Thursday, January 21, 2016

Carnitas (Pulled Pork Tacos)

Continuing our exploration of Mexican cuisine, here's a super-easy recipe for carnitas.  It takes all day, but it's ridiculously easy and will feed a seceding army of Texans.

Carnitas translate to "little meats" but are typically referring to pork tacos.  If you order barbacoa (translates to "barbecue"), that usually is beef in America and goat in Mexico.

The common theme is big hunks of meat, that contains lots of fat layers and connective tissue.  Slow cooking them will keep temperatures low and prevent moisture from being squeezed out of the contracting muscle fibers.  It also renders the fat out, gently frying it from inside.  The skin, slabs of fat, and cooking liquid will act as moisture barriers, further keeping the good juices inside.

Our Goal:  185 - 190 F (87 C), as slowly as possible.

Rant:  We are using lard!  If you grew up in a family that demonized it (as mine did)... it's time to open your culinary mind to "pork shortening."  Just like with deep frying, the oil adds thermal mass and gives a circulating liquid for efficient heat transfer.  It's all about temperature regulation, and lard is an excellent thermal damper/buffer/stabilizer for this temperature range.  When cooking is done, the fat is liquid will drain off.  Your meat will be lean AND moist.

 - bone-in pork shoulder (this 7+ pounder is called the picnic shoulder cut)
 - lard (or shortening, if you're culinary mind isn't yet enlightened)

            * Your goal is 90%+ fat coverage.  There are no quantities here.  Dial in the amount of lard... using the pot's diameter, the meat's effective diameter, and coverage of its fat slab.  You want the fat slab to protect the top, and the lard to protect the bottom.

Spoon the most of the lard into a large dutch oven, and heat just enough to liquify.

Drop on the entire picnic shoulder.

Set your probe thermometer to 190 F and insert to the center, avoiding the bone.

Set oven to 250 F and check back every hour or two.  This one took about 7 hours.


Drain the meat and let rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes.  Carefully peel off the skin, scrub the fat layer, remove the bones, and pull pull pull!  This is the toughest part of the whole recipe.

Note that there is no seasoning on our meat.  There is more than enough flavor in the supporting cast to keep your taste buds entertained: guacamole, cabbage slaw, and my new favorite salsa from Texas.  Good tortillas (corn or flour) are the preferred platform.

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