Friday, September 3, 2010

Can't Stop Thinking About Them Carnitas

Problems I have:  Diet Coke, Travel Channel, Peanut Sauce.

New problem.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Kenji, from Serious Eats, posted a recipe for "No-Waste Tacos de Carnitas with Salsa Verde."  Someone in the SE office mentioned that Kenji was bringing the leftovers by (which he often does since he is constantly cooking).  I began to salivate immediately.  Pretty much anything Kenji makes is tastebud gold.  However, when Kenji stopped by, there were no carnitas in tow.  My heart was heavy.  My stomach empty.  (Okay, the last bit wasn't true - I was at the SE office - my stomach was never empty or even half empty)

So, when I got back to my lovely little kitchen in Salt Lake, the first thing I did was purchase the ingredients for my own carnitas.  

What you will need:

  • 2 medium onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 pounds boneless pork butt (shoulder), rind removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium orange
  • 6 cloves garlic, split in half
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into three or four pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed
  • 3 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta
  • 24 corn tortillas

They didn't have boneless pork butt (shoulder) at my local grocery store.  Don't ask me why it didn't occur to me to ask the butcher for the cut.  No, I bought bone-in pork shoulder.  Yeah, it was an experience.  A good one to have but not really one I feel the need to repeat.  Save yourself the effort and if you don't see it already packaged, then don't be shy.  Ask your friendly butcher man or lady to do you a solid.  

Now that you have your lovely hunk o'pork.  Cut the rind off (the white gross skin).  Pretty sure you don't want to eat it.  Cut the pork into big ol' chunks about 2 inches.  I guess you should probably have a hot place to put it so turn the oven on at 275F.  Get a 9X13 casserole dish ready to dump your goodies in.  Season the pork chunks with 1 tbsp salt and throw in your 9X13.  Arrange so there are no spaces.

Split orange into quarters.  Squeeze juice over meat and then nestle remains amongst the meat.  Add one onion split into quarters, 4 cloves of garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon stick to casserole (you can cheat and add ground cinnamon in a pinch).   

Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

While your little piggy is cooking, cut one onion into a fine dice and combine with cilantro. Refrigerate until ready to use.  

Set large fine-meshed strainer 1 quart liquid measure or bowl. Using tongs, remove orange peel, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer pork and liquid to strainer. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer pork back to casserole. You should end up with about 1/2 cup liquid and 1/2 cup fat. Using a flat spoon or de-fatter, skim fat from surface and add back to pork. Shred pork into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer remaining liquid to medium saucepot.

To serve: Place casserole dish with pork 4-inches under a high broiler and broil until brown and crisp on surface, about 6 minutes. Remove pork, stir with a spoon to expose new bits to heat, and broil again for 6 more minutes until crisp. Tent with foil to keep warm.

To eat, stack two tortillas on top of each other. Add two to three tablespoons carnitas mixture to center. Top with salsa verde, chopped onions and cilantro, and queso fresco. Serve with lime wedges.

If you're not lazy like me, then you can make the tomatillo sauce instead of leaving the ingredients to rot in your fridge.  Just add these directions before the serving ones.  Add tomatillos, remaining 2 onion quarters, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeños to saucepot with strained pork liquid. Add water until it is about 1-inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until all vegetables are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Blend salsa with hand blender or in a stand-up blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

You can also heat the tortillas.  Preheat an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Working one tortilla at a time, dip tortilla in bowl filled with water. Transfer to hot skillet and cook until water evaporates from first side and tortilla is browned in spots, about 30 seconds. Flip and cook until dry, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer tortilla to a tortilla warmer, or wrap in a clean dish towel. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Yeah, they're pretty much to die for.  I've been obsessed ever since.  I dream about carnitas and corn tortillas now.  It's a sickness.  But one I thoroughly hope to be infected for life with. 

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