Opinion

Comfort Foods

How to make Pork Carnitas.

There are glimmers of hope as I write: peaks are passing, curves are flattening, and intensive care units are not overwhelmed. At least in my neck of the woods. Even still, not all the headlines are good at the moment – and they never will be, this side of the veil – and surely there’s more bad news to come. 

Bad news is a bitter pill. But bitter pills are best swallowed on a full stomach, and so I’d like to teach you how to make another dish which bears gustatory and psychological benefits in equal measure. I say “another” because my last instalment was a recipe for butter chicken (“An Invitation to Dinner,” April 13). Normally I wouldn’t double up on the column-as-recipe thing, but the pressure to be otherwise profound is too daunting at the moment. 

So, let’s make pork carnitas. Carnitas translates from Spanish to “little meats,” and when scooped onto a warm soft tortilla with complimentary toppings, are the very summit of what a taco can be. My recipe is based on one I learned from Deb Perelman’s marvelous Smitten Kitchen blog. She dubs them “Homesick Texan Carnitas” – let Texan be a stand-in for “human” here, and homesick a shorthand for the sundry yearnings we all have for the way things used to be. 

Helpin’ you through
Here’s your grocery list. Brevity is the soul of wit, and amazing flavour, too:

  • 3 pounds or thereabouts of boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (squeezed from about 2 to 3 limes)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste

Preparation is dead simple. Step one: put some Willie Nelson on the hifi. He’s Texas’ favourite son, and he’ll help you through these times. Cut that pork shoulder into 2-inch cubes. Watch your fingers! Put the pork hunks in a heavy, heavy pot – a cast iron Dutch oven is what you want. Squeeze the orange and lime juice over top, and toss in the smashed garlic. Sprinkle in the salt and cumin. Fill the pot up with water until the pork is just barely covered.

Bring the pot to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for two hours. Do not touch it! Let it be, and after two hours, the water should have evaporated, leaving the pork fork-tender and sizzling in its rendered fat. Cook the pork in that fat, until it browns up nicely – you may ever so gently turn the pieces for equal browning at this stage. You could also splash in a few glugs of Coca-Cola at this point – not the diet variety of course; you want sugar for extra caramelization. 

Marvel a moment
As I mentioned above, serve the carnitas on warm soft tortillas – corn or flour, whatever your taste is – with suitable toppings: diced onion and chopped cilantro, with a squeeze of lime. Some sliced avocado is nice, too – before you cut it open, let it linger in your palm for a moment and marvel at the fact that even during a time of pestilence and global upheaval, you have ready access to avocados, even in our chilly climes. 

Sky’s the limit here; be creative! Scorch some green onions on a hot grill. Chop some pineapple. I really like topping the carnitas with a quick pickle; the pork is incredibly rich, so something acidic brings some balance. Slice a red onion or a similar volume of radishes, and soak them in a mason jar for a few hours with a half cup of cider vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt (dissolved, of course).

And, as always, give thanks to the creator, who is our only comfort, and source of all our comfort foods.

  • Brian Is CC’s Review Editor and a CRC chaplain at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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