces (1 if you have new/pungent cinnamon; 2 if it’s older)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
2-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt

To serve: tortillas and any extra condiments you want.  I serve queso fresco, cilantro, diced onion, avocado, tomato, salsa, lime wedges, and cabbage slaw.

Preheat oven to 275 F.  Cube pork into 2-3 inches pieces, trimming away large hunks of excess fat, but not being too picky.  Place in a 9×13 baking dish; the pieces should form fit in one layer, but should be touching. Quarter the onion and nestle the quarters into the baking dish.  Juice and orange and lime over the pork, then nestle the pieces into the dish as well.  Place the garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick pieces throughout the dish.  Drizzle the oil over the top of the pork, then sprinkle with cilantro and salt.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the pork is fork tender, approximately 3.5 hours.  Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit.  Remove the onion, garlic, lime and orange pieces, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks.  If serving later, place the pork in a covered container in the fridge. Dispose of the grease remaining in the dish.

Before serving, heat broiler on high.  Break up pork slightly and place on a baking sheet.  Broil for 5-6 minutes, until the edges are crispy.  Shake or stir and broil for 1-2 minutes more.  Serve with warm tortillas and accoutrements.

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Filed under Clean Eating, Gluten-Free, Main dishes

Fresh red cabbage slaw

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There are a couple of big things that have happened in the last few weeks.  The first: I think spring might actually have arrived.  Secondly: I apparently now like cilantro.

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The first one is a big deal because IT’S MAY.  The last weekend of April was gorgeous.  Mid-60s and low 70s, sunshine, green grass, even budding tulips and the tips of iris and hostas poking through the mulch.  And then, on May 2nd and 3rd (!) the Midwest got hit with a nasty system that included snow (!) and sleet (!) and freezing rain (!).  Not just a dusting, but 18 inches fell in northwest Wisconsin.  18 freaking inches of white, dream-shattering, soul-crushing snow.

But between the 60s and 70s yesterday and today, the snow has melted, the grass is re-perking, and my rhubarb has unfurled an impossible number of frilly leaves.  Spring is here to stay, I think.

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The second part- the part about me finally coming around to cilantro- is a big deal because, c’mon, it’s cilantro.  It’s fresh.  It’s green.  I can grow it.  It’s a big deal in Mexican and Indian cuisines.  And I’m pleased to say that I actually have bought and used it three whole times in the last two weeks and it’s been awesome.

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I made this slaw to serve with carnitas, and it’s crunch and tanginess was exactly what the tender pork needed.  And after all, the recipe is a bit like the weather we’ve had lately: schizophrenic.  It combines winter staples (cabbage and carrot) with a few fresh things that pack a little more punch in the flavor department (jalapeno, cilantro, and lime).  Even if I have to keep buying cilantro for a another month while the weather warms up (*grumble grumble*), I’m adding cilantro to my seed-purchase list, and I’ll definitely be making this slaw frequently for the summer barbeque circuit.  It took me less than 20 minutes to prep, and it needs only an hour in the fridge to really come together.

Fresh red cabbage slaw
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Pezzo

juice of 2 limes
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 large clove garlic smashed (approximately 1/2 tsp)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Greek yogurt might work?)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
1 diced jalapeno (I removed the seeds; keep them for more spice)
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 large or 1 small head of cabbage

In a jar or bowl, whisk together the limes, honey, garlic, mayo, and cilantro. Salt and pepper, and set aside.  Prep the veggies, and thinly slice the cabbage- you want approximately 4 cups of cabbage. Toss all the veggies together in a bowl; dress with the dressing.  Set aside in the fridge for the flavors to develop, at least 1 hour.  Taste before serving and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Clean Eating, Condiments, etc., Gluten-Free, Side dishes, Spring, Vegetables, Vegetarian