Lest you think my happy-go-Mellie demeanor had taken an Unfortunate Downturn….here is a Foodhack, for using a big, cheap cut of meat and making something delicious.
Pork carnitas is, for the Gringo, what gefilte fish is for the Gentile (except that carnitas taste really good). Most of us have heard of the dish, but unless we’re ethnic eaters, it’s likely that we have not made a lot of Latino food at home. Like so many of our favorite ethnic foods, carnitas is what I affectionately call Poverty Food. A nice, large, cheap cut of meat, cooked relatively simply, and served a number of different ways, wasting nothing. There are some variations in how, and how strongly, the meat is seasoned before cooking, what to use for cooking liquid, whether to roast the pork after simmering it or finish it on the stove…I’ve found that seasoning it too lightly doesn’t work well, as the pork can be too bland. But my favorite carnitas method uses a simpler spice mixture.
The Hacks: The overall economy of the dish, the ease in preparation and cooking, and also the omission of LARD, and other healthy updates.
First: Start with a Boston butt or pork shoulder (semi-boneless, also called a picnic shoulder). You choose the size, but like corned beef, it does undergo some Shrinkage, and there is never any problem using all leftovers–so I’d err on the size of Big. I usually make a five or six pound piece.
In a small bowl, mix some kosher salt, cumin, oregano chili powder and minced (or dried) garlic. The exact amounts are not important–just estimate. Rub the mixture all over the pork.
Next: Toss the pork into a Crock Pot, cutting it to fit, if necessary. Add about a cup of Coca-Cola (the Special Sauce of many carnitas-makers) and if you like, some lime or orange wedges. Cover, press the HIGH button and let ‘er rip.
Come back in about five or six hours, remove the meat from the Crock Pot, and shred it, reserving a bit of the liquid. Lightly coat a disposable or foil-lined roasting pan with canola oil. Transfer the shredded meat to the pan, spreading it evenly. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid over the meat, and roast at about 425 degrees, for just a few minutes, to let the pork carmelize (but not dry out). Remove and let cool. Consume!
Y Por Fin: Serve with large, warm flour tortillas, black beans, shredded cheddar, diced red onions, sliced avocado, lime wedges, and anything else that your particular crowd likes in a burrito. Save and refrigerate (or freeze) the leftovers, to warm and top a salad, eat with beans and yellow rice–and um, just warming up and shoveling from the container. Carnitas is cheap, easy enough for a Gringo to master, and tastes even better the next day.