Thursday, June 16, 2011

Quickie Pork Carnitas (Or, How to Throw Caution to the Wind in the Kitchen)

We're trying something a little new around here tonight - a quickie version of pork carnitas.  I thought rather than simply post a recipe, it would be fun to walk you through the cooking thought process as I make it less threatening.  By and large, I find this is the most common hang-up in the kitchen - intimidation breeds a lack of willingness to try new things, to be adventuresome.

Allow me to calm your frayed nerves.  First, I'm a vegetarian, having not eaten meat in nearly twenty years.  However, I don't allow myself to be threatened about cooking it.  Second, further throwing caution to the wind, we have guests tonight - British soccer coaches we're hosting for the week.  You know your mom told you never to try a recipe out for the first time on guests.  Pish posh.  Finally, I haven't a recipe.  This is my preferred method of kitchen adventure and debauchery.  I'll grab some things that look interesting to try (in this case, some boneless pork sirloin roasts of about 1.5 pounds apiece) and develop a loose plan - in this case, some avocados and a vague idea of something sort of Mexican in nature.

So, my starting point is always to do a quick web search for a basic recipe.  Tonight I've grabbed some instructions on "How to cook a 3 pound pork roast" from  I'm not looking for strict edicts - I'm looking for basic infallible instructions.  In this case I've gathered that a roasting pan, an internal temperature of 150 degrees and some sort of herb/oil blend are the essentials.  From there, I'll wing it.  Incidentally, this is my preferred approach - a vague concept of what I want to create, a quick web search for recipe commonalities to give me a starting point, and then off to the races with my own version.

So, I've first ignored the 1 tbsp of oil and gone for about half a cup of olive oil, and then I went with my preferred spices - in this case, I thought oregano, marjoram, some garlic salt and a low-sodium salt and pepper blend would create a nice rub.  I decided rather than a cookie sheet to use a square cake plan lined in foil (I'm not about scrubbing funk) and a piece of parchment (to eliminate stickiness).  I've got the oven at 450 and the pork is in its quick roasting stage, and then I'll take it down to 250 or so for the next hour.

I'm serving some great (Target) World Table salsas on the side along with their blue corn tortilla with flax seed chips, which I love.  *Nomnomnom.*  I'm making some homemade guacamole (avocado, lime juice, a bit of hot sauce, onion salt, a few red pepper flakes and just a smidge of olive oil based mayo) and putting a little sour cream out.  I'll add some plain black beans, lettuce and shredded cheese to the offerings for a build your own taco sort of situation.  For the vegetarians in the crowd (moi) I'm quickly sauteeing some baby bella mushrooms to fatten up the soft tacos.

Quick tip 1: I'm all about not using canned items whenever possible and try to use dried or, in a pinch, frozen beans and so forth.  But, I keep a small number of organic, low-sodium canned tomatoes, olives and beans around for a pinch.  I always thoroughly rinse said beans to remove as much perceived bad stuff as possible for a short cut that I can still not feel to badly about.

Quick tip 2:  Take your sauces & sides out of the containers.  Grab some of those inexpensive salsa dishes you'd see in a Mexican restaurant and feel a little more big time about what you're serving.

Quick tip 3: Heat your tortilla chips and tortillas (wrapped in foil) for a few minutes in the oven.  It's just a nice touch - like you know how to cook or something!

Ok, progress report - the pork came out looking pretty lovely, if I do say so myself.  I thought it needed a few minutes of browning after it hit 150 degrees, so I turned it back up to 500 degrees for about 7 minutes to give it a nice browning, then I sliced it up:

Finally, I sliced it again into nice long semi-shredded slivers, the better for stuffing a nice tortilla.

About an hour start to finish, and that's with lots of touches (setting the table, transferring sauces to serving bowls, stopping to blog (!) and so forth).  The verdict: maybe my family just doesn't get enough meat, making them exceptionally grateful when they do, but they were exceptionally happy.  They deemed the pork moist and a nice texture for the tacos.  I put very little seasoning since there were lots of other tastes to round it out (guacamole, sour cream, cheese, salsa verde etc.) so it would be a bit bland by itself, but I think you could season it up a bit and have this round out a meal nicely.
Give it a shot - be an adventuress.  What's the harm?  A poorly executed recipe is just a chance for good humor and another shot later on.  Add it to your family's arsenal and join them by being self-deprecating when you all laugh about the time you made... (fill in the blank) and nearly burned the house down.  Or, surprise them and yourself by turning out something novel and nearly divine.  Promise you'll be proud.

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