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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tacos de Carnitas

It's clear if you've read my blog that we love tacos. We eat them every chance we get when we're out and about whether in Mexico, California, North Carolina, Toronto, Niagara or here at home in London, Ontario.  And I love to make them at home too.

Tacos de Carnitas are time consuming to make, but not difficult at all. And while you're taking the time to roast pork shoulder in its own fat, it only makes sense to make enough to feed a crowd. 

Even if, like me, you know people who "don't like tacos", these carnitas are so mildly spiced, tender, crispy and delicious, I can't imagine anyone not falling in love at first bite. 

The recipe and technique comes from The Food Lab at Serious Eats. I didn't make their salsa verde, because I have my own, canned last summer. But I followed the rest of the directions pretty much exactly. 

Here's what you need for these amazing tacos.  This amount will feed 8-10 people but you can easily halve or double the recipe.  I froze half of the roasted pork and then thawed and crisped it weeks later.

For the Carnitas:
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 medium onion, quartered
1 orange
6 cloves garlic, halved
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup vegetable oil
For Serving:
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
salsa verde
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced
3 limes cut into wedges
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta
24 corn tortillas

For me, the hardest part of the recipe was butchering the pork shoulder because I got a large, bone-in shoulder.  It's much easier to buy boneless shoulder.  This cut of pork is fatty and cheap, making it perfect for carnitas. 

I removed the bone and skin and cut the pork into bite-sized chunks without removing too much fat. 

I seasoned the pork pieces with salt and nestled them into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. 

I sliced the orange into quarters, squeezed the juice over the pork and tucked the orange, quartered onion and sliced garlic cloves in with the pork. I also tucked the bay leaves and cinnamon stick in there, and poured the vegetable oil over top.

I covered the dish tightly with foil and roasted the pork at 275 degrees for 3 and a half hours. 

Once it was tender, I removed the orange, bay leaves and cinnamon stick and strained the pork over a bowl for 10 minutes, reserving the juices. I shredded the pork with my fingers and returned it to the casserole dish. The liquid separated and I poured the fat over the pork.  You can prepare the pork to this point and refrigerate until you're ready to serve the carnitas.  I froze half the pork at this point and continued with the rest. 

When you're ready to serve, prepare the toppings for the tacos.  Dice the onion and mix with chopped cilantro.  Heat the broiler to high and place the pork under the broiler for 5-6 minutes until browned and crisp.  Remove from the oven and toss the pork in the casserole so the un-browned pork is on the top and return the dish to the broiler for another 5-6 minutes until crisp.  Cover the pork and keep warm until you're ready to serve.

I love this method for warming corn tortillas, also from The Food Lab at Serious Eats.  Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Dip each tortilla in water and place in the pan, one at a time. Cook each tortilla for 20-30 seconds on each side until dry and soft. Wrap in a clean dish towel to keep warm until ready to serve.  Alternately, you can make your own corn tortillas for these tacos. 

To serve, place warm, crispy pork in a warm tortilla and top with onion & cilantro mixture, queso fresco, salsa verde, sliced jalapenos, and hot sauce if desired. Squeeze a lime wedge over just before taking a bite!

This hot sauce we picked up at the Toronto Food & Wine Show was a great accompaniment.  

I also made rice & beans to serve alongside the tacos. 

The effort was more than worth it. My taco-loving husband was over the moon and the leftovers were incredible. This would be a great dish to serve at a Cinco de Mayo party!   Or to impress a crowd any time.  These tacos aren't spicy at all unless you add jalapenos and hot sauce, so you can convert non-adventurous friends and family into taco lovers easily!


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