Tuesday, March 17, 2015

carnitas

Carnitas are, essentially, chunks of braised pork butt. As the braising liquid slowly evaporates from the pot, the fat renders out of the pork and collects in the bottom of the pot (because fat is more dense than water. SCIENCE!). Eventually the water all cooks out and you're left with succulent spiced pieces of pork that crisp up in their own fat. It takes several hours and is all very torturous in that it fills the house with amazing pork aromas long before the meat is actually ready - but I assure you, it's totally worth doing.

It looks totally unappetizing at the beginning. I posted this picture on Facebook and had people guessing it was everything from bean soup to vomit (I'm not sure about that person, honestly...but we won't go there):

Not winning any beauty contests.

The end product is much more attractive, though - well, if you're into crispy pork bits, anyway...and if you're not, you've probably come to the wrong place:

Mmm, looking better!
The carnitas are very tasty just like that, honestly. I like them with eggs for a hearty weekend breakfast, or you could easily toss some into sauteed greens for a bit of flavoring. They are excellent on top of a baked sweet potato as well.

Or, you could use them in the more traditional way. No, not rubbing them all over your naked body while you groan happily (wow, that got weird) - rather, piling them on tortillas with lots of fixings:

Winner winner, carnitas for dinner.
My favorite combination of toppings for carnitas is raw shredded cabbage and radish, because they offer a nice crunchy fresh counterpoint to the rich pork. A little bit of avocado on top makes it even more pretty and acts as a built-in dressing. I don't usually go for salsa on carnitas because they already have a lot of acid in them, but don't let that stop you if you want to try it.

Also, a note about tortillas - I use corn tortillas, and I warm them up one at a time in a ripping-hot pan so that they blister a little and get a bit black in places. You could just warm the tortillas up in the oven or microwave, but I really like the smokey note that the toasted bits of tortilla add.

Here's the recipe for the carnitas themselves:

3lbs pork butt, cut into large-ish pieces - mine are like 3" square-ish chunks, usually
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
 crushed garlic cloves to taste - I usually use 4 or 5 good sized ones
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp salt (I use kosher salt - if you're using regular salt, adjust the amount down by 1/4 tsp or so)

Put everything in a big pot, bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer, uncovered, for about 2 - 2.5 hours. No stirring, no poking, no nothing. Leave it alone! After a couple hours, you can turn the heat up a little and let it cook more briskly for another 45 minutes or so. Again, don't mess with the meat at all. The water will cook out completely and the pork will start to sizzle in its own fat - this is when you want to really pay close attention. When you notice the edges starting to get crisp / brown, you can carefully start turning the pieces of pork over to crisp up on the other sides. It will be very loose and want to fall apart at this point - that's ok, just be gentle with it and don't worry if it comes apart some. As the pieces get browned and crisped to your liking, remove them to a bowl for serving. I like to aggressively scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon once all the main chunks of meat are out of it in order to make sure I'm getting up all the really crisp bits off the bottom, as well. Those are, in my opinion, the best bits!

Serve on warm tortillas with preferred toppings, or throw into any number of other dishes for happy-making porky goodness. This also freezes very well.

This recipe is gluten-free, and assuming you skip the corn tortillas, would be Paleo- and Primal-compliant.