We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Carnitas — Pulled Pork Mexican-Style

by Michelle

"Life without Mexican food is like no life at all."
                                                                                                  — Unknown

Toppings Bar de Casa: shredded cabbage, shredded cheddar, 
salsa, guacamoleMexican crème fraîche and sliced olives.
What's missing? Mango salsa... the best accompaniment with carnitas!
   Mexican food is my go-to menu for serving a large crowd. The cuisine incorporates the best flavor combinations of spicy, sweet and sour. It's budget friendly, too. Recipes can easily be tripled and quadrupled. Prepared pork and beef dishes such as carnitas and machaca keep well in crock pots for hours without overcooking or becoming dry. Even tamales are happy for extended periods of time when steamed (just make sure to continue to add water to the pot— if the water boils completely away, the pot will be very angry and scorch). 
  What's also great about Mexican food is that it can accommodate everyone's preferred diets from Paleo, to gluten-free, to vegetarian and vegan. What I like to do is make all the side dishes vegetarian and the meat dishes gluten-free. For example, one simple ingredient change in this carnitas recipe makes it edible for gluten-free folk, and that's substituting wheat-free Tamari for soy sauce. Same thing for the Machaca, make your own enchilada sauce, or carefully read the label on the can to verify that no weird wheat-based thickening agents were used in the commercial preparation.

Chunks of pork butt get seared on the grill.
   My other rule of thumb for Mexican-inspired parties is to never underestimate how much carnivores and vegetarians alike love green corn tamales. For Maddie's graduation party I steamed two dozen tamales from Tucson Tamale Company and at the end of the night there was only one tamal left (any Highlander fans out there?). The next morning, I cut up the lone tamaleven though "there can only be one"and added it to scrambled eggs along with crumbled corn chips and shredded cheddar (with salsa on the side) for an impromptu chilaquiles breakfast for the fam-damily. Delish! Juliette enjoyed leftover Horchata as her beverage of choice with the morning meal.
   For the party, Maddie asked if I could make Mexican rice. Much to her disappointment I said no. Yeah, that's right, I put the kibosh on rice. I'm such a party pooper. In my own defense, a woman has got to know her limitations (that's right, I'm looking at you Clint Eastwood). I didn't want to be in the middle of making rice during the party and have guests arriving at the same time. As a consolation prize, because I'm not such a bad mother after-all, rice was ultimately added to the menu as a salad.
   In the weeks leading up to the main event, I telephoned Linda to have a brainstorming session. Let's be honest, most prepared rice salads are bland and unexciting. It was Linda who came up with the idea to dress the rice salad with the frickin' fantastic chimichurri dressing from The Old Stone Church restaurant in Castle Rock, Colorado. We sisters also agreed that the choice of rice for this type of salad is a key consideration. We both came to the same conclusion that parboiled rice would be the best choice because when cooked, each grain maintains its own individual identity, and the overall texture is fluffy, not mushy. #nosuckyricesalads

Top: Rice Salad tossed with Chimichurri Dressing
Bottom: Super Special Spicy Pickled Shrimp, Creamy Pinto Beans and Mango Salsa
Left: We made Linda's Not Too Girly Strawberry Margaritas and returned the prepared
 beverage to the tequila bottles for easy pouring. Right: Watermelon Agua Fresca
   Even though Maddie and I worked cohesively in the kitchen a day ahead of the party preparing most of the meal in advance, I was still scrambling the next day to finish the mango salsa and the rice salad and a few other items. Thankfully, this is the type of menu that guests will feel comfortable jumping in and assisting with the slicing and dicing of fruits and vegetables. A rotating group of jovial friends and family with varying levels of kitchen skills participated in completing the meal. Many hands made light work. And, my dear friend, Sara jumped in and washed dishes all throughout the party. When I protested, Sara assured me that she finds washing dishes relaxing. I wish I had a similar feeling about washing dishes, it would make clean-up time meaningful for me. As the Southern saying goes, "Bless her heart." May everyone be blessed with good friends and good cheer.

Carnitas: Pulled Pork Mexican Style
   This recipe is adapted from Chevys and Rio Bravo™ FreshMex® Cookbook by Chevys Inc Staff (10 Speed Press, 2000). The book is not only fun to look at and read, but the recipe for the Sweet Corn Tomalito—the popular sweet corn pudding found on many of the restaurant's combo plates—is by itself worth the purchase of the colorful cookbook (and is also quite delicious served with carnitas, mango salsa and a tangy coleslaw.)
   For the party, I quadrupled the following recipe. Instead of frying the cubed pieces, I recruited my husband to sear the pork pieces on the grill. This simple change of cooking method significantly sped up the process, plus I didn't have a greasy mess to clean-up afterwards on the stove-top. Win-win!
   I began with the recipe two days ahead so that the meat could marinate overnight in the refrigerator. The day before the party, I prepared the recipe and then stored the carnitas in the refrigerator. All that was left to do was to gently reheat the carnitas on party day. Once the carnitas are hot, you can transfer to a crock pot set on low.
   For an alternate recipe, take a look at Linda's Everyday Carnitas. Not only for the recipe, but also to view the really gorgeous photos.

Spice Mix:
1 Tbsp paprika (I use smoked paprika)
1/2 tsp cayenne
1-1/2 tsps sea salt (smoked salt  as a substitution works well, too)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsps ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsps granulated garlic
1-1/2 tsps chile powder
1-1/2 tsps oregano

3/4 cup soy gluten-free tamari
1-1/2 cups pineapple juice
2 limes, freshly squeezed
2 oranges, juiced, rinds reserved
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bottle Coca-Cola® (16.9 fluid ounces), plus an additional 1 to 2 bottles more for cooking

3-1/2 pounds pork butt or shoulder, cut into 3-inch cubes, fat trimmed
About 4 Tbsps ghee* or shortening, or more as needed (or none at all if you sear the pork on the grill)

Preparing the citrus infused marinade, which is also used as a simmer sauce for the carnitas.
Foreground: The uncooked and marinated pork is ready for searing (reserve the marinade)
Background: Pinto beans soaked overnight and are ready for simmering.
1. To make the spice mix: Combine first 8 ingredients together in a small bowl, mixing well.
2. To prepare the pork: Trim and discard excess fat from the pork and cut the meat into 3-inch cubes. Your friendly butcher can do this task for you, which is what we prefer to do. Sprinkle the pork with the spice mix, toss and press to adhere well.
3. For the marinade: In a large airtight container add the soy sauce, pineapple, lime and orange juices, orange rinds, garlic and Coca-Cola® and mix well to combine. Add the seasoned meat cubes. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

I quadrupled the recipe and wanted to avoid the hassle of searing the cubed pork on the stove top.
The solution? My husband seared the pork on the grill. 
4. To cook the carnitas: Remove the pork from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Place a large Dutch oven on the stove and add the marinade, set the burner to medium. Brown the meat in two or three batches in a large, heavy skillet that does the job well (alternatively sear on a hot grill). Add a few tablespoons of ghee or shortening to the skillet and melt over high heat. When the fat is very hot, add the pork and brown, turning occasionally, for about 5 to 10 minutes. As the pieces are finished browning, add the pork to the marinade in the Dutch oven. Repeat process until all the cubes of meat are browned. Add additional Coca-Cola, if needed, to make sure that the cubes of meat are covered with liquid. Partially cover the Dutch oven with a lid, and simmer (do not boil) for about 2 hours or until the pork is tender and dark brown, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to low, if necessary, to maintain a happy simmer. As the meat cooks, add additional Coca-Cola to cover, if needed.
5. To serve: With a wooden spoon, lightly crush the meat into 3/4 inch pieces. If you are preparing the carnitas for a large party, double the recipe, and make a day ahead. Let cool and refrigerate. The next day, transfer the carnitas to a slow cooker and heat on high until hot, then switch to warm and serve as part of a "fiesta buffet" with tortillas, guacamole, salsa, beans and rice. Or just like Pulled Pork, serve on rolls with potato or macaroni salad on the side, baked beans and if in season, corn on the cob. Servings: 6

*Ghee is essentially clarified butter; all the excess water and milk solids are removed. "Ghee is an ideal fat for deep frying because its smoke point (where its molecules begin to break down) is 250 °C (485 °F), well above desired cooking temperatures - around 200 °C (400 °F) and above for most vegetable oils." (http://www.wikipedia.org/)

Ghee can be made at home although we prefer to purchase Ancient Organics brand from our local Whole Foods Market®. For more information visit: www.ancientorganics.com

"The house does not rest upon the ground, but upon a woman."
                                                                                                 — Mexican Proverb

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