Friday, August 2, 2013

Taking it Slow (Pork Carnitas)

One of the things people tend not to realize about working in a bakery is that it is hot. Those cheerful, toasty ovens feel like blast furnaces on days when it's already over 90 in the shade. The never-ending quest for cool leads us to all manner of salads, ices, and chilled soups, but there's still something inherently more cheering and satisfying about warm food. The trick, then, is to produce a hot meal without raising the temperature of your kitchen, and for that the slow cooker is a hero once again. Throw in the ingredients and they can gently braise all day as your house remains marvelously cool.

Carnitas (literally "little meats") is a delicious dish of braised and shredded pork, the Mexican answer to pulled pork barbecue. Slow and gentle heat break down collagen, fat, and protein, for amazingly tender meat that shreds effortlessly with a fork, giving you luscious, succulent strands of savoriness with which to fill tacos, tamales, and burritos with ease. Once upon a time, carnitas were fried in lard, but a slow cooker and some broth can achieve similar results in a far more heart-healthy manner.

Little meats, big flavor
The full, hearty flavor of this dish owes most of the thanks to the extensive and varied family of Latin seasonings known collectively as adobo. Hailing from the Iberian peninsula, this practice's origins lie in pre-refrigerated food preservation. Salting is an ancient method which reduces moisture and inhibits microbial growth, but the addition spices, particularly hot peppers, provides an extra antibacterial kick and the spicy capsaicin allows the mix to more deeply penetrate the meat. This recipe uses both the original wet marinade preparation of adobo, via the chipotles in adobo, as well as the Puerto Rican variety of adobo, a dry spice rub of seasoned salt. Both items are available in the international sections of most groceries.

Chipotles in adobo = heaven
Though the adobo itself contains copious seasonings, it also receives a little reinforcement with some freshly smashed garlic, the brilliant herbal tang of bay leaves, and the smoky depths of my beloved ground cumin, echoing the smoky flavor of the chipotles (themselves smoked jalapenos). I wouldn't tempt fate by testing the unrefrigerated shelf life of carnitas, but kept chilled it's easy to brew up a giant pot and hold in reserve for a week, either dishing out perfect portions or serving a crowd at a backyard fiesta. Either way, the recipe is easier than falling off a log, so grab the ingredients and a margarita and enjoy.

Serving suggestion
Slow pork carnitas

"Boston butt" is the preferred cut of meat for this dish, and for extra convenience you can start with a roast that's frozen solid. The slow cooker will take care of it.

2-3 lbs lean pork shoulder, trimmed
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs dried oregano
2 tbs adobo seasoning
3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce + 1 tbs of the sauce
2 bay leaves
1 c chicken stock

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and allow to slowly heat on low for 6 hours. After 6 hours, the pork should be fully cooked and slipping off the bone. Remove the bone and bay leaves and shred the pork using two forks, shredding in the chipotles and garlic, as well. Mix the shredded meat with the accumulated juices, cover, and allow to cook for 1 more hour.

On a roll
Serve with warm flour tortillas, ripe avocado slices, and sprigs of fresh cilantro.

This post is also available as an article in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Visit the Sun Gazette for more info.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Looks like a great party dish!