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Mexican Cooking Project #8


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#1 Jaymes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 07:53 PM

Carnitas

I am far from fluent in Spanish, but I do know that 'carne' means meat, and literally, 'carnitas' means 'little meats.'

Carnitas are a very traditional Mexican dish. And, traditionally, carnitas are pork, but you can make them with any meat...beef, chicken, lamb, etc., although for leaner cuts, you'll have to add some fat.

And, although I have heard 'carnitas' used in reference to something akin to the 'pulled pork' of the U.S. southeast, most of the time, 'carnitas' are small squares of pork that have been first boiled, then braised or fried, until the insides are moist, tender and flavorful, and the outsides are crispy.... Think 'pork croutons.'

I use pork shoulder, 1-2 lbs worth. Cut into cubes about 1-2" square or so. (You can remove large pieces of fat, but remember that you will need some fat to eventually fry your carnitas. Some people even add a little lard if your roast is particularly lean.) Place in Dutch oven. (You can use a large saucepan, but remember that you will eventually be frying them, or putting them under the broiler, or doing something else to crisp them, so you need a large surface area.) Add water just barely to cover. Simmer, partially covered, till all water is gone and meat starts frying in its own rendered fat. Reduce heat and fry, stirring frequently, till pieces are evenly browned.

That's the basic method.

But of course to make this really flavorful, you need to be creative along the way. So, what are your options?

First, the liquid in which you boil your carnitas: you can use a little or a lot of beer, wine, tequila, chicken or beef broth, vinegar, lemon, lime, or orange juice. Quite a few recipes call for milk - between ˝ to 1 cup. I usually use chicken broth, the juice of one orange, about ˝ lime, a dash of vinegar, and either tequila, or gin. I really like the sweetness of gin in cooking and use it often, but it's obviously not traditional in carnitas. A friend swears by rum. So, there you go.

Next, you'll probably want to flavor your liquid. The most typical choices for this step are oregano, bay leaves, onions, garlic, epazote, chiles (either chopped or dry or powdered), cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper. One friend puts in some mint; another adds nutmeg and sage. I usually chop up some onions, garlic, chipotles, poblanos, and for seasoning, use a prepared seasoning product called TexJoy that I like with pork and I dust my cubes with that and let them set in the fridge for several hours beforehand.

So now, you've boiled your carnitas down, and you're frying them in the fat, and you might think, "Boy, it'd probably be good if those suckers were caramelizing even more."

Of course, not everyone likes sweetness in their meat, but plenty do. If you're one of them, add a little sugar to the liquid when you add your spices. Choices here are syrups, like Caro or Molasses, or Maple, or brown sugar. Even cola. And if you've added milk, that has enough natural sugars to do the trick. Sometimes I add 2 T brown sugar, and 1 T sorghum (not too much for two pounds of meat, but enough to help brown and caramelize it). Mi amiga, on the other hand, caramelizes a cup of brown sugar in another pan, and then pours it over her browned carnitas, stirring and cooking over high heat for another ten-fifteen minutes or so, until the cubes are well caramelized. Although if you don't like sweetness with your meat, don't bother adding any additional sugars. Your carnitas will still brown up and caramelize nicely.

Rather than browning your carnitas in the fat on top of the stove, many people finish them in an oven on high heat, or under the broiler. Actually, that is my preferred method.

Okay, so now you've got your crispy carnitas. What do you do with them? The answer, of course, is 'anything you want.'

You can just squeeze a little extra lemon or lime over them and serve as is, with some salsa or pico de gallo or escabeche or guacamole and refried beans and tortillas alongside. Or, you can: arrange on top of arroz; garnish a bowl of charro beans; or with chopped onion and cilantro in soft tacos or burritos or quesadillas; or whatever you want.

If you're a person that prefers exact measurements, try this:

Carnitas

Day before, combine:

About 2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into cubes about 1-2" or so (don't remove the fat; you'll need it)
2 chopped white onions
4 garlic cloves, smashed & minced
2 jalapenos, chopped
nice dusting New Mexico red chile power
2 tsp each cumin & oregano (preferably Mexican)

Toss all together. Cover and let sit overnight in fridge.

Next day dump cubes and all into large Dutch oven and add 1/4 C lime juice, 1/2 C orange juice, 1 cup tequila. Then enough chicken broth to barely cover meat.

Allow to simmer stovetop until liquid is gone, and fat is rendering from meat. Keep an eye on it and either cover, or uncover, or partially cover Dutch oven, and turn heat up and down as required to keep the liquid evaporating nicely, but not so quickly that it's all gone before the meat is properly cooked and tender. This may take a little practice.

When the liquid is gone, and the fat is rendering from the meat, turn up heat and fry the pork cubes in their own fat.

Or, turn out into large, shallow roasting pan and spread them out into one layer and roast in hot (450) oven for about 10-20 minutes until meat is crispy (this method is what I prefer). While roasting, stir meat as needed to assure even browning.

Serve with tortillas, pico, slices of lime.

Now, this is the method of making carnitas that I learned long ago, and that I have used lo these many years.

But there are other methods. For one, the famous carnitas of Michoacan.

I am hopeful someone else will step in here and explain how they are made, because I don't know much about them, other than that they are very good. I believe that they are made by starting with your cubes of pork and some lard and frying them from the gitgo.

But again, I don't know, and don't want to give bad advice.

Maybe Cristina or ExtraMSG or RG or one of the other many fine cooks on MF can give us a primer.

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#2 mongo_jones

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 07:57 PM

2 tsp each cumin & oregano (preferably Mexican)


is that powdered cumin or cumin seeds? roasted?

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#3 Jaymes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 08:02 PM

2 tsp each cumin & oregano (preferably Mexican)


is that powdered cumin or cumin seeds? roasted?

I don't know that it matters. I've used both seeds and powdered. Sometimes I roast/toast the herbs to intensify the flavor before I put them in. And then mash them around a little in my molcajete, or rub them between my palms. But if you don't, that's fine, too.

This is really a very forgiving dish.

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#4 JPW

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 08:05 PM

Interesting in that this reverses the braise steps of brown first, simmer second.

Also Jaymes, what about the leftover onions and peppers from the marinade?

How about using the oven method and meanwhile caramalizing the onions in the leftover drippings? Hmmmm.... onions in pork fat. drool.....
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#5 GG Mora

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 08:12 PM

Oh. Now I know what I'll be doing with the 2-lb. shoulder roast I bought from the pig people at the farmer's market.

#6 Jaymes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 08:22 PM

Interesting in that this reverses the braise steps of brown first, simmer second.

Also Jaymes, what about the leftover onions and peppers from the marinade?

How about using the oven method and meanwhile caramalizing the onions in the leftover drippings? Hmmmm.... onions in pork fat. drool.....

There really aren't any "leftover onions and peppers from the marinade." You dump the whole thing into the stewing pot. They all get swept up into the carnitas. And then, whether you are using the stovetop, or oven method, you use all of the drippings. That's what you need to fry the pork in.

After you are finished, you notice little brown bits here and there. You don't discard anything.

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#7 guajolote

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 09:21 PM

2 tsp each cumin & oregano (preferably Mexican)


is that powdered cumin or cumin seeds? roasted?

toasted and ground is best, but powdered is fine.

as i said in the other thread i like to use seville orange juice as the liquid, or 1/2 milk and 1/2 orange juice.

i'm making carnitas for thanksgiving this year insead of turkey :o.

#8 Jaymes

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 10:14 PM

as i said in the other thread i like to use seville orange juice as the liquid,

Seville orange juice can be darn hard to find. Which is why I usually add some lime or lemon juice, as per the recipe above.

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#9 JPW

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 12:36 PM

Interesting in that this reverses the braise steps of brown first, simmer second.

Also Jaymes, what about the leftover onions and peppers from the marinade?

How about using the oven method and meanwhile caramalizing the onions in the leftover drippings? Hmmmm.... onions in pork fat. drool.....

There really aren't any "leftover onions and peppers from the marinade." You dump the whole thing into the stewing pot. They all get swept up into the carnitas. And then, whether you are using the stovetop, or oven method, you use all of the drippings. That's what you need to fry the pork in.

After you are finished, you notice little brown bits here and there. You don't discard anything.

Sorry, should have figured that out.
Didn't seem clear from the oven finish part of the recipe :o
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"Also, we don't "ban" people in the arbitrary fashion you are describing. It's a meticulous and careful process, which is only used sparingly." -jhlurie (now ex-officio)

#10 Guest_Suzanne F_*

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 03:20 PM

as i said in the other thread i like to use seville orange juice as the liquid,

Seville orange juice can be darn hard to find. Which is why I usually add some lime or lemon juice, as per the recipe above.

Is it okay to use that bottled sour orange juice (Goya or some such)? Or just mix the fresh juices?

#11 mongo_jones

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 04:14 PM

i have a stupid question. i was at the store yesterday and they didn't seem to have any boneless pork shoulder. is this because there isn't any? (no, i don't buy pork a lot.) what other cuts will do?

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#12 GrantK

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 04:21 PM

i have a stupid question. i was at the store yesterday and they didn't seem to have any boneless pork shoulder. is this because there isn't any? (no, i don't buy pork a lot.) what other cuts will do?

I usually use country style pork spare ribs which I believe is just pork shoulder cut into rib-like strips. I did make it with bone-in pork shoulder once, but the ribs are much easier to cut into chunks and since I'm lazy, that matters.
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#13 Wilfrid1

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 04:23 PM

No, there is boneless pork shoulder. Also, you can bone it yourself. It takes me half an hour and quite a bit of sweat, but that is because I am a mere amateur.

If you have "butchers" in Colorado, they would probably bone it for you.
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#14 mongo_jones

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 04:29 PM

thank you. i don't know if safeway's meat department qualifies as a "butcher". so, given that i am not going to wrestle with a bone-in shoulder for 30 minutes, and the possibility that there will never be boneless shoulder on sale, are the spare ribs the only option? (i assume these are also boneless.) will buying pork loin and cubing that be a bad idea? and what part of the animal does the meat sold ready cubed for "stew" come from?

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#15 GG Mora

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 05:27 PM

thank you. i don't know if safeway's meat department qualifies as a "butcher". so, given that i am not going to wrestle with a bone-in shoulder for 30 minutes, and the possibility that there will never be boneless shoulder on sale, are the spare ribs the only option? (i assume these are also boneless.) will buying pork loin and cubing that be a bad idea? and what part of the animal does the meat sold ready cubed for "stew" come from?

You can get country-style spare ribs bone-in or boneless. For this purpose, I recommend boneless – I tried it with bone-in once and ended up with dangerous little shards of bone scattered through the meat. You could use pork loin, but it lacks the fat that makes the shoulder so desirable for this. I think it's also a little bland as pork cuts go – sort of like white meat vs. dark on a chicken.