It was a rainy San Francisco Saturday. Jonathan was gone on business, I was on the second of six films I’d selected for a Diane Keaton marathon I’d curated the night before, and there were seven pounds of locally sourced, organically raised, meats from my AgLocal meat CSA in the freezer taunting me.
The rain’s tap dance on the windows performed its final curtain call around 12pm, and the sun peaked through the clouds like a newborn’s head crowning after a long hard push. It was the perfect time to pause Baby Boom and walk the four-legged beast.
“Eddie! Come here!” I shouted, running my fingers through greasy bed-hair while searching for some weather-appropriate shoes before we headed out.
While Eddie’s tail swished to and fro like a conductor’s wand, I searched for inspiration in developing my latest culinary concoction, which, aside from watching movie marathons with leading ladies of the 80s, is my second favorite thing to do when Jonathan is out of town and I have the house to myself.
Then a light bulb burst—“CARNITAS!”
As part of the AgLocal delivery there was a 2.5 lbs Devil’s Gultch Langley Farms pork butt (so cute and precious!), the perfect size for me to practice my first endeavor into this Mexican tradition I’ve always longed to perfect.
Now some of you might be thinking “so what? It’s a pork shoulder.” But here’s the deal. Jonathan’s not a pork lover. I’ve gotten him to try certain pork dishes in the six years that we’ve been dating, but if it’s smoky like bacon or too fatty like pork belly, then he’s out! Which is why he’s never said “yes” to my puppy-dog whining for the giant pork butt they sell at Costco. This time he wasn’t around to yell, “step away from the fridge,” from across the meat section while he’s picking out a packet of organic chicken breasts. This time I would be victorious…
So I rushed Eddie through six indecent exposures of urination leg lifts around the neighborhood and crossed paths with three other members of the dog-owner brotherhood, all of whom acknowledged the importance of walking dogs between rains. Then I realized what I looked like. I was mortified at my ensemble. Red Puma athletic shorts, Goretex black and yellow rough terrain running shoes, my Persol transition glasses, a slick black Cole Haan raincoat with a gingham liner, a giant red and black golf umbrella under one arm, smoking a cigarette, walking a black lab, and proudly wearing my salmon The Original Yonah Schimmels Knishes shirt from New York. Imagine a gay vigilante Jewish Hamburglar with a dog….I know….I know…
Rainy Day Carnitas Tacos Recipe
The pork butt in my AgLocal shipment inspired the carnitas recipe, but from all the research I’d conducted, I felt like the secret to a good carnitas is not only a good quality piece of pork, but also the perfect combination of spices and braising liquids. I’d remember Chef Laurence Jossel of NOPA fame telling me he used beer to braise his carnitas, but I wanted to try something different. I’d just received a pack of Golden State Cider, which is a totally drinkable apple cider that’s both sweet and tart at the same time. Riffing on “pork chops and apple sauce” I figured the acid and flavors of the cider would be perfect for the meat, and for some sweetness, I threw in some fresh apple juice for fun.
- 2.5 lbs pork shoulder (pork butt)
- 1 can Golden State Cider
- ½ cup apple juice (fresh unfiltered is great if you can find it)
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 large onion (yellow or white)
- 1 jalapeno
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- 1 tblsp dried oregano (Mexican oregano is ideal, but Mediterranean is fine if you have it)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tblsp dried cumin
- 1 tblsp light brown sugar
- ⅛ tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp chili powder
- zest of one lime grated
- 2 tblsp unsulfured molasses
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300°
Measure all the dry ingredients and put them together in a small bowl or ramekin so you can add them quickly when you need. And set this aside.
Pat the pork shoulder dry and season it with liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a large dutch oven heat a tsp of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is good and hot, add the pork shoulder. It should sizzle when you first put it in. Leave the pork for 3-5 minutes on each side, trying not to move it more than necessary.
Once it’s golden brown on all sides, remove the pork from the pot and let it rest on a plate.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the remaining 1 tsp of vegetable oil to the pot. Roughly chop the the onions and jalapeno and add the bay leaves to the pot with the hot oil and browned bits from searing the pork.
Let the onions cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next add the 4 garlic cloves chopped, and the rest of the dry ingredients: ½ tsp ground cloves, 1 tblsp dried oregano, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tblsp dried cumin, 1 tblsp light brown sugar, ⅛ tsp grated nutmeg, and 1 tsp chili powder. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stir everything together and let cook for about 2 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and dry. Add the 2 tblsp of unsulfured molasses and the grated zest of a lime and stir once or twice.
Pour in the entire can of Golden State Cider and the ½ cup apple juice. Scrape up all the flavorful bits stuck on the bottom of the pot until everything is combined.
Add the pork butt to the pot and nestle it in to the liquid and vegetables so that the liquid is just about 1 inch below the top of the meat. If you need to add some water to raise the liquid level you can.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and then cover the pot and place it in the oven to cook for 1 hour. Check the pot half way through cooking to make sure the liquid hasn’t all evaporated and if it has, add ½ cup of water to make sure the bottom of the pot isn’t dry and burning.
After 1 hour, I like to turn the oven off and just left the pot and oven cool together until I’m ready for the meat. This works really well if you’re making the carnitas in the evening and want to eat them the next day. You can just shut off the oven and let everything stay in there overnight and check it in the morning.
Otherwise, they should be good and soft after 2 hours of cooking. You know the carnitas are done when you can pull the meat apart by pressing it with your finger. If the meat is still tough, let it cook, covered, in the oven for another 30 minutes.
When the meat is soft and you can pull it apart, place the pork on a plate to cool.
Once cooled, using two forks (or tongs) pull the pork meat apart and discard any large pieces of fat.
Pour the liquid from the pot into a fat separator and let it sit for a few minutes, so you can pour the jus into a small saucepot.
Bring the jus to a boil and let the juices reduce into a flavorful sauce. This will take about 15 minutes. This becomes your sauce, which is the perfect way to flavor onions and peppers if you’re making tacos or fajitas to go with the carnitas.
When you’re ready to eat the carnitas, season the pieces with salt and bake them in a 350° oven for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are crispy. When they’re done, squeeze lime juice over the meat and enjoy.
For Carnitas Tacos or Fajitas
Follow the recipe above for the meat.
Slice a green bell pepper and white onion into ¼ inch strips. In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions and peppers with some salt and pepper to taste.
Add 2 tblsps of the reduced, strained, and degreased braising liquid.
As the vegetables soften and cook, the liquid will evaporate and leave a ton of flavor on the vegetables. When they’re brown and soft is when they’re done and ready to be used in your tacos or fajitas.
Heat corn tortillas (we found blue corn tortillas but you can use whatever kind you want) in a skillet over medium-high heat with non-stick cooking spray. [If heating tortillas in the microwave you should wrap them in a moist paper towel first] This will make the tortillas soft so they don’t crack when you bend them and pick them up.
To assemble…..place the carnitas in the warmed tortilla.
Then add some of the mixed vegetables, some queso fresco, chopped cilantro, pico de gallo (fresh salsa) and another squeeze of lime juice and enjoy!