mexican pulled pork

It’s been a few days, but I’m back.  Not with something sweet (which is probably disappointing for some, and relieving for others), but with something hearty that will stick to your bones. I’m talking carnitas, Mexico’s version of pulled pork.

Now, I love all sorts of Mexican food, but carnitas never seemed approachable because the traditional preparation requires lots of frying in hot oil that spits at me and gets in my hair.  So when this recipe shouted “hola!” to me from the pages of my America’s Test Kitchen magazine, with its simmering and broiling method of turning pork butt (tee hee) into delicious carnitas, I rolled up my sleeves, donned my Betty Draper apron, and gave it a go.

Well, to be fair, Nate and I gave it a go, because it took hours, and neither of us could’ve lasted the whole time by our lonesomes.  And we, as you have probably guessed from our track record, started this recipe at about 7 pm on a Thursday night and ended up eating around, oh, 10 pm.  I can typically eat at least 5 carnitas burritos without breaking a sweat, but even I was tempting the heart burn fairy by eating so heavy so late.  Luckily, the carnitas was really yummy and very “authentico,” with the flavors of fresh lime and orange juice, bay leaves, and cumin lingering in each and every bite.

Next time, I’d have a giant batch of margaritas ready to accompany this dish…and I’d start cooking at least by 5 pm.  Live and learn, I guess.

Mexican Pulled Pork
Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen 10th Anniversary Best Recipes magazine

1 (3.5 – 4 pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Table salt and ground black pepper
2 cups water
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
1 large orange, halved

18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
Lime wedges
Minced white or red onion
Fresh cilantro
Thinly sliced radishes
Sour cream

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Combine the pork, onion, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, water and lime juice in a large Dutch oven.  (The liquid should barely cover the meat.)  Juice the orange into a medium bowl and remove any seeds.  Add the juice and spent orange halves to the pot.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the pork is soft and falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours, flipping the pieces of meat once during cooking.

2. Remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven to broil.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a bowl; remove the orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from the cooking liquid and discard.  (Do not skim the fat from the liquid.)  Place the pot over high heat (use caution, as the handles will be very hot) and simmer the liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (a heatproof spatula should leave a wide trail when dragged through the glaze), 8 to 12 minutes.  You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.

3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half.  Fold in the reduced liquid; season with the salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the pork in a single layer on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet or on a broiler pan.  (The meat should cover almost the entire surface of the rack or pan.)  Place the baking sheet on the lower-middle rack and broil until the top of the meat is well browned (but not charred) and the edges are slightly crispy, 5 to 8 minutes longer.  Serve immediately with the warm tortillas and garnishes.


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