Good smells from the kitchen remind me of the best parts of childhood. In fact, they remind me of the best parts of my entire life. Sunday dinners or mid-week pizza – it’s all good in my book. Because when someone’s cooking in the kitchen, chances are that life is good. And even when it isn’t, a well-cooked meal makes it better. (Chocolate makes it even better, but let’s wait until dessert. Then we can have chocolate cheesecake. But I digress…)
That’s the love part. The hate part comes from the fact that the smells make me H-U-N-G-R-Y ! ! ! I’ll be back in the office working, and I’ll get an especially strong whiff of spices and meat and start drooling like Homer Simpson. For a minute or two, all I can think about is what’s cooking. If it’s really bad, the only cure is to go grab a taste under the guise of “checking the recipe.”
Sometimes it will be hours before serving time that I’ll start fidgeting with stuff. I’ll set the table. I’ll get all the serving pieces together. Check the Carnitas. Make the salsas and the margaritas. Check the Carnitas.
For the past several months, I have done most of my cooking during the first part of the week. Now that I’m accepting gigs locally, I find myself working throughout most of the weekend. So instead of cooking on Saturday and/or Sunday, I’ll do my big meals on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. This past week, I did a great Chile Verde on Monday, then followed up with Carnitas on Thursday. I’m still eating leftovers, and I’m loving it.
4 lbs. pork butt or stew meat (pre-cut into large pieces)
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon (or more) red pepper flakes
1 12 oz. beer
If using a pork butt roast (or Boston butt, if you prefer), cut the roast into 2 inch pieces.
Heat slow cooker. Don’t worry, you’ll have stuff in it before it gets too hot.
Cut onion in half, then cut into very thin slices.
Place sliced onions, garlic and bay leaves in slow cooker.
Add half the beer, then stir to coat onions.
Heat at least one large skillet, perhaps two or three. Remember, you’re going to brown a LOT of meat, and you want to leave room between the pieces so they brown and don’t steam.
Add oil and wait till it shimmers before proceeding.
While oil is heating, dust some of the pork with Wondra flour. A light dusting is enough. You’re not going to deep fry it or anything. (At least, not for this recipe.)
Add a few pieces of pork to the pan and brown on four sides. You’re looking for a nice golden brown color. Watch the video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
As pieces brown, remove from pan and set aside in a big bowl. Continue browning pork until it’s all done.
Add remaining beer to skillet. If using non-stick skillet(s), skip the next step.
If there’s stuff stuck to the pan – and chances are VERY GOOD there will be if you aren’t using non-stick pans – scrape it all loose with a spoon or spatula. You shouldn’t have to work too hard to do this, as the beer will help dissolve everything.
Add all remaining spices to the beer. Turn heat up to Volcano and boil off about half the beer.
Pour beer/spice mixture over pork cubes. Use a spoon or some such to stir the pork pieces so they’re all well coated with beer and spices. You want all the pork to be happy, and that means making sure it all is properly coated with spices.
Add pork to slow cooker and cook on LOW for at least 5-6 hours, but more is better. Because I had a limited time when I did the video, I left the slow cooker on high for two hours, then turned it down to low for another four.
When done, stir Carnitas to ensure proper “saucing” of all meat. Serve directly to plates.
You can leave the Carnitas in stew-sized pieces, or use a pair of forks to shred the meat, much as you would for Pulled Pork.
Side dishes could include plain or Mexican rice, refried beans, sliced tomatoes and avocados, and more. A “must have” on the table is a warmer full of corn tortillas, either as an accompaniment, or as a “wrap” for the Carnitas. (See below.)
Traditional condiments include chopped cilantro (fresh, Fresh, FRESH!), chopped onions, green salsa (not chunky), and sliced jalapenos. Not quite as traditional but still very good are Pico de Gallo and guacamole or avocado slices. Use any or all of them, especially if you’re turning your Carnitas into tacos.
One final note: Don’t be afraid to get creative with the leftovers. I’ve done Carnitas omelettes, a Mexican version of Shepherd’s Pie, even added it to noodle soup. If you try something different with the leftovers, that’s another great reason to ask you to comment and let me know what you did.
Until next time,
Play with your food!
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