Talk of the rapturous qualities of pork, bacon in particular, and especially its animal power to sway vegetarians from the fold, makes me sort of ashamed that the thing that brought me out of vegetarianism was the pedestrian chicken. I understand, though, why people praise the pig, and why, time and again, it is preached as the gateway meat. The smell of it cooking, whether a roast, a braised shoulder, sausage or bacon, is such an animal thing – a profound assault of fat, protein, salt and spices sending the olfactory receptors into overload.
So, when you decide to spend a weekend afternoon making carnitas, just know that you’ve been warned, in advance, of its animal power. Your entire house will smell ridiculous. You will be hungry for hours, tempted perhaps to gnaw on a piece of wood to restrain your unquenchable hunger. Stay hungry, though. Carnitas are worth a huge appetite.
Tacos are, I believe, a great antidote to the dark days of winter. There’s something in them that is optimistically spring-like, the bright colors of the vegetables and their crunch contrasting perfectly with the salty heaven that is slow-roasted pork.
This Carnitas recipe is part of the February Seasonal Food Guide.
For the carnitas:
2.5-3 pounds pork shoulder
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cloves garlic
juice of one orange
water to cover
salt + pepper
For the guacamole:
1 large or 2 small avocados
3 Tbs cilantro
6 scallions, white + light green parts only, minced
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon neutral oil
For the tacos:
corn tortillas, about two per person
feta or cotija cheese, crumbled
1.5 cups shredded cabbage
1 lime, cut into small wedges,
1/2 lime, juiced
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium high.
Whisk together the ancho and chipotle powders with the cumin. Slice the pork into three-inch chunks. Generously rub the surface of the pork with the spice mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pot. Working in two batches, sear both sides of the pork, leaving undisturbed until each side has formed a crust, about 5 minutes per. Remove the first batch, set aside, and repeat with the second. Remove the second batch.
Pour one cup of water into the pot and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Return the pork to the pot, along with the garlic cloves and the orange juice. Pour enough water to just cover the meat.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, and leave to cook, uncovered and undisturbed, for two hours.
While the pork is simmering, prepare your accompaniments for the taco.
In a mixing bowl, combine the avocado with the cilantro, green onion and lime juice. Add salt to taste and set aside.
Mix the cabbage with the remaining juice of the lime, add salt to taste, and set aside.
When most of the liquid has reduced, shred the meat with tongs or a fork. Return to a boil to reduce the remaining liquid. Brown the pork in the rendered fat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the meat has developed a nice crust, remove from heat and set aside.
The last thing you will want to do is warm the tortillas, either in an oven at 200 degrees, covered, or individually in a dry, hot skillet.
Serve the carnitas with a dollop of guacamole, cabbage, cheese and a sprinkle of cilantro.