I know… I know… The Blue Mixer? And your first post is tacos? I’ve been baking away for the past week, enjoying my brand new mixer, but nothing special enough to blog about. Chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips (recipe from MyBakingAddiction.com if you like chewy oatmeal cookies), but I thought Carnitas would be great to write about, because it was hard for me to find a great recipe for it.
My boyfriend is from San Diego, so the second he made San Antonio, Texas his home, he was on the hunt for an authentic West-Coast Taco Shop. He was disappointed for nearly a year, until he happened to spot a place in a shopping center, while he was getting his truck’s oil changed. He was so happy when he described his findings to me, There is a place, on 281 and Bitters that has a picture of the Sleeping Mexican wearing a sombrero, and it’s called a TACO SHOP, not a taqueria! So, of course, wanting him to get a taste of home, we went there for dinner. They had Carne Asada Fries on the menu, which was a huge deal for my boyfriend. 1) Carne Asada Fries is strictly a southern California dish, and Texans have no idea what it is, and 2) Most Tex-Mex places don’t cook Carne Asada, we eat fajita, or ground beef (never shredded beef). So, he ordered the Carne Asada Fries, and I got the Crispy Beef Tacos. Our food came out, and while I was severely disappointed, he was in Heaven. The menu didn’t say SHREDDED beef tacos! I guess on the West Coast, it’s understood. My tacos were served with thick refried beans, and Spanish rice with carrots, nothing like the delicious Tex-Mex I grew up with and was accustomed to. I never wanted to go back again, and my boyfriend wanted to go back every night! I knew we would have to go back, so decided I would have to order something new the next time. The menu was daunting and unfamiliar to me, so I ordered Carnitas tacos, I had seen this before on Tex-Mex restaurant menus, but had never ordered it before. My Carnitas tacos came out with a heavy handed garnish of cilantro and pico de gallo… I looked down in disgust. I started scraping off the cilantro and pico de gallo, and added some green salsa from the salsa bar. Oh well, I’ll just eat it without complaining, because I saw how happy he was to find this place. With one bite, I was in love. Wait? I like cilantro? The smell is so offensive. Another bite, with more green salsa… This… is… amazing. I was hooked. The taco shop became a regular spot for us. My boyfriend could get his taste of the West-Coast, and I could clog my arteries with slow-cooked pork.
After over a year of eating there, I wondered why I had never tried to make Carnitas. The answer is probably because this Taco Shop makes it so well and so cheap (we’re talking two bucks for a taco, and four bucks for a burrito), that I didn’t need to. But still, I enjoy cooking, and this seemed like a bit of a challenge. What I didn’t realize, is that the challenge wouldn’t be making the Carnitas, but finding a recipe.
I searched long and hard for a recipe, with little luck. Then, I found this great blog, Homesick Texan. The writer of this blog is a Texan relocated to NYC. Her blog reminds me of how much I love Texas, and how I’d never want to leave. Which is funny, because I used to dream of moving away to NYC, when I was a kid. I hated living out in the country. I guess when you grow up in Texas, in a rural area, NYC seems like the complete antithesis of life as you know it. Anyway, I digress… the writer of this blog has a fabulous recipe for Carnitas, that I have only made very minor changes to.
Carnitas (Adapted from Homesick Texan)
3(ish) pounds of pork butt/shoulder (No, the butt isn’t “the butt.”)
1 cup of orange juice (not from concentrate, and if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can fresh-squeeze those oranges!)
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt
1 or 2 Bay Leaves
1. Cut pork into three inches by one inch strips, add to a large pot with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours. Do not touch the meat, all you impatient people who like to stir things. Leave that piggy alone!
*Note, if you live in South Texas, you should be able to buy pork that is labeled as Carnitas, and sometimes it is already cut up for you. It is usually packaged in 3.5-4 lbs packages, and that will work just fine.)
2. After two hours, turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered (about 45 minutes). Stir a few times, to keep pork from sticking to bottom of pan.
3. When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat (i.e. liquid goodness) in the pan). Don’t be afraid to let the outside get crispy, that’s the best part, for me. Serve either cubed or shredded. Don’t serve those bay leaves, throw those guys in the trash.
*Side Notes* I don’t like recipes where certain aspects aren’t explained (Which is probably why I like Alton Brown so much). I like to explain things so that even the most novice cook can feel comfortable recreating recipes. So, let me explain a couple of things. Orange juice: This may seem like a strange ingredient, but it is necessary. The sugars in the orange juice will help caramelize the meat, but don’t worry, it won’t make it sweet. Also, you really need to make this dish uncovered, that’s why I made the text bold in the recipe. I have made this mistake in the past with recipes, simply because I wasn’t paying attention, and I just assumed I needed to put a lid on the pot. Putting a lid on this will trap in all of the liquid, which needs to evaporate in order to render the fat from the pork, and create the Carnitas.
Serving the Carnitas:
I like my Carnitas on doubled up white corn tortillas (If you buy the miniature ones, you can eat more!), topped with chopped onion, cilantro, and a lime wedge. These tacos are even more delicious when you wash them down with a Pepsi or Coke imported from Mexico.