February 06, 2012

Friends with Carnitas

You know when you were three, and your favorite uncle came over for dinner. You got to stay up late, while he carried you and your brother around on his back. Finally, exhausted, Mom and Dad put you to bed. But you wouldn't fall asleep because you KNEW there was an awesome party going on out there, and you couldn't bear to miss it.

I felt like that last night. Myrna hosted a little gathering to welcome her best friend to Washington, and, since I was falling asleep in the armchair, after all but Sidecar and the guest of honor left, Myrna insisted that I go to bed.

And I lay there listening to the laughter, and the goofiness, and the clinking glasses as they cleaned up. And when the muffled tones turned serious, I wished I had enough energy to join in; it's been a hard, thought-provoking week for the Catholic world, and these friends have been on the front line.

And I fell asleep, thinking how lucky we are to have best friends.

adapted from David Liebowitz

4-5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 5 chunks, and trimmed of excess fat
2 tbl kosher or sea salt
2 tbl grapeseed oil
2 cups room-temperature coffee (approximately; do not use a dark or bitter roast. If that's all you have, then dilute 1/4 cup coffee with 1 and 3/4 cups warm)
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp chili powder or ancho chili powder or mix
1/2 tsp ground cumin
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed

Heat the oven to 350F degrees. Rub the pork shoulder all over with salt. Set aside.

Heat the grapeseed oil in a dutch oven, over medium heat on the stovetop. Cook the pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned.  Turn them over only once, so they get nice and browned. (You can crowd them a bit, they will reduce in size as they cook.  This should take no more than 4 minutes a side.)

Once all the pork is browned, lay on some paper towels to remove any excess fat. Pour in about a cup of coffee/water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

Return the pork to the pan, and add the remaining coffee/water.  Add more water as necessary, so the water reaches 2/3rd of the way up the pork. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile, cumin and garlic.

Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours. Turn the pork a few times (I did every hour). The pork should be falling apart, but it might be quite liquidy, depending on how well you trim the fat (I did not trim it terribly well, so it was still pretty liquidy).

Remove the pork from the pan, and, using a fork and a long thin paring knife for stability, shred them into bite-sized pieces. discarding any big pieces of fat.

Return the pork to the dutch oven, and continue cooking, stirring every no and then, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. Timing will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off (I actually strained some of my liquid off), and how crackly you want them.  They are basically good at any stage, but keep an eye on them so they don't turn into jerky.

Recipe for an awesome coleslaw (below) tomorrow.

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