January 15, 2011

Carnitas!

I LOVE carnitas! If you're not familiar with this dish, it is slow cooked pork shoulder, which has been marinated and cooked in garlic, fresh citrus juice and hot chilies until it falls apart. It is removed from the marinade, shredded, then fried until parts of the pork are browned and crispy. It's incredibly delicious! We eat it as a soft taco filling topped with salsa verde, this is salsa made with tomatillos, hence the green color, and top it off with queso fresco or sour cream. This is great as a taco filling and you could also use it in a Mexican style salad.

This is a great dish not only because it's spicy, delicious and satisfying, but this recipe yields a LOT! I have fed a dinner party of 8 with this and had some left over. If you're cooking for just your family, you will have enough left over for lunch or dinner the next day. You can make it something slightly different by using a different salsa, or by having it on a salad- adding fresh corn and avocado would be delicious.

Carnitas
10 garlic cloves
2 jalapenos (with seeds)
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tsp. sea salt
fresh cracked pepper (I use 20 grinds from my pepper mill)
2 poblano chilies (with seeds)
2 Tbsp. Asian chili garlic paste
1/2 cup (packed) cilantro
5 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 2-3" pieces

When working with the jalapenos, wear disposable plastic gloves, the kind you see at doctors' offices. The poblanos aren't as hot, so it's probably ok if you don't wear them when working with the poblanos. For both the jalapenos and the poblanos, rinse the peppers, cut off the top stem portion, and place them in the blender. Don't remove the seeds- unless you want the heat level to be more mild (I like this with all the seeds). Place all the remaining ingredients, excluding the pork, in the blender with the hot peppers. The garlic cloves just need to be peeled and have the roots cut off, but they can go in the blender whole, as can the cilantro. It is alright to use the whole stalk of cilantro, this doesn't have to be just the leaves. Blend the ingredients together. Try to use freshly squeezed citrus juice.

Cut the pork into 2-3" pieces, cutting away areas that are predominantly all fat. Don't worry if a piece seems to be 50% fat, that's alright, just discard pieces that are 75% fat or more. This is cooked for such a long time that the fat seems to liquefy and what you are left with is predominantly meat. Place the pieces of pork in a large dutch oven. Pour marinade over the meat, mix with a spoon to coat the pieces of meat. Cover the pot with foil, then place lid on top of the pot.

Bake at 325 degrees fahrenheit for 3 1/2 hours. Toward the end of the cooking time you'll be able to smell this!

Remove from the oven and uncover, allow to sit for about 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat and place in a bowl. Some of the marinade will 'come along,' that's fine, and go ahead and save about 1 cup of the marinade. You can use this later if the meat isn't flavorful enough or isn't moist enough. Using two forks, shred the pork in the bowl. Do NOT use silver or silver plated silverware for any of this- the vinegar and citrus will turn it black (I learned the hard way)!

I usually cook and shred the pork the night before I plan to eat it and refrigerate it overnight. Here's what NOT to do- don't leave it in the marinade after cooking overnight, it will be unbelievably spicy! So if you do refrigerate the cooked meat overnight, remove it from the marinade and place in a separate bowl. You do not have to refrigerate it overnight, you can just proceed to frying it if you're ready to eat it!

In a medium sized frying pan, using medium heat, fry the shredded pork in batches, being careful not to crowd (If you crowd, you won't get the wonderful browned crispy parts). While the meat is frying, heat your tortillas, either in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel or in a skillet on the stove (use medium heat and tongs to flip the tortillas and remove them from the pan).

To assemble your delicious carnitas soft taco, place the crispy shredded pork on the tortilla, top with salsa verde and queso fresco or sour cream. Enjoy!

I buy salsa verde in cans in the Mexican section of the supermarket. Feel free to use other salsas, too!

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