January 25, 2010

Carnitas with Pickled Red Onions

Where do I begin? With a profuse apology for my utter lack of dedication to this blog? Or perhaps an excuse/explanation of what was so deeply important that I must abandon this blog for a whole entire month would suffice? Let's try out a few... I've been very ill... no, I've been on vacation in a remote, exotic locale... how about sheer laziness? Unfortunately, the truth lies closest to the latter excuse. That and the fact that it's taken me nearly the whole month of January to get organized and collected for the new year. I had to take some time to get all my ducks in a row, if you will. Not to mention the fact that after my 12 days of goodies in December, I had to take a little sabbatical from the kitchen in hopes of giving my waist line sufficient time to somewhat return to its starting position. (I hope that those of you who read my 12 day series enjoyed it, because I can't say I will be doing that again next year. Far too much work for an already busy and bustling holiday season.)

So to kick off 2010 (a little delayed, I know), I decided to make carnitas, which when translated literally means "little meats". It can be made with both beef or pork, but from those of you who know me, it should be fairly obvious which "little meat" I selected. Pork, duh. I've had this intense craving for pork tacos, more specifically carnitas, for over a month now. And honestly, I don't even know why! I've never had carnitas, but for some reason I just knew that I wanted them. In fact, I had to have them. I tried to curb the craving with pork tacos at Taco Diner, but those tacos only added fuel to the fire. They weren't what I had in mind. The tacos there were made with sliced pork tenderloin, not the succulent, tender, melt in your mouth pulled pork I had been dreaming about. I scoured online menus from local mexican cantinas in hopes of finding just what I was looking for. The only thing I discovered while searching, however, was that if I wanted something done right, I was gonna have to make it myself.

So after I re-focused my online search from menus to recipes, I settled on a delightful sounding recipe by David Lebovitz. The pork was to be seared then slowly braised in the oven until tender and falling apart, shredded, and returned to the oven until caramelized and crispy. Carnitas traditionally is served with tortillas and any taco accoutrements that are to your liking, such as onions, cilantro, or guacamole. I chose to serve my pork tacos along side salsa verde and pickled red onions à la Mr. Lebovitz yet again. And to those of you who may be poo-pooing the notion of pickled onions, well shame on you. Overly complex they are not. Instead, they are deceivingly simple to make and there is really nothing quite like their flavor. Not only are they delicious when served with carnitas, but they go equally well with barbecue and sandwiches of all kinds. So if you think about it, there is really no excuse not to make them, but then again, who am I to talk. 

Recipe Courtesy of David Lebovitz, from The Sweet Life in Paris 

4-5-pounds boneless pork should, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat

coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon chile powder 

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground cumin

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder liberally with the course sea salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)

2. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop. 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.

3. 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.

4. Heat the oven to 350º F.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches, discarding any obvious big chunks of fat.

8. 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 (about 30 minutes). It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

9. Serve with pickled red onions (see recipe below), cilantro, sliced fresh jalapeno, salsa verde, and warm corn tortillas.

Serves 8

Pickled Red Onions 
Recipe Courtesy of David Lebovitz 

3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 bay leaf

5 allspice berries

5 whole cloves
a small, dried chile pepper
1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into rings

1. In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.

2. Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer gently for 30 seconds.

3. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

4. Transfer the onions and the liquid into a jar then refrigerate until ready to use.

Storage: The onions will keep for several months, but I find they're best the week they're made.

Serves 6-8