Sunday, December 26, 2010

Party? Pork. Pork? Carnitas!

This is the first of two posts focusing on pork shoulder, as I have another one chilling out in the garage waiting its turn.

While sitting in the family room the other night, my parents each on their own computers and me on mine, my dad turns to me and bemoans the fact that he doesn't know how to cook a pork shoulder. You see, he was looking at the weekly grocery ads (a favorite pastime of both him and my mom--don't ask) and happened to notice that pork shoulder was ultra-cheap at one of the larger local Mexican markets. Seriously, dad? It's called Google. I took the challenge.

For those of you not in the know, pork shoulder is commonly known as the butt of the pig, often referred to as the Boston Butt. Now, I know a certain Miss Salty Seattle recently went the distance and prepared (and ate!) real pork butt. And while I applaud her tenacity and am amazed at the strength of her stomach, cooking and eating a piece of meat that's merely called pork butt, as opposed to actually being pork butt, is as far as I'll go. And lucky for me, my dad came home with fifteen pounds of pork for my experimenting pleasure.

Obviously I've never been confronted with such a massive piece of pork before. We tend to stick to the loins (and bacon!) in this household. After deciding that I wanted to make carnitas, I did my research. Carnitas recipes vary greatly in terms of cooking method--some cook the pork in a large vat of lard, while others prefer to braise or simmer. Then there's the flavoring--as minimal as a little orange juice and oregano, and as much as fifteen types of spices. Living in California, I've had a lot of carnitas in my lifetime. Unfortunately, the vast majority of purveyors sacrifice flavor and juiciness for crispiness. There is a balance, and I was out to find it.

Roasted garlic, warm spices & citrus.

My seasonings were inspired by the 40-something recipes I read, with quantities to fit my tastes (and borderline obsession with garlic). The initial cooking method was adapted from a The Food Lab article over on Serious Eats, which is also a very interesting read. I don't usually toot my own horn, but these carnitas were amazing. Moist and flavorful with lots of crispy bits--just how they should be. When my brother exclaims his praises without any prompting like he did tonight, I know I have a winner. And the lack of hands-on cooking time and quantity of food rendered makes this recipe even more of a winner--and the perfect party food for New Years or even that ridiculously large football game (meh, the Super Bowl) coming up at some point in the next few months. You know, the one I won't be watching...

Before I get to the recipe, I have to share my utter horror (yet fascination) with this piece of pork. First, I had two of these things on the counter, complete with drooping, flabby "skin" (it's not actually skin--it's the layer right underneath, which has a remarkably skin-like texture). Then, as I broke it down into chunks, I got to the bone. Bones don't usually bother me, but as I sliced meat off of this one I came across a joint. And then I exposed the joint. And then tore the joint apart. And it looked remarkably ball-and-socket-like. Yeah, I had to take a picture. My face during the process would have been hilarious to watch...

...Consider what your face is doing right now. Sorry. I had to do it. My pig must have been a real pig, no? Uh yeah. Recipe!

Makes ~3.5lbs

7-8 lb. pork shoulder, bone in
1 large head roasted garlic*
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. ancho chili powder**
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 medium onion, 6 pieces
3 limes, split & juiced
1 large orange, split & juiced
2 bay leaves
simmering water

*To roast garlic, remove papery outside of head until cloves are exposed. Cut off the tips of the cloves and place on large piece of tinfoil. Drizzle with olive oil and seal well in foil. Bake, at 400F, for 35 to 40 minutes until garlic is soft to the touch. Let cool for five minutes and then squeeze garlic out of husk. Mash into a paste.

**Purchase dried ancho chiles at your local Latin market. Your regular grocery store may also carry them near the Latin food with the bagged spices. Cut one pepper into strips and place in a hot frying pan. Lightly toast until no longer sticky and easy to crack. Grind in spice or coffee grinder.

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Remove "skin" from pork, leaving layer of fat at least 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 4" by 4" chunks, also removing the bone. Rinse off and pat dry. Place in a large bowl.

2. Mix together everything from kosher salt through cinnamon. Set aside.

3. Add roasted garlic paste to bowl, and using your hands, rub it into the pork, coating as well as possible. Toss in spice mixture and coat well.

4. Pack pork tightly into a casserole dish with lid or dutch oven such that there isn't much extra space aside from about 1/2" on top. Wedge in chunks of onion, orange & lime peels.

5. Pour orange and lime juice over pork, and add in a little bit of simmering water at a time, until pork is just barely covered. It helps to wedge a fork around the edges after each addition to make sure it is flowing to the bottom of the dish.

6. Cover and place in oven. Cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours until meat is fork tender, checking every hour to re-submerge any pieces that may have floated up (as fat renders, it becomes liquid and may cause this). Note: placing pork on a lipped baking sheet is a good idea in case of any leakage.

7. When pork is done, remove from oven. Using tongs, place meat in a large bowl. Set aside. Note: at this point, using a fork will be futile and just cause the pork to fall apart on you.

8. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain remaining liquid into a pot. Bring liquid to a boil and cook until reduced to about 1 cup. Liquid will be thick and syrupy when complete.

9. In the meantime, break down pork into smaller chunks using two forks, taking care to remove any large chunks of fat.

10. Right before serving, pour reduced liquid into the bowl with the meat, using tongs to coat the pork. Spread onto lipped baking sheet and place under the broiler for 5-8 minutes, until crispy. Flip meat over and repeat.

11. Use forks to shred carnitas further. Serve with tortillas, lemon wedges, avocado, onion and a little cilantro.


Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen said...

Looks lovely and perfect!

Monet said...

As a recently converted vegetarian, I don't think I could have handled the preparation of this...but I sure know I could handle eating it! I love carnitas. Thank you for sharing your ambitious idea and recipe. It looks delicious. I hope you have a great start to your week!

Sommer J said...

I've never had carnitas- this looks absolutely beautiful, thus I shall give them a go in 2011. My lil ones would love this as they love pork and garlic. Great photos as well.

Isabelle said...

Mmmmmm... carnitas. It's really hard to get decent Mexican food up here, and carnitas are even tougher to find because most places only make them once or twice a week.
Sounds like they're pretty easy to make, though. Can't wait to try out this recipe!


One word...heaven! This is going on my menu this week!

briarrose said...

Wonderful job! This would so hit the spot.

Jean said...

I see the crispy bits that I love so much. Congrats on a successful pork challenge. My sister makes some mean carnitas but I've never tried to make it myself.

You and I have been on the same cooking wavelength lately but I've sadly fallen behind. At least I have yours to read and enjoy.

Tiffany said...

OK, I will start my diet next week......I have a major weakness for carnitas, yours looks fantastic!

Lauren said...

This is swell, but where was our delivery? We were expecting tacos. Also, I think it's pretty cool that you made 3.5 pounds of carnitas. That takes character.

Kita said...

I love a good pork shoulder but have never tried it in carnitas.... Im making chicken enchiladas tonight - think the BF will mind more Mexican tomorrow? lol

Jackie said...

Yes, this looks like something I would like to eat right now, thank you very much. I've always wondered what 'pork butt' was, because for a while there I actually thought it was, erm, the arse of a pig. If I can procure the rest of the ingredients (like dried ancho chillies) I will be having a go at this. Carnitas in London!

Alternatively you could come visit and make this for me. Or vice versa. But you will be doing the making.

Jax x

She's Cookin' said...

OMG, go ahead and toot your horn because your carnitas are crisped to perfection! Lots of garlic, spices and citrus, YUM!

Erika said...

Sounds delicious! I cheat and make "carnitas" in the slow cooker - no crispy bits, but very tender meat.

Stephanie said...

Pork FTW! There's a Peruvian dish called Jamon de Pais that includes several of the ingredients your recipe calls for. Except we marinate the pork for 48 hours and then boil it. Slice it up and eat it betwixt two crunchy breads. But, honestly, I'll eat pork any which way.

sara @ CaffeIna said...

When I saw the pic on twitter the other day I was hungry and still did not know what to cook for dinner. Bad timing to see your pic. Since then I'm craving for pork...yes I do have savory cravings too. I love this carnitas recipe and I'm looking forward to see what you come out with next, for the other shoulder you still have in the garage (careful, though, I might come down to LA and find your pork shoulder!)

Mark said...

I found your recipe in a sea of baked goods on foodbuzz. I love the dish. Looks like you cooked the meat perfectly. Who said you couldn't have avocado and lime around the holidays? Thanks.

Kim said...

I've been anxiously awaiting this post! So glad it turned out, because now I have to try it. Think I can add hot sauce and roll it into a carnitas burrito?! (A la Rositas, one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican burrito joints).

When I tackle something new, I too fish the first 5 pages of Google, open about 20 different recipes, read them all, mix and match, and cross my fingers.

Absolutely book-marking this one. Whatcha gonna do with the other piece?!


Daydreamer Desserts said...

Wow your pictures look so good [slurp], carnitas are one of my favorite Mexican appetizers, and from the looks of it you nailed it darling.

Lawyer Loves Lunch said...

I am both intrigued and disturbed by the joint picture. I really think I'd become a vegetarian if I didn't stick to meat sold in wrapped and sold in styro trays. Well, that and I really like steak :)

Lana said...

Pork butt, deliciousness! Nothing to do with the anatomical location of the piece of meat, but with the method of transportation (the barrels in Boston were called "butts" - just a piece of useless trivia that fills my head:)
I have a lot of people asking me at the cash register how to cook it. It is the most underestimated and cheap cut of pork, and so giving and flavorful.
I am applauding your adventurous spirit. The carnitas look marvelous. Now I want to make them again, just to show my father another approach to the piggy.
Great photo, really!

Sabrina Modelle said...

Mmmm, so yummy. My mouth is watering like crazy. I love working with pork butt, and now I have something new to try.
The Tomato Tart

Megan said...

I keep coming back to this because it looks so freaking delicious. As soon as I get my hands on a big piece of pork, I'm making this. For real.

Stephanie @ Per l'Amore del Cibo said...

15 pounds?! Sounds like you've got a lot of experimenting to do! These carnitas look really really good. The skin and joint, though, I could have lived without. Please and thanks.

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