Carnitas! (because I missed France)
Remember that Shaggy song “It Wasn’t Me?” It came out sometime in the late 90s when I was in middle school. A year or so after it came out I went to France for the first time and that song was incredibly popular. I guess it was a simpler time when not everyone was on the Internet and cultural sensations took a while to cross the Atlantic Ocean to become popular in other countries outside the U.S.
Part of my trip involved a home stay and my host family took me to a parade in Marseille (they lived about an hour away in a little community with amazing cheese farms). I don’t actually remember what the parade was celebrating, I can’t recall what we did before or after the parade, all I really remember is that Marseille was a tad smelly. See, the garbage workers in Marseille had been on strike for a while and as a result a fair amount of trash had accumulated (shocking, French on strike?!?!?!). What else do I remember? Dinner that night. Oh, and a float during the parade blasting “It Wasn’t Me” and thousands of French people singing along to the title words. The host mother later asked me what the song was about and she simultaneously turned bright red and cracked up. Ever since then I associate “It Wasn’t Me” with France.
A few days ago I heard that song on the radio (it was being played during an “old school hour” [which made me feel ancient]) and I quickly became nostalgic for France. While a logical person might make a French dish, or eat some baguette and fromage (ooh, I want that for lunch now), I decided to make carnitas. The evening of the parade my host father made carnitas and I fell in love with the dish. Since then I order carnitas almost every time I see them on the menu and have been itching to try them myself.
I stumbled across a carnitas recipe David Lebovitz blogged about. Seeing as he lives in France and all I figured it would be the perfect recipe. While time consuming, it was incredibly simple to make and was just as good (if not better) than any restaurant. The pork was in luscious, juicy strands with copious amounts of crunchy, caramelized bits of skin. It’s everything I seek in a carnitas and if you’re looking for a recipe, I cannot recommend this one enough. I served mine with homemade corn tortillas, pico, Spanish rice, a bit of sour cream, and sliced avocado.
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog Living The Sweet Life In Paris, where it was 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 salt
- 2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
- Juice of one orange
- 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. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Aggressively season chunks of pork with salt.
3. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop (I used a Dutch Oven, but use anything that can go from the stove to the oven). Cook the pieces of pork in a single layer until very browned on each side. To avoid overcrowding, I cooked my pork in two batches. I’m a touch compulsive when browning meat and to ensure everything was perfectly browned it took me over half an hour. You don’t have to be as picky as me, but don’t rush this process. You want your meat browned on all sides.
4. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot, and blot away any excess grease and fat with a paper towel, then pour in the juice of one orange and a little less than a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the caramelized brown bits.
4. Stir in cinnamon, chile powders, bay leaves, cumin, and garlic.
5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd’s submerged in liquid.
7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 2½ to 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. You should plan on letting your pork cook for up to 3½ hours, but it might take less. My pork was beginning to fall apart at 2 hours and change and by 3 hours it was so tender and fell apart by simply lifting a piece out of the pan, and almost all of the liquid had evaporated.
8. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish. You can shred the pork by using two forks, or your hands.
9. The original recipe instructed me to return the pork to the oven and continue cooking the shreds until they developed a deeper, darker color and became even crispier. I found the pork to be perfect. It was tender and moist, yet had plenty of caramelized, crunchy bits so I decided to not cook it further. Use your judgment and cook longer if you like crispier, or serve as is. Whatever floats your boat.
This was the only disappointing part of the meal. I won’t bother posting the recipe. It wasn’t that bad, but it just wasn’t very good. I’ve had box mixes with more flavor. Can anyone recommend a good Spanish rice recipe?
Pico de Gallo
This recipe will make A LOT, and is very easy to reduce in half for a more reasonable amount (the below picture is just a teeny tiny portion of what it actually made).
- 6 large tomatoes, cut in half
- 4 jalapenos (more if you prefer spicier)
- 2 onions (I used one red and one sweet)
- Juice of two limes
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons of salt
1 bunch of chopped cilantro (use more or less depending on your taste… I also used organic cilantro, which was in a much, much smaller bunch than the non-organic)
1. Preheat oven to broil.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil (for easier cleanup).
3. Place whole jalapenos and tomato halves, skin side up on baking sheet.
4. Place under broiler for a few minutes, or until the skin slightly blackens.
5. Once the tomatoes and jalapenos have cooled, you’ll want to skin and seed the tomatoes and skin the jalapenos (feel free to seed the jalapenos if you want something mild). Definitely let the ingredients cool. You don’t want to grab a tomato and have it squirt pipping hot juice all over your white shirt (not that that happened to me or anything).
6. Roughly chop all ingredients besides cilantro and place in food processor. Lightly pulse until all ingredients are in a medium to small, uniform size. Add in cilantro and pulse until all ingredients are in a small to fine chop.
Roasting the veggies and pulsing the final product isn’t traditional. I happened to make this in March when the tomatoes weren’t especially ripe and found cooking them improved the flavor. I also don’t like chunky salsas, which is why I wanted something with slightly smaller chunks.
I LOVE kitchen gadgets. I can’t say a tortilla press was incredibly high up on my list of must-have items, but when I used one and made amazing corn tortillas I couldn’t imagine my life without one. Making tortillas is so simple and cheap. All you need is maza flour, water, a little salt, tortilla press, and a way of cooking them. You can find a cast iron press and skillet on Amazon for less than $40 and a bag of the flour will set you back less than $5 and can be found at almost any supermarket. You can either buy a few packages of the lame, packaged tortillas at a store or you can invest the same amount of money in equipment and make your own at home.