I Made a Big Batch of Delicious Carnitas Just For Me… and I’ll Do it Again
A Crowd-pleasing Meal for a Crowd of One
By Dara O’Brien
Creative Director, Lake Isle Press
I’ve always loved entertaining. Then March happened and you know the rest. Pandemic lockdown, and non-hilarity ensued. I don’t have outdoor space, so nobody’s coming to my place any time soon.
Since cooking is a creative outlet for me, not having anyone to cook for doesn’t keep me out of the kitchen. Sometimes I hit a wrinkle doing the math to scale back recipes that would leave me with mega leftovers (there’s just so much room in my freezer), but I’ve been cooking every day and trying new recipes at least once a week.
There are some recipes, though, that are so perfect for celebrations that it feels kind of deflating to make them just for me. Take carnitas, for example. I had a craving, but it seemed sad to make such a crowd-pleaser for a crowd of only one. Luckily, I got over it.
I chose the recipe for Beer- and Citrus-Braised Carnitas in “The Latin Road Home” by Jose Garces, published by Lake Isle Press. Not only did I want to treat myself, but I figured I could test the recipe to see if it’s something I want to put into my sometime-in-the-unforeseeable-future party rotation.
I suspected this recipe had wow-factor potential from the moment its aroma filled my kitchen. That suspicion was confirmed when I tasted the pork fresh from the pot. It was so good I gasped. That’s why you want to serve this meal for a crowd. It’s too good to keep it to yourself.
It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, not at all hard to follow. Place a boneless pork shoulder in a braise of vegetable oil and lard flavored with oranges, condensed milk, onions, garlic, spices and beer, and pop it in the oven at 300°F. Then three hours later take it out and pull it apart. Crisp it in a frying pan, then build yourself a taco or two.
I cut the recipe in half, because a 6 lb. roast seemed a bit endless to me. Otherwise, I made the recipe as specified, using a dutch oven with a lid as opposed to a roasting pan with foil as Jose suggests. I decided to pull all the pork while it was fresh, and after finishing a portion for my first swoon-worthy meal, I still had plenty of leftovers.
I saved the leftovers in individual portions with a little braising liquid to keep them moist and froze them. I was curious if the frozen leftovers would still be as tasty as that first meal, and waited to post this until I had the answer: and that answer is yes. I crisped some leftover carnitas today, and they were delicious.
To prepare the defrosted carnitas I drained them on a paper towel. A little of the braise still clung, so I added the meat, chopped cilantro, onions, and garlic without any oil to a hot cast iron pan. A spritz of lime and voila. Or should I say ole?
To assemble my tacos I added cabbage, avocado, scallions, sweet peppers, guacamole salsa, and a little extra cilantro. Bingo. Just as good as the first time.
Some day I’ll cook for others once more, and I will be happy to have this showstopper in my arsenal. The recipe has some complexity, but it’s not difficult, and most of the time involved is when it does its thing in the oven. The result is so flavorful I’d say it’s worth the investment. And I can tell you I don’t expect to wait until I can share it to make it again.
Classic Beer- and Citrus-Braised Fried Pork
6 lbs boneless pork shoulder
2 quarts vegetable oil
½ cup lard
10 fresh garlic cloves, crushed
2 Spanish onions. chopped
2 (14-oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
2 (12-oz) bottles Mexican lager
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 navel oranges, peel left on, quartered
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
2 tsp black peppercorns
10 sprigs thyme
20 whole allspice berries
10 whole cloves
½ cup salt
¼ cup oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced garlic (12 to 16 cloves)
½ cup fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (about ½ lime)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 300°F
TO BRAISE THE PORK, combine all the ingredients for the braised pork in a large roasting pan. Cover the pan snugly with aluminum foil and roast for 3 hours.
Take the pan out of the oven and allow the meat to rest in the braising liquid for 15 minutes. (At this point, the meat can be refrigerated in the braising liquid for up to 2 days.) Transfer the meat to a large platter or rimmed baking sheet and discard the braising liquid and solids. When the meat is cool enough to handle, gently pull it apart into large pieces with your fingers.
TO FINISH THE CARNITAS, heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the shredded pork, onions, and garlic and cook the meat to crisp it on one side, 1 to 2 minutes (it will happen quickly). Carefully turn the pork (beware of spattering oil) and add the cilantro and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Reprinted from “The Latin Road Home” by Jose Garces, published by Lake Isle Press, 2012
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on July 14, 2020.