Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mexico Bonus Round: Carnitas

When I was at H Mart the other week, I came across a package of pre-cut pork shoulder chunks for stew. My mind immediately went CARNITAS. Because I love carnitas, but let's face it, dealing with a giant hunk of pork is a chore. These chunks were small enough that making it was not nearly as much of a process as I thought it would be (as the recipe said it would be). I'm making quesadillas with them for dinner, but the preliminary word is that they are absolutely delicious.


4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat (I used maybe 1.5)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
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 (I forgot this, it's still delicious)

Season the pork with salt. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop (I used my cast iron skillet). Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.
Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel, then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.
Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd’s submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.
Braise in the oven uncovered for 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.
Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.
Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

Seriously delicious quesadilla

carnitas by itself after cooking

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