Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carnitas: More than just "a little meat"

The last time I wrote something about carnitas, I had several Mexican-American friends tell me that my slow-roast technique was all wrong.

"My mom always used a bottle of Coke in hers. Made them really tender." No doubt the acid in the soda also tenderized the meat, and the sugar probably put quite a nice color on the outside when the meat went into the oven after simmering in the Coke for a few hours. But how traditional can Coke be?

Even the Coke sounded better than the recipe that swore by a milk base and claimed it caramelized after slow cooking (the milk evaporated, then the meat got brown and crispy). I didn't like that at all.

I'm not a real fan of sweet meats; I like my barbecue Texas style, which is hot and smoky and stands alone, no sauce needed. If you want to slather something on it, maybe some more hot sauce. But nothing sweet, not even sweet and vinegary. I've gotten where I enjoy pulled pork, but to me, it's about as close to barbecue as Cincinnati chili is to New Mexican chili.

So I thought about the Coke, but decided instead on beer. And looking at the smiles around the table, I don't think it would have been better with Coca-Cola. (The recipe follows the video of Roy Orbison singing the Coke jingle the last line of this posting refers to.)

Lori K's beer carnitas

1 5-pound pork shoulder (Boston butt)
1 California chili pepper
2 chili arbol peppers
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 Shiner Dark Lager beer
1 tablespoon salt
Ground oregano to taste

Rinse and dry pork. Put chilies in large crackpot and turn on high. Pierce pork in several places and insert garlic cloves. Put pork on top of chilies, fat side up, and add beer on the sides. Sprinkle salt over the top of the pork and sprinkle with oregano. When the pork feels warm, turn down the crackpot to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Drain any liquid, and allow meat to cool. Cut off the fat, cut the meat into chunks, and put in a roasting pan. Season some more if it seems too bland. Turn on oven to 425 degrees. When hot, insert the meat and cook until it sizzles, about 15 minutes. Serve with tortillas, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, cilantro, lime wedges and salsas.

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