Carnitas and Spicy Pickled Vegetables

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.
As for the bad news, the pork was a bit of a struggle. I mean, braising it in a pot stuffed with vegetables and dried chiles was easy enough as far as braising goes, but when it came time to shred it, I had problems. Now I'd like to reiterate, I've never shredded pork before, so maybe this is just what it's like, but it just seemed like it didn’t really want 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. 
In conclusion, I’m glad to (sort-of) add pork carnitas to my dinner-party-menu wheelhouse. That said, I wouldn't mind if Sara was the one who made them next time.

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.)
10 peppercorns
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.
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Matthew said...

These tacos made me nostalgic for Big Bear.

Andrea said...

Looks delicious! Those pickled veggie pictures (all of them) are insane. I make shredded pork a fair bit, and I do think cooking longer would have helped the shredding process (one recipe I use suggests 30 minutes for each pound of meat, and I usually end up cooking it even longer than that).

Jessica said...

i second the suggestion to cook it longer. i use a tenderloin when i do shredded pork for tacos (just the 2 of us and it braises faster) and i always have to cook it longer than the recipe suggests, otherwise i have to basically FORCE it to shred. also, putting those pickled veggies on my to do list. i recently discovered the zuni cafe pickled onions and i've developed a wee bit of an obsession so it will be good to have something else to have around.

ileana said...

Those really are the prettiest carrots.

The carnitas recipe I use calls for throwing 1/2 an orange into the pot along with the meat. Maybe adding that in next time would help tenderize the meat? Just an idea.

Katherine @ eggton said...

I don't want to get all technical on your blog post but I've given this a lot of thought and I've decided that the one on the far left is the prettiEST carrot in the world, and the three on the right are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th prettiest carrots in the world. I'm here all day if you have any other photos you need highly specific captions for. xo

Melanie said...

The yellow carrot is way full of herself. The one on the far left is the prettiest in the world. I want those two tacos in the picture.

Tom Pugh said...

Next to the "1 large head of garlic", you tell us to watch something... to what were you referring to?

sara said...

Those are some pretty amazing carrots.

Regarding the pork, I agree that cooking longer (I cook mine for 4-5 hours after butchering, I believe you are supposed to add an hour for bone-in) as well as adding some acid to tenderize would help. I generally use beer and juice from 1/2 orange, but wine or apple cider vinegar also work nicely.

Also, so homesick for LA right now, and this post sealed the deal.

amelia said...

Hi, Tom! Sorrrrrrry. Just added the link. And here it is again! http://www.saveur.com/article/Video/video-How-to-Peel-a-Head-of-Garlic-in-Less-Than-10-Seconds

amelia said...

this made me laugh out loud. So, yes, I may have some other photos for you to caption. thanks in advance!!

amelia said...

:) :)

amelia said...

Andrea, Jessica, Ileana, and Sara:

Thank you soooo much for your advice/ wisdom. I will definitely cook longer next time and try some acid.

Emily said...

I use this recipe- http://smittenkitchen.com/2011/11/homesick-texan-carnitas/
really good, and the citrus helps a lot!

tori said...

Those carrots would do well in a pageant. I bust out pineapple juice and beer to braise my carnitas in- the enzymes in the pineapple really help tenderise the meat...

Tiffany said...

Yeah, spice is hard to come by in these parts. I'm going to have to do this carnitas thing myself. And I like the look of those pickled vegetables!

Claire Maria said...

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la domestique said...

That meal looks fantastic and I'm so on those pickled vegetables! As far as the pork goes, I believe in waiting for the magic moment of the braise. It's funny how a piece of meat can cook for something like 3 hours and not be "done," but at 3 hours and 15 minutes (or whatever) it's perfectly fork tender and falling apart. This is one of life's mysteries. Cooking low and slow is about dissolving the tough connective tissues that hold the meat together.

Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) said...

I need to try making carnitas! And I usually use a slow cooker for my pork, and if it's even just undercooked a little it refuses to shred. I also make the mistake of trying to shred it immediately, and I get stuff everywhere because I burn myself and flail about. Oops.

ileana said...

You're welcome! And thanks very much to you for all your Bon Appetempts and wisdom. By the way, I meant to tell you the 1/2 of an orange is cut in half and thrown in with four pounds of pork shoulder.

Sarah at Winner Celebration Party said...

Always love a good Alice Waters recipe, and I'm so excited to try this one, taking into account everyone's helpful tips. I've been seeing recipes out for Mexican rice and Spanish rice and arroz con pollo, so I think a rice recipe is in order, too. Yum.

Jon said...

Try covering your pot when you braise the pork. I don't remember where I read it, but someone wise once said that you have to cover the pot to ensure fall-off-the-bone meat tenderness. I've found this to be true when I cook short ribs.

To get a crispy crust on your meat, simply bump up the oven temp. and cook uncovered for a few minutes.

Stephanie said...

This looks extremely yummy, but if you want a simpler way . . . I always do my pulled pork in the slow-cooker. Then I serve it Colombian style with arepa, tomatillo salsa and crumbled feta.

I love a recipe from Canadian Living because: it's ready when I get home from work (magic!), it's simple, it's always done and it's easy to shred. Here's a link to it: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/slow_cooker_pulled_pork.php

Mary Anne said...


Mary Anne said...

so...the yellow carrot is TOTALLY pretty, but has she gained a little weight? i mean, not that there's anything wrong with that or anything, she looks fantastic...

Mary Anne said...

has anyone here ever braised pork in Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola? I heard that was good for carnitas but I am scared to try it.

kale said...

That peeling garlic video was so cool! It's always fun to "shake the dickens" out of something!

Tom Pugh said...

Amelia! I think you should Bon Appetempt Macarons! I cannot, for the life of me, get them right and watching you try might prove insightful.

God bless!

- tom

joanna said...

those carrots look wicked!

i can eat like 6 tacos in one sitting. usually it's fish, sometimes it's shrimp, and every once in a while it's carne asada. really excited to eat some great ones in mexico city in a couple of weeks!


Heather Taylor said...

YUMMY and gorgeous looking

amelia said...

thanks for the suggestion, Tom! Macarons would be really fun.

amelia said...

right? alsooo, sorry about your postponed Paris trip! The good news is that it'll be all the sweeter once you've finally arrived!

Anonymous said...

definitely try it! using soda of some sort is my old family recipe for braising a beef brisket. you can't really taste the soda, but each will bring something slight to the results...ginger ale...a tad of sweet, dr.pepper, a tad of spicy. also...i always use diet as it' what i have on hand. recently on Kelsey's Essentials she did a pork shoulder with "cola" & said it was her secret ingredient. enjoy!

margaret said...

agreed on covering. foil for the oven, glass lid for crock pot. the point of braising is to roast / cook partially in liquid. no lid equals all that moisture and flavor evaporates.

cheap cosplay costumes said...

The yellow carrot is so pretty!And the food are wonderful!Looks delicious!

Sara White said...

These look absolutely delicious! I'm definitely going to have to give this recipe a try next time I'm struck with an overpowering taco craving.

(By the way, I just read your "In the Kitchen With Grandma" story and wanted to let you know that I loved it - great story, fantastic writing.)

catlin said...

!!!!!!!! I made the tacos and pickled veggies today and the tacos were A M A Z I N G. I can't explain to you how delicious the carnitas is...well, you already know!
My boyfriend (who is hispanic, from Santa Fe) said they were the best tacos he's every had. I covered the pot and actually only cooked the pork shoulder for 2 hours (I had a 3.5 lb). The meat was very tender and paired with the veggie puree+stock....I almost fell over! Served with grated mizithra (it was all I had, still delicious), creme fraiche, tomatillo and chipotle salsa, onions and cilantro.
Thank you so much for attempting this recipe, it was absolutely fantastic:)
PS-Oops, never got to the pickled veggies. But they look great;)
PPS-Couldn't find ancho chiles at my local Mexican grocer, so I substituted New Mexican red chiles and it was still great, but maybe not as spicy as the ancho.

amelia said...

nice work, lady!!

tunie said...

If you do, try the ones from Brave Tart - they're on the blog now, but her book is coming out soon, (though not sure if they'll be in there).

catlin said...

I made these AGAIN. Whenever I make carnitas, I search for this recipe...