Monday, October 24, 2011

The Best Carnitas EVER!

I love carnitas. They are not something I make too often, because they are fried, but when I do make them they are something that is really special. For those of you who have only seen carnitas on a menu, they can be made a variety of ways. Carnitas basically means “little pieces of meat” and while they can be made with various cuts of meat (beef or pork) they are most often made using pork butt or shoulder. Some cooks like my friend’s mother when I was growing up in Southern California brown the chunks of pork in lard and then finish them off in the oven, others of the more banal variety cut up chunks of pork and simmer or braise them for a very long time until they resemble pulled pork. There are several kinds of rubs or marinades people use for flavor enhancements, but quite frankly nothing can be substituted for really long slow cooked smoked flavor and a finish in a bath of lard. You can use canola oil with excellent results, but lard ads another element of deliciousness.

Now, before you start ranting about how awful lard is for us, take some time to do some research. My blog on how to render lard is a good place to start. You never want to buy a solid white chunk or tub of lard, that has been processed & hydrogenated and it is as bad for you as Crisco. Home rendered lard is pure as the driven snow. And in this recipe, I only lost 1 tablespoon of lard in the cooking process… meaning that the pork was already cooked and therefore did not absorb much of the lard. Of course there was already some fat in the pork, as pork shoulder is a well-marbled piece of meat. And because it had already been through the smoking and braising process, much of the fat was extruded from the pork.

This recipe came about when I tried to recreate the taste of some carnitas I had eaten in Mexico when I went to cooking school there. I still kept the flavor profile in my mind after all of these years and decided to just go for it.

If you do not have a smoker, you can simply braise your pork, even try adding some liquid smoke in the braising liquid. If you do have a smoker, you want to smoke the pork low and slow. A pork shoulder is not a small piece of meat, so you can proceed with this process and use some of the pork for other dishes like pulled pork BBQ sandwiches. Or you can add shredded pork and wild mushrooms to reduced veal stock for a pork ragu. I cooked the pork and after braising pulled it and put it in tubs in the refrigerator to use for various things. There is just enough left to make one more batch of carnitas J.

You can look here to see my blog post from Manhattan on making home made tortillas. 

Here is the recipe which I think you will find very easy, even though the cooking time is spread out over two days, the actual working time is not much at all:

  • Pierce a boneless pork butt and fill the slots with garlic cloves cut in half. Take your favorite rub or even just salt and pepper and rub all over the pork butt. Place in a smoker on low heat (225) for 8 hours.
  • Remove the pork from the smoker and refrigerate overnight. In the morning place the meat in a crock pot on a layer of potatoes, carrots and onions. If you do not have a crockpot, this can be done in the oven. Pour 2 bottles of root beer over the meat. The liquid should come up to the half way mark on the meat. If you need to add more, do so. Cover the pan and cook on low (250) for another 7-8 hours. Remove the meat from the pot and allow to cool.
  • Using two forks pull apart the meat. At this point it should almost fall apart. Choose how much you want to use for Carnitas and refrigerate the remaining meat for other uses such as pulled pork sandwiches.
  • Prepare all side dishes, garnishes and tortillas before frying the carnitas. I made homemade tortillas (but you can buy and grill some), guacamole, chopped cilantro and onions and carrots en escabeche. Another common garnish is radishes and lime. I also had some salsa verde that I used on the beans and carnitas.
  • Just before serving, heat lard or oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees. You will need about 2” of oil or lard and it will be discarded after cooking. In small batches, drop in the meat with a slotted spoon or spider. Cook for one minute and then flip over and cook for another. When the meat starts to get a caramel brown coating, remove it and drain on a rack. Continue on until you have cooked all of the meat. Serve immediately. J


Anonymous said...

This is a really great idea, I like how you used rootbeer. What is the difference between rootbeer and the ever so common cola?

Devany said...

I used root beer because I had it handy, you could use cola or Dr. Pepper, each has a different flavor profile but are similar enough.