Springtime For Carnitas

Ay,¡qué laureles tan verdes!
¡Que rosas tan encendidas!

Oh, how green are the laurel trees!
The roses are all aflame!(--José López, "Los laureles", an old mariachi song)

You may think that all I ever do is dream about Mexican food and refried beans. Not so. When la bella primavera—springtime—rears her lovely head at my garden gate, and the days are cool and bright with the scent of jasmine filling the air, when new roses and freesias and elegant, stately alcatraces (calla lilies) are en flor, the last thing on my mind is cooking over a hot stove or spending time indoors watching Mexican soap operas. Propped up outside my door are some large fat iris bulbs that will produce flowers the color of golden sunshine. They are waiting for me to plant them around the lovely blue-hued hortencias (hydrangeas) just outside my window. What do I care about albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup) or homemade flan as I watch little jewel-toned chuparosas (hummingbirds) dive bomb around the hot pink and purple fuchsia plants looking for nectar and a little romance? I listen to the song of an orange-breasted little robin perched on a branch nearby tree. Who needs food when there is so much beauty? . . .
Wait. Did I just hear you say carnitas?

Caramba, how I wish you hadn't. Because now I can't think of anything else.
Its tender, citrusy-sweet meat resting on a hot off the comal homemade corn tortilla, together with a tangy cool hot green tomatillo salsa with chopped green onion and cilantro is just the thing that will send me in a beeline to la cocina. Now add a squirt of fiery red hot salsa and a squeeze of lime plus a spoonful of guacamole that makes me and just about everybody else just SWOON (as the whip smart Emma would say) when they taste it. And now that my friends Margarita and Roman have lent me their beautiful copper pot to cook it Michoacán-style, how can I resist?
Never having cooked carnitas Michoacán style, I wasn't too sure I could pull it off. So I cooked it both ways: the way I was taught, which is to cook the pork in a spice and orange scented water. Then, when it is tender, shredding the just cooked meat (use your fingers if you're macha and don't need no stinkin' forks) and placing it under the broiler for a few minutes with some fresh pineapple. The result is a fragrant tender-crispy piece of joy. Or, cooking it Michoacán style—in a skillet, or in this case, the copper pot. The pork is cut into chunks and is cooked in spicy water with a whole orange peel thrown in for added flavor. When the pork is fully cooked and very tender, you fry it in lard or bacon grease and the juice of a sweet orange until the chunks are crispy on the outside, tender and succulent on the inside. Each method is delicious, but I think the next time I make it Michoacán-style, I will use my old stand by, a heavy cast iron skillet. Perhaps I am not a carnitas experta, but the carnitas came out a little charred than I was hoping for—perhaps the fault was mine and not the pot's.
So here I was with a mountain of carnitas when I should have been outside planting my yellow irises. Presently our friend Orlando came over, so I served him and my viejo some carnitas tacos with the homemade corn tortillas I had made for lunch. In their typical, too kind manner, both swore they loved the carnitas, saying that they liked the "smoky" flavor. Then Joaquín showed up and, like most teens whose shark-like metabolisms demand constant feeding or they will die, he wolfed down three tacos and a lot of the guacamole and the chopped roasted pineapple. Later that evening, Lupe and her brood came by, and, together with my husband and me, we polished off the whole thing. We didn't have any Bohemia beer to drink with the carnitas, but the agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower punch) had just the right tartness to counterbalance the sweet n' heat savoriness of the carnitas tacos.
Today I will step out into my garden once again. The iris bulbs are still by my front door, patiently waiting for me, but springtime planting can wait hasta mañana. I'm making another batch of carnitas.
Carnitas

Mexico has arguably the best fast food in the world, and carnitas is pure pork genius on a tortilla. Just walk into a busy taquería anywhere in México or in certain parts of the US and inhale the sweet smoky aroma of a pineapple infused carnitas tower that has been cooked by the able hands of a master taquero. Who says that you can't try to duplicate this at home (at a fraction of the price)? Serve it on homemade corn or flour tortilla, hot red chile or green tomatillo salsa with a bit or guacamole, some chopped white or green onion and a sprig of cilantro. Don't forget the squeeze of lime!

Ingredients:

1 3 lbs pork butt or shoulder, whole or cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch chunks. (Note: for Michoacán style carnitas, cut the pork butt into 1 ½ to 2 inch chunks.)
Water
One whole medium sized onion, cut in half

3 cloves whole garlic

1 tablespoon sea salt

A dash of dried oregano

A dash of ground cumin
1 bay leaf
The juice of a navel orange or 2 tangerines, the sweetest tangiest you can find

Sliced fresh or canned pineapple (optional)

1 to 2 tablespoons lard or bacon grease (for Michoacán style carnitas)

Orange peel of a whole orange (for Michoacán style carnitas)
Put the pork in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin and the orange juice. (Note: for Michoacán style, omit the orange juice for now.) Add water to cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and cover. Simmer for about 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Using a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs, remove the meat and place it on a platter or baking dish. (You can use the pork broth to make Mexican rice if you wish.) Use your macha fingers to shred the pork. Then, spoon a tiny bit of the pork broth just to moisten the pork a little bit—do not drench the meat. Add the pineapple slices (you can omit this step if you want and serve the pineapple cold and chopped). Place in the broiler for about 6 or 7 minutes, or until the carnitas are crispy. Watch out! Do not let the carnitas burn! Remove immediately and cover with foil or a kitchen towel. Chop the roasted pineapple and serve with the carnitas.
For Michoacán style carnitas:
Follow instructions as above, only do not put the pork chunks in the broiler. Do as follows: In a heavy skillet, melt the lard. When it is very hot, add the orange juice (STAND AWAY FROM THE STOVE!) and the pork. Do not cover. Cook over medium heat until the pork is brown and crispy. Make sure to drain off excess fat, if any, by placing the carnitas on paper towels.
Do not discard the excess fat! You can make wonderful tasting flour tortillas with that lovely bit of lard-o. Just store it in the refrigerator or freezer until you need it.

11 comments:

JodieMo said...

You are a wonderful writer. I can almost hear the words coming out of your mouth. You really make me want to give these a try. Hmmm...I did just buy a pork butt... :)

La Traductora said...

Hi Jodie Mo!
Thanks for visiting! I forgot to mention, eat these carnitas with a fresh pot of beans-delicioso!
BTW, I just checked out your Etsy store. I just love your bags!

Emma said...

Noooombre, que casi me muero leyendo esto! Se me hizo agua la boca. No, no, no, hija, como dice mi Tia Tita. Creo que en ingles se le llama a esto, food porn. :)
Also, thanks for the kind mention! And please pardon the long delay in responding to your email...it's coming soon! xo

Yarnhog said...

Oh, boy, that sounds delicious! I've lately been experimenting with different versions of pulled pork. I think this recipe will fit in nicely with my "research". We'll be having carnitas tacos tomorrow!

Yarnhog said...

I couldn't wait: I made these for dinner tonight using your recipe. They were delicious! Even the kids ate them without complaint. I have to make them again next week; my brother told me he loves carnitas, but couldn't stay for dinner tonight. I promised I'd invite him next time. Thanks for the recipe! :)

La Traductora said...

Hola Yarnhog!
I so glad your little chavalitos (kids) liked the carnitas. Gracias for the compliment!

cindylu said...

I loooove carnitas. I think I'll have to try out this recipe soon.

Anonymous said...

YU-UMMM! I made this last night and it was delish. My husband doubted the simmering, thinking roasting is better. He changed his mind. The only change I made was adding a bottle of beer before adding water. I crisped it using my wok pan. Thanks again.
Candee in Oceanside

Clementina aka "La Traductora" said...

Hi Candee!
Wow--what a great idea--adding some beer! Why didn't I think of that? Hope to meet you one of these days, and take care!

Live.Love.Eat said...

OMG! Pork carnitas are what we order every single time we go to the Mexican restaurant. Does just saying carnita mean that there is pork in it? If so, then carnitas are my favorite!!!!!

Ashley said...

Thanks for all your great recipes! I have this one simmering on the stove right now and am really looking forward to dinner.