October 3rd, 2011
The temperature is dropping and I’m thinking of tender, slow cooked meats. Not quite ready for stew, though, I recently made these killer carnitas.
When I thought to make carnitas, my first instinct was to pull out the slow cooker. I thought it would be an easy way to “braise” the pork shoulder. But, before I dusted off my crock pot, I thought it wise to pull out one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. The book reminded me that traditional carnitas are hunks of pork fried in vats of lard.
Oh lard. I love me a traditional approach, but I wasn’t prepared to go there. Luckily for me, the venerable Ms. Kennedy offers a home-cooking variation on the traditional method that is easy and delicious. Though this recipe doesn’t call of for a slow cooker, it cooks mostly unattended and in fewer hours than you’d need for your slow cooker.
I barely adapted the recipe, combining the water Diana Kennedy calls for with orange juice and also adding 2 bay leaves. It’s a very forgiving recipe, so I encourage you to experiment. (Sounds crazy, but I’m thinking of trying water and grapefruit juice next time.) Good pork and the cooking method are what make these spectacular. Like, have-some-company-over-for-dinner spectacular.
I served my carnitas with corn tortillas, my quick-pickled red onions, cilantro, lime, and a salsa of avocado blended with tomatillos and red onion tossed with fresh orange juice and roasted until tender. Rice and beans optional. Yum!
barely adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy
(can be shared with kids 12+ mos)*
3 pounds pork shoulder, skin and bone removed
2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves
1. Cut the meat, with the fat, into strips about 2 by 3/4 inches. Place the meat in a heavy, wide and shallow pan. Barely cover the meat with a combination of water and orange juice (I used about 1/2 and 1/2; the amount of liquid will depend on the shape of your pan). Add salt and bay leaves, and bring to a boil, uncovered.
2. Lower the heat and let the pork cook briskly until all of the liquid evaporates, at which point the meat should be cooked through but not falling apart.
3. Lower the heat a little again and continue cooking the meat until all of the fat has rendered out of it. Keep turning the meat until it is lightly browned all over—total cooking time is about 2 1/2 hours (Diana says that the cooking time is only 1 hour and 10 minutes, so yours can be anywhere in between depending, again, on the shape of your pan). Serve immediately or, if you must, put the meat in a bowl along with all of the cooking fat still left in the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Add all of that meat and fat back into your cooking pan to gently reheat before serving.
*Note: This can safely be shared with any child safely managing tender (but chewy) meat. I recommend holding off on this until 12+ mos due to the high fat content/greasy factor. At whatever age you serve this, be sure to cut into age appropriate pieces for little eaters.