Thursday, February 06, 2014
Hey, I made carnitas! And it was super easy! And one of the best meals I cooked in 2013! I can’t stop using exclamation points!
Buying a pork shoulder and slowly braising it is one of those food-bloggy things I never seemed to get around to doing. I grew up thinking I didn’t like pork (oh, the dry pork chops of my childhood), so long after I knew how to do all kinds of things with chicken, I had never even tried cooking a tenderloin. But my enjoyment of pork is steadily growing, and carnitas are a particular favorite, so when I saw this recipe at Dinner With Julie my heart skipped a beat. It sounded doable—put meat and liquid in a pot and throw it in the oven for a few hours. The hardest part would be obtaining a pork shoulder, and that didn’t turn out to be difficult at all (the meat counter at Whole Foods has pretty much everything).
Cooking pork in milk might sound weird, but I’ve seen similar recipes before (Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk is getting rave reviews, for instance) and knew that it adds sweetness and aids caramelization. I was all set to go until I read the comments on the post and someone mentioned the carnitas recipe at Smitten Kitchen, which turns out to be from the Homesick Texan, an authority if ever there was one. Those two sources have never steered me wrong, so I considered switching recipes, but Julie’s sounded easier and I liked that I could do it in the oven instead of on the stovetop. I did worry it would be bland, so I swiped the garlic, cumin, and generous salt quantity from the SK/HT version, and boy was that an excellent decision; the garlic smelled particularly amazing during the nearly 4 hours this was simmering in my oven on a Sunday afternoon.
Needless to say, the result was incredible: a little sweet, a little tangy, mostly porky; crisp-browned in a few places and meltingly tender (and yes, just the right amount of fatty) everywhere else. As I texted A the next day while eating leftovers, “Hot damn these carnitas are delicious.” I really couldn’t believe I had made them, even though it was so ridiculously easy. The flavor was delicate but didn’t need much accompaniment—just a few tortillas and guacamole did the job for me, although of course you can add any taco-type toppings you see fit. It makes a ton of food but you’ll have no trouble finding uses for the leftovers—in salads, on pizza, tossed in BBQ sauce for a pulled-pork sandwich, and if all else fails, just freeze it. We devoured almost all of ours in taco form, but I threw the last scraps into a Southwest Scramble and it was excellent.
2-3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (butt) or boneless country pork ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large orange, washed and quartered
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1 cup milk (original recipe says whole, but I used 2% and it was fine)
Black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Cut the meat into a few chunks and brown each piece on all sides, then transfer them to a Dutch oven or other heavy lidded baking dish. Squeeze the orange wedges over the meat and toss in the rinds alongside; add the garlic, cumin, and salt. Pour in the milk, then add enough water to almost cover the meat. Sprinkle with pepper, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.
3. Break or pull the meat apart into smaller pieces, remove and discard the orange rind, and turn the oven up to 375 degrees. Roast the meat uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is crisp and brown on the edges. (If there still seems like there’s a lot of fat/liquid in the pot, you can just drain it off and discard it before eating.)
4. Serve the pork on warm corn or flour tortillas with the toppings of your choice, such as salsa, guacamole or diced avocado, finely chopped onion or scallions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
Serves: At least 8
Time: 4 hours
Leftover potential: Awesome; versatile and freezes well.