The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

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Carnitas

Carnitas!

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.

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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
salt

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
cilantro, minced

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.

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  • David - February 5, 2011 - 5:37 pm

    This looks scrumptious. A lot like the lunch I had today in fact, but much more inviting. I do have to say that your prose attracts me to your posts as much as your food and photos.ReplyCancel

  • Paula - February 6, 2011 - 2:20 am

    when I`m looking at this I`m really hungry :) with such delicious combo it must be awesome! I`m so glad I found your blog and I`m going to stop by your blog more often :)ReplyCancel

  • Nicole Franzen - February 6, 2011 - 7:43 am

    looks delicious and I want to eat one. But I pray to the vegetarian gods :)ReplyCancel

  • Joanne - February 6, 2011 - 10:18 am

    I’m pretty sure that pulled pork is one of the sole reasons why I could never be a vegetarian. And then you went and put it in tacos. Delicious.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - February 7, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    So good, you don’t need the cheese. By the time I was done cooking this I forgot to add the cheese, and they tasted amazing. Best mexican food I have ever made, thanks for sharing. I added a bit more chilli, used epazote instead of cumin and it was perfect. If you have the time, make this recipe.ReplyCancel

  • NicoleD - February 8, 2011 - 11:14 am

    I bet if I made this for my husband he would count it as one of the best things I’ve ever done for him. He is a huge fan of carnitas. Love the pretty pop of the purple cabbage.ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - February 8, 2011 - 5:30 pm

    I just made this for dinner tonight, but used my slow cooker. I mixed all of the ingredients (spices, garlic, and juice), cut the pork into chunks, salt and peppered it, placed it at the bottom of the slow cooker and poured the spice mix over it. Covered with water and cooked on high for 6 hours. SO good! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Caitlin - February 9, 2011 - 2:45 pm

    Love tacos with any and all fillings, but particularly carnitas! Will have to try this version soon – the cumin, chipotle & orange seem perfect!ReplyCancel

  • kimberley - February 11, 2011 - 10:43 am

    @David: thanks! It made me really happy to read that, since I am so inspired by narrative-driven work.
    @Paula: thank you!
    @Nicole: I can’t believe that I didn’t know you were vegetarian. :)
    @Joanne: Ha! I’m with you, though I would probably say that of all pork products.
    @Kelly: Oh my gosh, double win! Thanks so much Kelly!
    @NicoleD: Tee hee. It’s hard not to be a fan of carnitas!
    @Nicole: I love success stories! Also glad to know it worked well in the slow cooker.
    @Caitlin: Me too! Tacos are the best thing ever.ReplyCancel

  • […] MONTH: CARNITAS […]ReplyCancel

  • kickpleat - February 13, 2011 - 11:04 pm

    I love what you said about tacos being an antidote to winter and cold days. It seems to be non-stop grey here and I certainly could use of of that carnitas sunshine! Carnitas are such a favorite, I’ll have to try out your recipe.ReplyCancel

  • Yasmeen - February 16, 2011 - 4:36 pm

    beautiful, just beautiful! madly missing the authentic and incredible mexican food available in the US while living here in Australia (though we do have quite a food scene). now that i know i’m one step closer to the real deal with this gorgeous recipe, i’m feeling just that much better about things. thanks!ReplyCancel

  • tara - February 20, 2011 - 5:22 am

    my stomach just audibly growled at the sight and thought of carnitas … which is troublesome considering it’s 8 a.m. and i’ve no hope of something this delicious for breakfast.ReplyCancel

  • […] Carnitas Tacos – The Year In Food […]ReplyCancel

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