Friday, April 20, 2012

Of Late, and Carnitas

Two weeks?! What happened?! 
Oh yeah. This:  E is 6 months old.  6 months ago, we were in the hospital, giggling and fawning over this sweet new thing.  
Now, she sits up, chewing on everything in sight, and babbles away while I cook dinner. It's pure bliss. 
It is so SO exciting.
I mentioned in her birth story that we planted some tulips the day before she was born.  They're up and starting to fade.
She's got a sweet new cousin to share the world with, too. 
We visited her mama when she was still on the inside to take some maternity pictures.
C was born a week before she was due, and we've been soaking in every minute we can with her since.  There's nothing like a fresh baby.  Seriously life affirming, don't you think?
Dinners have been fast and simple, all of us hanging out together in the kitchen.  Fried eggs are always a favorite source of quick protein.  (I talk about how I like to fry eggs in this post) and are especially good when they're served with bacon and local greens.   
I've been working on some new goodness for Rosie's Best, too.   Not quite ready to share, but when I do, there just might be a giveaway...
Today I'm going to show you how I make my version of carnitas, a Mexican pork dish, with pork shoulder from the Stamps Family Farm.  Authentic? Doubtful. But decidedly delicious.  Carnitas comes from 'carne' meaning 'meat', and the 'ita' ending, which is diminutive. (You know, mamacita means "little mama")  These 'little meats' are braised and then baked.  I used pork shoulder for this recipe. If you've never tired the shoulder cut before (sometimes labeled 'butt') I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's inexpensive, versatile, and extremely flavorful.  Get bone-in if possible, because it adds to the flavor and texture of your broth.

*I want to make special mention of the kind of pork you choose for this recipe.  Commercially available pork has been bred to be exceedingly lean.  This is not an advantage, especially for a cut like shoulder which is meant to be cooked for a long period of time.  This recipe (and all recipes!) are best made from a heritage breed animal.  (Heritage breeds are much like heirloom plants. If you want to know more about heritage pork and why they're so important, click here to read about them and find some near you.)  Our pig is a Berkshire and the flavor and texture simply can't be compared to commercial pork.  And guess what?  It's reasonably priced.  In fact, for most cuts, it's even cheaper than grocery store pork.  And I know the farmers personally.  It's a win-win.

There are various approaches to carnitas, and while I haven't tried them all, this one has worked well for us.  You begin with slow-cooked pork shoulder and reduce its cooking liquid into a thickened dipping sauce.  After tossing the shredded pork in this sauce, it's roasted till the ends are crispy and the meat tender.  It's all served taco-truck style with simple toppings on corn tortillas.

serving size depends on the size of your shoulder. 
1 bone-in pork shoulder
2 yellow onions
5-7 cloves garlic
water or broth
2-3 bay leaves
3 tbsp. whole peppercorns
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. ground marjoram
2 tbsp. whole coriander seed
2 tbsp. whole cumin seed
salt and pepper
1/4 c. beer

to serve:
corn tortillas
quick pickled shallots
queso fresco (a crumbly, salty Mexican cheese)

Begin by braising the pork shoulder in a crock pot on low, half covered with water or stock, for 6-8 hours on low.  Into the braising liquid, add

  •  one roughly chopped onion
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp. whole peppercorns

The meat should be falling off the bones, the broth thickened and reduced.
While I was cooking this meal, E decided to barf on herself.  Imagine my shrieks of joy when her father brought her back to me, dressed in this: (Hawkeyes, represent!)
Shred the meat with two forks, leaving sizable chunks.
Discard any large pieces of fat or gristle and you'll be left with lean meat.  
Preheat the oven to 425.
Toast the whole cumin and coriander in the oven or a dry pan briefly, just until you smell them. 
Let them cool and grind them up in your mortar and pestle. (I talk about how I use one in this post)  You use these with the marjoram and oregano to flavor your sauce.
Chop up one onion.
Fry it up over medium high heat in a generous amount of oil or butter, seasoning well with salt and pepper.
While it's frying, mince up a clove or two of garlic and throw it in.  Cook it just until you start to smell it, maybe 1 minute.

Then stir in all your spices.  I like adding the dry spices this way (an Indian technique) because it flavors the oil, which in turn flavors the whole sauce.  (We all know fat gives things flavor, right?)  It toasts the spices and releases their oils.  Keep this over heat until your kitchen smells amazing and the onions are translucent, stirring constantly.
Pour in the beer. Scrape up all those delicious bits at the bottom of the pan and reduce the liquid by turning the heat to high.
Then, strain the cooking liquid from the pork into the pan and boil until the sauce has reduced and is thick.  This took us about 10 minutes.  Once reduced, check for seasoning.
Finally, toss the shredded pork (still on a sheet pan) in 1/3-1/2 c. of the reduced broth. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper.  Roast at 425 until the edges are crispy/dry. (5-15 minutes, depending on your oven)  Do not over cook!  You're just baking the flavor from the broth into the carnitas (be sure it's well seasoned for this reason) and giving that nice texture to the shredded meat.
Serve with sliced avocado, straight up for the baby, but with salt, pepper, and lime for you.
Left to right we have the reduced broth, queso freso (crumbled), pickled shallots, avocado, and lime wedges.
Blister your corn tortillas in a hot dry pan.  If you don't toast them this way, I find corn tortillas dry and rubbery.

This was good.
Really, really good.  Worth waiting for, I hope :)
I promise to be back sooner than later, with stories of gardening and baby stuff.  Thanks for sticking around.
If you haven't, check out the comments in the salmon cakes post, especially if you're on a gluten-free diet.


Lindsay said...

Congrats on 6 months of baby love!

~T said...

E's turning into a blondie!

Alicia said...

Thanks Lindsay, and Tracy, we think she's strawberry blonde!

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