Carnitas tacos

I have a confession to make. Last week’s parmesan-cauliflower cake was sort of a dud. After eating it for lunch and dinner two days in a row, I gave Denali a slice and gave the garbage the rest. In a panic to post something, anything, I’m afraid I lowered my standards.

With that off my chest, I have a vow for you readers: No more half-assed recipes. If I eat gummy, iffy food during the week, well, then I’ll post a photo of my dog in a pink tutu. Or Mike asleep in his scrubs curled in the fetal position on the living room floor, again. I figure a photo that elicits a chuckle is worth far more than a mediocre recipe dressed up to be better than it is, leaving you, poor soul, to discover that it’s just sort of “meh.”

So, now, permit me to tell it to you straight: You need to make carnitas next weekend. If you start sentences with “Mexican food” and end them with “Yum,” this recipe belongs in your repertoire for special occasions. I know last week I was waxing poetic about vegetables, and I still stand behind my leafy greens, but let’s give pork its due. These tacos are crispy, smoky-molten goodness.

All that’s missing is a Pacifico with lime

I had bookmarked the recipe from David Lebovitz’ blog last month, so it was a happy coincidence when the hubby requested tacos for a get-together we threw on Saturday. (Great to see you Lily! And Kyle and Nat!) Plan to carve out some time for this process, however. The active cooking time is fairly minimal, but you need to get the pork in the oven early in the afternoon to let it braise for at least three and a half hours before dinnertime. Carving up the pork shoulder into chunks and trimming off the fat also took time.

A few more notes:

  • Pork shoulder and pork butt are essentially the same cuts of the pig, so don’t fret if your local butcher only sells pork butt. Buy that.
  • As I forgot to purchase cinnamon sticks, I substituted 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and that seemed to lend the necessary spice without being too overpowering.
  • I also skipped the salting/refrigerating step and jumped straight to salting the pork and browning it in a big pot.
  • Lastly, I was in a rush at the end so I transferred the shredded pork to another dish and passed it under the broiler to crisp it up. Natalie, her Southern roots showing, caught me before I tossed the remaining juices, a.k.a. gravy. Don’t let it go to waste!

Carnitas Tacos

Serves Eight

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1 to 3 days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)

2. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.

3. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel, then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are two-thirds submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin, and garlic.

6. Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.

7. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.

8. Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

Serve with warmed corn tortillas and your choice of toppings. We topped ours with shredded green and purple cabbage, guacamole, and salsa. For lunch, I added cilantro and tomatoes. Yum.