Pork is by far Alex's favorite meat. I'm on the fence. I love meats of all sorts, but I'm not sure that I can pick a favorite. I mean, I love a great steak or a juicy burger just as much as I love pork belly and pulled pork. And then there is always my occasional yen for lamb. And don't get me started on poultry. Guinea hen anyone? Yum. Anyway, making carnitas has been on my mind for quite some time. Sometimes I get an idea in my head and then I just fixate. I found this recipe last week, and then stumbled across a beautiful hunk of pork shoulder at the butcher. And luckily I had most of the other ingredients in the fridge, with the exception of one ingredient, the chicharrones, that we ended up leaving out of the recipe entirely.
The orange flavor of the pork is very delicate. I would say that the carnitas are intensely porky and only just slightly perfumed by the orange. Over a year ago Alex and I made a recipe from Top Chef - Howie's Braised Pork Shoulder with Yucca and Pickled Onions. That pork was far more flavorful, but much less intensely porky. Instead you tasted primarily the sweetness of the oranges and brown sugar, the perfume of the spices (cinnamon, star anise and ginger), and the sourness of the lime and vinegar. The meat was wonderfully flavorful, as were the pickled onions, but it definitely wasn't all about the flavor of the pork itself. Now with that said, I have to say that in the future I might add some more spices and other elements from that recipe when I make carnitas in the future. For instance, I might add some additional orange juice and spices to the braising liquid just to kick up the flavor a bit. But, at the same time, I wouldn't want to overpower the more subtle flavors of the pork itself. It's a rather difficult balance to achieve. With all of that said, this was a delicious dish. When you layered the flavors of the pork, the bright cilantro, the sharp red onion, the tangy tomatillo salsa, and the creamy avocado everything came together. If your intention was to eat the pork solo I would recommend flavoring the braising liquid with a heavier hand, but if your intention is to enjoy the taco as a whole, then it's pretty perfect as is!
Recipe after the jump!
Tacos of Carnitas Roasted with Orange, Milk and Pepper
Adapted from Amor y Tacos: Modern Mexican Tacos, Margaritas, and Antojitos
By Deborah Schneider
Recipe available on Epicurious
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 orange, well washed
1 cup whole milk
3 cups water (approximately)
1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
Warm flour tortillas
Avocado, diced and lightly salted
1/2 large red onion, diced
Tomatillo salsa (we used store-bought canned salsa)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the pork into 6-8 pieces. Melt the butter in a heavy Dutch oven just large enough to hold the meat in one layer. Add the oil and swirl to combine. Brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes total, and season with salt. Squeeze the orange juice over the meat and toss the 1/2 of the rind into the pan. Pour the milk over the meat and add enough water to almost cover the meat (in my 7 1/2 quart Le Creuset it took about 3 cups of water). Sprinkle with pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and lid and bake for about 2 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. To finish, uncover the meat and break into into large pieces. Remove the orange rind and discard. Roast, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 25 minutes, or until the meat is brown and crisp on the edges.
To assemble the tacos, fill a warm tortilla with shredded pork. Top with avocado, diced onion, cilantro and tomatillo salsa.