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Photo by: Jamie Tiampo
Like many another chef, I’ve recently fallen head over heels for pork. What took me so long? Maybe it’s because my mom never cooked pork when I was growing up (except for bacon). Maybe it’s because when I actually started eating pork, it was at the height (or depth) of the National Pork Board’s campaign to reposition the product as “the other white meat.” Or maybe it’s simply because I’d never been properly introduced to Latin-style pork: fattier cuts, like pork shoulder, combined with savory seasonings, then cooked slow and low.
Take carnitas, for example. “Carnitas, literally ’little meats,’ are one of the splendid specialties of central Mexico, especially the state of Michoacan,” writes Marilyn Tausend in Cocina de La Familia. “Pieces of pork are boiled in seasoned oil until tender on the inside and with a crispy exterior. They are usually shredded, daubed with salsa, and crammed into a freshly made tortilla. It is a dish that gives strength to weary spirits.”
The depth of feeling expressed in that description reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer waxes rhapsodic about pork after Lisa announces she’s going to become a vegetarian.
Homer: Are you saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. “A wonderful, magical animal.”
The only labor-intensive parts of this recipe are cutting the meat into 1-inch cubes and, if you so choose, making homemade tortillas. The rest of the prep is simple. I cooked up a huge batch of it for a recent family reunion. None of my relatives is Hispanic and none of them has ever before reminded me of Homer Simpson. But they all dug into their carnitas with gusto.
1. Cut the pork into 1-inch cubes. Press the garlic (about 1 tablespoon). Chop the oregano (about 1 tablespoon) and thyme (about 1 tablespoon).
2. Combine the pork, garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, cumin, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a deep heavy skillet (preferably cast iron). Add the chicken stock and 1½ cups water.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to very low and cover the skillet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and then the lid. Cook at a bare simmer for 1½ hours, or until the pork is very tender. Add water as needed to keep the pork partially covered with liquid.
4. Remove the cover from the skillet and simmer the pork, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork has cooked in its own fat and turned golden. If there is not enough fat left in the pan to brown the pork, add 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Remove and discard the bay leaf
5. Meanwhile, prepare homemade tortillas following the instructions on the masa package or wrap store-bought corn tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in a preheated 300°F oven. Halve, seed, peel, and coarsely chop the avocado.
6. To serve, top the tortillas with the pork, salsa, chopped avocado, and cilantro sprigs.
Nutrients per serving (% daily value)
Nutritional information is based on 6 servings, 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving, and using store-bought corn tortillas and salsa.
Nutritional information does not include Homemade Chicken Stock. For nutritional information on Homemade Chicken Stock, please follow the link above.
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