Saturday, May 21, 2011

Carnitas Tacos with Spicy Coleslaw

May has become my Mostly Mexican Menu Month. I'll blame it on the Cinco de Mayo postings all over the internet, or maybe it's my response to a lack of Mexican restaurants in town (and no, I don't count the local Taco del Mar as a dine-out destination). Whatever the reason, thoughts of Mexican food keep popping up in my mind, like spiraling bubbles in a champagne flute. I keep a brief journal in my DayTimer when we travel, a few phrases to record our location, doodle a weather icon and note our meal choices. This habit began on a whim many years ago, and it has developed into an interesting data source. I found that a tilt towards Tex-Mex or Southwest cooking shows up every year, an urge to enjoy our favorite Mexican dishes before the menu turns more to fresh seafood and barbecues.

We've been aboard for three weeks and have already eaten chicken and cheese enchiladas, pork and chicken tamales, quesadillas, chicken tortilla soup, posole, a Mexican omelette, pork and poblano chile, SW corn salad, beef taco salad, arroz con pollo, carnitas tacos... Ah, carnitas.

Somewhere I read that carnitas are the Mexican version of Southern pulled pork. Nope, not in my galley. There is a world of difference that goes beyond the sauces. It might be my imagination, but I swoon over this difference. Pork marinated in bold spices and braised with onions, garlic and chilies in citrus juices, cooked low and slow for hours... OMG, The aroma alone transports me to another world, one of warm sunshine, margaritas, mariachis and the like.

A small pork shoulder roast yields a lot of carnitas, guaranteeing that we will enjoy a variety of presentations. Last night it was carnitas soft tacos; the mellow, citrusy flavors of the meat balanced with a spicy, chipotle-sauced cabbage slaw. Accompaniments included shredded pepperjack cheese, thinly sliced radishes, salsa, sour cream, avocado slices and cilantro. RL loved the tangy bite of the slaw, but all I really needed was a warm tortilla and some carnitas.

Note: Breakfasts with friends aboard usually feature sourdough pancakes, fresh fruit and broiled ham or bacon. Next time I might serve carnitas burritos instead. Ole!

Spicy Coleslaw
Shredded cabbage dressed in thin mix of
  3 Tbs mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if you prefer)
  1/4 cup orange juice (or an orange/lime juice blend)
  Orange zest
  Chipotle tabasco to taste (I use about 10 drops)  

Cruising Carnitas  
3 lbs pork shoulder, with fat intact
1/4 cup Spicy Seasoning Rub (see below)
1 medium onion, cut in large dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and split
1 bay leaf
1 orange, quartered
1 cup orange juice
chicken broth, to bring the liquid 3/4 way up the pork
Salt to taste
Tabasco to taste

Suggested Accompaniments: warm tortillas, shredded pepper jack cheese, spicy coleslaw, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, avocado slices, diced tomatoes, and/or diced red onion

1.  Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the Spicy Seasoning Rub all over the pork shoulder and massage it into the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, if you have the time. Otherwise, just proceed.
2.  Preheat the oven to 275 F.
Add a generous tablespoon of oil (canola oil is fine although lard, and a plenty of it, is more traditional) to a heavy Dutch oven and heat at medium-high. Brown the pork well on all sides, then remove from the pot and set aside.
3.  Add the onions to the heated pot and cook until they soften; add the garlic and another tablespoon of the Spicy Seasoning Rub and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant.
4.  Add the chicken stock, orange quarters and orange juice, stirring to scrape up the browned bits and spices. Return the meat to the pot and add a bay leaf. Adjust liquid as needed, it should reach about 3/4 of the way up the meat. Cover tightly and cook in the oven until pork is fork tender and ready to fall apart, about 3 1/2 hours.
5.  Remove the meat from the Dutch oven to cool; pull apart into chunks or shred. Remove the orange quarters and other solids from the pot. Heat the remaining juices over medium heat; use salt and tabasco to adjust seasoning to taste.Then... 
Option 1: Return the meat to the pot and fry in the juices until it begins to crisp and the liquids are absorbed.
Option 2: Preheat broiler; place pork pieces in a shallow pan and broil, about 4 inches away from the flame or element.
6.  Serve warm with optional toppings suggested above..

*Spicy Seasoning Rub
2 Tbs ground coriander seed
2 Tbs dried Mexican oregano
2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs thyme
2 Tbs paprika
1/4 cup ground red chile powder (ancho or chipotle)

Note: some traditional carnitas recipes cook the pork in lard or vegetable oil rather than broth. It sounds interesting, but no, I haven't tried this method. I might find that I like it too much.
Kenji's recipe here calls for canola oil.
Emeril uses lard in this recipe.

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