My friends, Sara and Sean, moved to the east coast and took their recipe for pork carnitas with them. Sara did have the courtesy to send me the recipe, but it just didn’t seem right to make it on my own. The unspoken deal had always been that Sara made the pork and salsa, and the rest of our little gang brought the other quintessential taco toppings and various Mexican-inspired side dishes. So, when I was putting together a dinner menu for an old pal from graduate school who was going to be in town for the weekend for some fancy-sounding literary conference (as, since our graduate school days, he has started this wonderful small press) and came across the recipe for Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, I thought it might be time for me to tackle carnitas on my own. This specific recipe has you slicing the pork and serving it with the sauce poured over top, but along the margins, in large font, Alice adds that “shredded tender braised meat is very good as a filling for sandwiches.” By sandwiches, certainly she meant tacos, right? I thought so.
I’d been craving something spicy ever since we got back from Paris, so I added these Spicy Pickled Vegetables from David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs to the menu. (Quite fitting for a couple of reasons, since Tanis is a chef at Chez Panisse six months out of the year and the other six months, he’s in, ahem… Paris.)
First, the good news. The pickled vegetables were a snap to make. An absolute snap. And—at the risk of sounding braggy—I found the prettiest carrots in the world to pickle.
to be shredded. In my previous ventures with braising, the meat has literally fallen off the bone, was practically begging to be shredded; but this pork meat, while in no way tough, simply didn't shred very easily. Perhaps I should’ve cooked it longer? Though, the recipe calls for four pounds of shoulder roast, and I had only three pounds, so I was worried about overcooking it. In other words, I don’t know what happened.
Back to the good news: With Matt's help, we got it shredded, and while it wasn't that difficult, it was work. We also—bonus alert!—got a lot of pork fat on the kitchen countertops and the faucet handles. Fortunately, this happened a few hours before dinner, so, I was able to fit in a solid clean-up. Also fortunately, while I cleaned, I put the bowl of shredded meat in a 250-degree oven, which gave the pieces of shredded meat some really nice added texture as the ends of the pieces crisped up a little. Which, leaves us with more good news. It was delicious. Completely delicious. I served it with corn tortillas, salsa, guacamole, black beans, shredded cheddar, the pickled vegetables, the slaw from my Mexican Bibimbap recipe (minus the Sriracha), and, of course, hot sauce.
Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles via The Art of Simple Food
Make a dry rub by mixing together:
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
1 teaspoon ground ancho chile
Use the dry rub to season, the day before if possible:
One 4-pound, bone-in pork should roast, trimmed of excess fat
Cover and refrigerate until 1 hour before cooking.
Put in a heavy baking dish or roasting pan that just fits the roast:
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 dried ancho chiles, split and seeds removed
1 dried chipotle chile, split and seeds removed
1 large head of garlic, peeled and coarslely chopped (Watch this for an amazing tip on how to peel a head of garlic in a few seconds.)
A few black peppercorns
A few fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs
Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the seasoned meat on top of the vegetables nad pour in:
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
Check the level of the liquid; it should reach about one quarter of the way up the roast. Add more if needed. Cook in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the roast over and cook for 30 minutes, then turn again. Check the level of liquid every once in a while, adding more broth or water if it gets too low. Cook for another 30 minutes and test the meat for doneness, continuing to turn and cook until done. Remove the meat from the pan. Strain the sauce and skim well. Pass the vegetables through a food mill and return to the skimmed sauce. Remove the bones, slice the meat (or shred it!), and arrange on a warm platter. Serve with the sauce poured over or pass it around in a pitcher or sauceboat.
Spicy Pickled Vegetables via A Platter of Figs
Note: These were nice and spicy, but didn’t taste very pickled with that classic vinegary bite. If I were going to make them again, I might try using more cider vinegar, maybe ½ a cup.
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
2 medium onions, sliced into thick half-moons
3 or 4 jalapenos, quartered lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I would go for 2 teaspoons or maybe even a tablespoon here.)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
A small epazote sprig (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Put the carrots, onions, jalapenos, garlic, salt, peppercorns, coriander seeds, epazote, bay leaf, vinegar, and olive oil in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are just cooked through (Warning: this happens pretty fast!). Transfer to a bowl to cool.
When the vegetables are cool, add the oregano. Taste and add salt if necessary.