Pork Carnitas (for a pot-luck crowd)

I love many varieties of “ethnic” foods, and enjoy attempting to re-create some of these in my own kitchen.  I’ve focused more on Asian and Mediterranean, and less on south of the (my) border, but I love Mexican, Peruvian and Brazilian as well.

So anyhow, for a local pot luck, I signed up to make pork carnitas — which would be one of several things stuffed into, say, soft tacos or taco shells, that other people would provide.  You can also turn this into a lettuce wrap, which would be my preference.  Or, you could eat this straight up if you are so inclined…

Pork carnitas

Served!

Warning:  This is NOT going to be quick and easy!!

This is the blog post recipe I more or less followed, from The Yummy Life:

http://www.theyummylife.com/carnitas_shredded_pork

  • 1 approximately 5.25 lb) pastured pork shoulder butt, fat removed, broken down into 8 chunks.  Because this cut has bones, the portion sizes were not identical.  (My source used lean loin meat, but with pastured meat, there is some lean-ness already there, and you do need a little fat for tenderness and flavor.)  After excess fat was removed, and the bone factored out in dinner calculations — although the bone was cooked in — I’d say between 4.5 to 5.o pounds meat. Do cut out any fractured segments of bone your butcher may have missed!  When we are done creating this meal, no one but no one should be looking for sharp edges of bone!
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt.  Ooops, what’s that?  Okay, I pre-seasoned the meat with one teaspoon pink Himalayan salt, 1/4 teaspoon each of Aleppo ground chili (a mild ground chili obtained from Penzey’s), and Trader Joe’s ground Rainbow Peppercorns.
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil, sourced from Costco.  I’d rather do this than canola oil.  Frankly, canola oil appears to be better than corn oil, or generic vegetable oil, but since there’s some discussion there still ongoing, I’ll do the avocado oil thang, if it remains sourceable from the less-expensive Costco.  I probably didn’t do the full 2 tablespoons, but then again, I didn’t measure.  I’m thinking one heaping tablespoon. Ghee also has a high flash point, and would be good for browning meat.
  • 1 cup low sodium, vegetable broth, from the box is fine.
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper.  (I used one teaspoon, roughly speaking,
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 cups salsa verde (store-bought or homemade). I ended up using 16 ounces of store-bought, which is a little shy of 2 cups, but next time at any rate it will be home-made.
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed

Rub down your meat with either seasoned salt, or with a mixture of salt, Aleppo ground chili and ground pepper. Let sit a few minutes.

Heat your skillet or Dutch oven to a medium high, add the oil.  Wait a couple more minutes, then add the meat.  I used the divided portion concept – half of the meat was browned; then the other half.  Brown the meat on each side — including edges — about 4 minutes each side.  As you go along, the meat will more readily brown, due to the residues in the skillet, and so some sides may take less time.  Set aside when done.

Add all the meat to the crock pot,  and use the veggie broth to de-glaze your skillet or Dutch oven, pouring all this over into the crock pot when done.

Top off the crock pot with all the other ingredients except the three spices at the end.  (Sigh when your jar of salsa verde isn’t quite 2 cups worth!)  It will do.

Set the crock pot to cook on HIGH, for 4 hours.  If you have smaller chucks of meat, you can check it at 3.5 hours.  Meat should be tender and fall apart, without shredding up entirely.  (Some of that will happen later…)  At any rate, if you want to run this on LOW, you can use 8 hours, but be forewarned that doing this while you go off to work has to take into account your commute time, your lunch time and your traffic and errands going home time, which for me turns this into about 10 or so hours, rendering the pork obnoxious…  Alas.)

Pork Carnitas

At the end of the crock pot stage, prior to shredding and then de-fatting (in the fridge overnight)

Break and roughly shred up the meat using two forks, and discard any bones. Return to the liquid, and allow to cool to a fridge-friendly temperature.  Refrigerate overnight, and remove and discard that crusty fat which forms at top before proceeding further.

(You CAN take a whole day to make this meal (using a de-greaser) and serve it that night, but since I knew what the day of the pot luck was going to be like in my life, I opted to do the above about three weeks in advance — and yes, there was also out-of-town/vacation time to consider in between.  So, I picked a weekend where I could crock pot, and then refrigerate it overnight, remove and discard the fat, and then freeze the rest.  Obviously, your needs will differ.)

Back to the meat — place it in a baking dish, and to this you want to add about 3 cups of the de-fatted liquid, which appeared to be just about what I had, so I added it all back to the meat.  I also added in the coriander, cumin and paprika, and mixed it up with a spoon.

Bake at 300 F for 30 minutes, pull from oven, and mix it up.  Return to oven and repeat, pulling it back out at 15-20 minute intervals hereafter to mix again.  What you are trying to do is cook off the extra water, concentrating the flavors, but without drying out the meat (hence the mixing).  Do this for as long as it takes to get to a consistency you like.   This may take a couple of hours or so.  I like a little liquid to remain; dry carnitas are not to my liking, although you can certainly find them at restaurants.

Back for seconds... the pork carnitas are at the bottom.  Everything was SOOoooo tasty!

Back for seconds… the pork carnitas are at the bottom. Everything was SOOoooo tasty!

Eat them straight up, make lettuce “taco shells”.  Another attendee at the potluck supplied optional hard and soft taco shells of the traditional corn variety.  There were lots of cooked dishes and various Mexican condiments (and Margaritas), too.

The source websites:

http://www.theyummylife.com/carnitas_shredded_pork — for the bulk of the recipe; I did vary out on the cut of pork to something more nutritionally dense and flavorful, and the oil source, and the broth source; and went with pink Himalayan salt over the ambiguous “seasoned” salt.

http://paleofoodiekitchen.com/2013/04/slow-cooker-carnitas/ — for the three spices added in last in the process.  It just didn’t seem “Mexican” enough without them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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