So you’ve invited your lab members and their families/significant others and a few other colleagues over to your place for a barbecue. What are you going to do now? Rush over to Costco to buy a buttload of hot dogs, frozen patties and a few veggie burgers for the vegetarians? Put out some fluorescent green pickle slices, booger-yellow mustard, ketchup and stale buns to go with it? No, mis amigos. You will be heading out to your local butcher and will be serving them Carnitas! Not only will they be impressed with your cooking wizardry and your ethnic sophistication, but afterwards they will all sit lazily on your lawn, enjoying a sunny afternoon, having another beer, rather than rushing back to the lab with half-digested burgers in their stomachs. Any vegetarians will be converted. Carnitas, a typical dish from Mexico, is one of the easiest most delicious things you will ever make, and you cannot screw them up. Here’s how to make ’em:
About 5 lbs of boneless pork shoulder. Ask for it at the meat counter, once home trim off the extra fat and rub it with salt (preferably kosher salt) and stick it in the fridge for up to 24 hrs. But you can also cook it immediately.
1 tsp oregano
3 bay leaves
pinch of cumin
5-6 Garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
Cut the salted and trimmed pork shoulder into 3-5 inch pieces. Heat the oil (you don’t need much) in a thick-bottomed skillet/pot and brown the pork pieces, ideally until they are quite dark. Make sure the skillet is large enough so that all the meat fits in one layer. If it doesn’t fit, use 2 skillets. Once the pork is browned, add enough water to come up a little more than halfway up the sides of the chunks of pork, but make sure they are not totally submerged. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and add all the spices, bay leaves, garlic and cinnamon sticks. You can substitute some of the water for half a bottle of beer (your favorite kind, drink the rest). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the meat braise, uncovered for 3-4 hours, turning the pork over occasionally (say every hour or so). By the end, most of the liquid should have evaporated and the pork will be falling apart. If the water levels drop early on, you can add a little more water (or beer) as you go along to prevent sticking. Remove the pork from the pan and shred it into large-ish chunks, cut off any remaining bits of fat. Return everything to the pan. If the remaining pan juices are too fatty you can skim some of this off too. Turn up the heat and finish cooking the pork in the pan until the pork gets crispy and the liquid thickens. This’ll feed about 8 people.
And that’s it! Serve with warm tortillas, and some rice, black beans, guacamole and green salsa on the side. If this isn’t barbecue-ish enough, buy a few skirt or flank steaks, add salt (and only salt) and grill them as a side dish. Buen provecho!