March 25, 2011
I think I’ve grown a snout. I was looking for something to do with a giant pork picnic roast I picked up at Smedberg’s, decided on carnitas, and have been enjoyed the tender but crispy meat in all sorts of dishes for days. Then, without thinking much, I order a BLT for lunch yesterday? My nose isn’t small to begin with and I’m pretty sure it’s becoming snout-like with all the pork.
Enough on my vanity…let’s talk carnitas! Carnitas are a Mexican dish made by slow-roasting or simmering a shoulder pork roast (i.e. a “Boston Butt” or “Picnic” cut) until the meat is fork-tender. And then, (here’s the really good part), roasted with a bit of its own liquid on high heat until the meat caramelizes and gets a crispy texture to it. You can turn carnitas into fillings for enchiladas, tacos, tamales, casseroles or just eat it on its own. This is one of those cooking investments and isn’t too intensive – cook the meat on a weekend day and then you’ll have a ready-made main course for 2 or 3 meals.
Eating locally in Maine doesn’t sound like it translates to carnitas; but, it does. Pick up a high-quality locally-produced pork roast and the flavor of the pork just shines through. And, a little Mexican food in your week is sure to make you forget that it’s not even fifty degrees and approaching April.
There a few schools of thought for making carnitas. The last time I made them, I used Rick Bayless’ method of moist cooking followed by dry roasting and found the carnitas to be tasty but a little too crisp and a little too salty. And, the meat kind of fell apart. So, this time, I decided to try a version of Diana Kennedy’s method of simmering the pork in water, and then letting the water evaporate so that the pork is just left to crisp-up in its own fat. This was a winner.
I modified her recipe and added some fresh orange juice, garlic and a few spices to the water; but, you could leave out all of that out, if you didn’t want to bother.
For the first meal involving carnitas, I had to have tacos. So, I invested just a bit of time in making two different kinds of salsa. If you have a few extra minutes when you’re making a Mexican dish, making your own salsa can make a big difference. I opted for a green roasted Tomatillo Salsa and a spicier Chipotle Salsa.
Now, what to do with all this leftover carnitas meat?
As a former Houstonian, I have found and fell in love with a food blog called Homesick Texan. So, I took her recipe for Green Chile Hominy Casserole that called for chorizo and substituted carnitas meat. Hominy is a type of dried corn kernel that has been soaked in lime-treated water. It has an earthy corn taste and is relatively soft. Goya sells a canned variety that can be found at Hannaford; and, Whole Foods sells it as well. Hominy is a staple in the South and in Texas; and this recipe tasted like all the flavors I grew up with in Houston. So, so good.
Speaking of homesick and Texas, next week I’ll be starting my series on modernizing some recipes that I found raiding my grandmother Clara’s recipe drawer when I was there last week. Can’t wait!
Carnitas Tacos with Two Salsas
(Adapted from Diana Kennedy)
One Pork Roast will make 2-3 meals for 4 adults.
Prep Time = 15 minutes
Total Cook Time = 2 1/2 hours
3-4 pound Pork shoulder roast (this is usually called a Boston Butt or Picnic roast), you don’t need it with a bone but if it has one, it’s ok. Make sure it has fat and don’t trim the fat – that’s what makes the dish!
Juice of 3 oranges (or about a cup)
3-4 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon dried cilantro or Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons salt
- Cut pork into strips, about 2 inches by 3/4 inch or so. Remember, to keep the fat on the meat.
- Place the meat in a large Dutch Oven or stock pot, cover with enough cold water to just cover the meat. Add the orange juice, garlic, spices and salt.
- Bring the contents to a boil and then let simmer, uncovered on low, until the water is almost evaporated (about 1 ½ hours).
- Then, turn the heat up, let the water completely evaporate. And then marvel as the pork starts to render and cook in its own fat (about 30 minutes). Flip the pork pieces a few times to make sure it’s evenly browned.
- For tacos, serve the meat on top of corn or flour tortillas along with salsas, avocado, cilantro or any fresh Mexican condiment.
For the salsas, I highly recommend Rick Bayless’ recipes.