Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finding Happiness at the Bottom of a Measuring Cup: Carnitas Tacos

Being from the Golden State, I often find myself lamenting the lack of good taquerias in Manhattan.  Sure there are Mexican restaurants, but they mainly seem to divide into dirt-cheap and practically dirt-quality Tex Mex or upscale restaurants that produce respectable, but not awesome food at prices that would still seem laughable in California even if those numbers were pesos, not dollars.

So the solution to this dearth of quality, cheap, south of the border eats?  Make your own!  My sister and I decided to embark on this project by tackling a taqueria staple, carnitas.  For those of you who haven't had the privilege, carnitas is pork that has been slowly braised until tender and then is crisped at the end to give juicy, crispy pork morsels that make an unbeatable filling for tacos, burritos, you name it.

After cruising a few recipes on the internet and making a survey of what ingredients I actually own, I came up with this recipe.  The cooking time is a while, around 2.5 hours, but the amount of active work is quite minimal.  Also the leftovers reheat really well.  I usually toss mine in a nonstick pan to get it extra crispy the second time around.

Carnitas tacos

For tacos:
Corn tortillas
Canned black beans (or homemade if you're like that)
Guacamole/sliced avocado
Whatever other toppings your heart desires

For Carnitas:
3-4 lbs pork shoulder divided into thick slices/segments
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion cut into thick wedges
3 cloves of garlic peeled
1/2 orange cut into two wedges
3 cups chicken stock
Garlic salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 F
2) Generously season pork with garlic salt and pepper on all sides
2) Melt butter and olive oil together in a large heavy pot like a Dutch oven.  Once oil and butter are very hot add pork and sear until brown.  Turn the pieces periodically to brown all sides.
3) Squeeze juice from oranges onto the pork and then add the rinds to the pot. Add onion, garlic cloves and top off with chicken broth.
4) Arrange the pieces of pork so they are mainly submerged in broth. Cover the pot tightly with a lid (cover tightly with foil if your lid fits loosely, before replacing the lid) put the pot in the oven and let braise for 1.5 -2 hours, until the pieces of pork are tender and can be shredded with a fork.
5) Remove pot from oven. Remove orange rinds from pot and discard. Using a fork or tongs shred pork into small pieces and mash onions and garlic cloves into the pork
6) Place pot back on burner and over medium-high heat allow the liquid to boil off, stirring the pork periodically to prevent burning until almost all the liquid has been absorbed by the pork or has evaporated.
7) Assemble tacos: Heat a tortilla and place heated beans, carnitas, salsa, avocado and any additional toppings in a row down the center of the tortilla. Fold in half and eat!

These Carnitas would also make a great base for other dishes like quesadillas, the filling for tamales or a yummy braised pork sandwich with barbecue sauce.


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