Friday, February 1, 2013

Community Carnitas

Last night was Sweet Pea's chance to sponsor a social event at the fire pit, which is Jekyll Harbor Marina's gathering place for the cruisers and comes complete with gas grill. We did Mexican slow-fried pork tacos also known as carnitas. Here's how.

For 20 people start with:
  • 5 lbs. pork shoulder (Boston Butt) or similar inexpensive cut of pork roast, the fattier the better.
  • Aluminum foil turkey roasting pan
  • Spices: cumin, cinnamon, chili power, oregano, rosemary, ground black pepper
  • 3 limes
  • 1 cup of any liquid: cola, orange juice, water
  • Vegetable oil or similar cooking oil
  • Flour tortillias
  • Taco garnishes, provided by guests: chopped cilantro, cheese, sour cream, avocado, salsa, lime wedges, radish slices, etc.
Prepare the pork:
  • Mix spices to form a rub, gauging quantities by eye and inclination.
  • Cut pork into chunks, approximately 2 - 3 inches in size.
  • Place pork chunks in aluminum foil pan and coat all surfaces with the spice mix.
  • Arrange the pork chunks around the side of the pan to create a small cavity in the center.
  • Squeeze in several limes and then add the rinds to the cavity.
  • Add 1 cup liquid -- I used Coca Cola since it was on hand and might even add a complex flavor but orange juice or water also works.
Cook the pork:
  • Place foil pan on gas grill or oven.
  • Add cooking oil to cover pork.
  • Roast at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-3 hours until much of the water is evaporated.
Initially the liquid will simmer as the heat evaporates the water, holding the temperature to 212 degrees. Ideally this step will take about 2 hours, producing a fork-tender meat that is easily shredded but with a soft crust.

When the water is mostly evaporated there will be fewer steam bubbles -- the simmer will appear to slow down -- and as a result the temperature of the oil will begin to rise, crisping the pork. If this final step is extended too long, the meat will gradually become dry and tough, so monitor by periodically tasting to gauge the optimal balance between a succulent fall-apart tender interior and crispy outside. Use a beer or wine to refresh the palate between tastings, just to be sure.

Make the carnitas:
  • Remove the pork chunks and discard the oil. Use extreme caution when handling the hot oil.
  • Return pork to the pan and hold in the warm grill along with a stack of flour tortillas.
  • Shred pork prior to placing on a warm flour tortilla.
I like to set up an assembly station, using the open gas grill set to its lowest heat. Nestle the pork chunks in one end of the drained aluminum pan and put a heat-proof plate stacked with warm tortillas in the other end. Using a spatula and tongs, shred the pork in the center of the pan and place a generous serving on the top-most tortilla. With the spatula and tongs, fold the tortilla so that the person you are serving can lift it by the top edges, without touching the rest of the stack. Between servings close the grill to keep the ingredients warm.

Despite starting with a fatty cut of pork and simmering it in oil, the results are not greasy -- perhaps the marbling renders from the meat in the final step and is discarded with the oil. Squeezing a lime wedge over the carnita helps balance the pork's richness and adds an acid bite.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the Carnitas well from its appearance (and quick disappearance into our gullets) at Tidewater Marina in Baltimore. I see it is on tour. Bravo!