Carnitas

It started with the damn taco truck. One of the best quick-lunch options available is a local taco truck’s carnitas on top of little pieces of heaven– a fried flatbread of sorts called sopapillas. Those carnitas were an astoundingly perfect balance of tender, juicy meat, flecked with a crispy crust and crunchy pieces of caramelized fat. I became a little obsessive, wanting more as soon as I inhaled them. That lunch was soon followed by a birthday party where the main meal was home-made carnitas, and then , I don’t know if it was the persistent obsession or just coincidence (probably the latter,) I started seeing carnitas on favorite food blogs and television shows. I took it as a sign from the universe that I was meant to figure out how to make my own carnitas at home.

Although I can’t claim this is a fast meal, it’s a pretty lazy and fun one. Basically, you braise the meat until it’s meltingly tender, then throw it back in the oven under high heat until the fat renders, crisping up and creating a good crust. In other words, that’s plenty of time for you to knit, read, watch t.v. (or whatever you do for fun), while your stove and oven does all the work for you. The fun part comes from the bright colors and variety of garnishes that you choose to top your tortilla wrapped carnitas. In this case, I had crunchy red cabbage that had been wilting in a mix of lime juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, green onions and a sprinkling of cilantro; some lime wedges for an extra squeeze of acid for balance; fresh cilantro leaves; and a creamy, spicy tangy sauce made from leftover tomatillo salsa blended with a ripe avocado. If you space out the cooking over two days, you can pop open a cerveza and kick back with these as a fun, weeknight meal– a little fiesta break in the middle of your week.

  • 3-4 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp cumin, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • corn tortillas
  • salt and pepper

Cut the pork shoulder into pieces about 2 inches wide. Place the pork in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the orange juice and enough chicken stock to cover the pieces. Add 1 tbsp cumin, bay leaf, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Bring to a boil then decrease the heat to low so that the stock stays at a simmer. Continue simmering for 2.5-3 hours or until meat is tender.*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shred the meat and place in a baking pan, large enough so that the meat is distributed in a single layer. Add 2 tbsp cumin, the oregano, the pinch of cinnamon, and minced garlic. Cook until the juices in the pan evaporate and the meat is browned and crispy– this will depend on how crunchy you like it so check on it every now and then and stir things around to ensure even cooking. I think I left mine in for 30-40 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with plenty of warm tortillas and your favorite garnishes. Some tequila for the cook would be appreciated too.

*If you want to break up the cooking, here would be the place you’d do it. I braised the pork on a Sunday night, let them cool a bit then put them in a tupperware container, filled about 2/3 of the way up with the braising liquid. Stored it in the fridge until the night I was ready to use them. If you do this though, try not to get as alarmed as I was about how the liquid jellied from the rendered fat. Ewww… squishy… ewww…

CSA Count: 3

Red cabbage, cilantro, garlic

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