I wanted to make something for Cinco de Mayo today that was different for me at least without it taking me hours in the kitchen or having something that is smothered in cheese (I am not a fan of all things cheesy). I looked around this past week and saw some great recipes in a few places and decided to give them a try. The bulk of them came from America’s Test Kitchen, including this one for Mexican Pulled Pork, or Carnitas.
Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)
1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
2 cups water
1 medium orange, halved
Minced red onion
Fresh cilantro leaves
Thinly sliced radishes
Guacamole (recipe to follow)
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the pork, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice and water in a large Dutch oven. The liquid should just barely cover the meat. Juice the orange into a medium bowl and remove any seeds. You should have about 1/3 a cup of juice. Add the juice and the spent orange halves to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during the cooking process.
Remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven to broil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a bowl; remove the orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from the cooking liquid and discard. Do not skim the fat from the liquid. Place the pot over high heat and simmer the liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy. A heat-safe spatula should leave a wide trail when dragged through the glaze. The process should take 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup of reduced liquid when done.
Using two forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in the reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the pork in an even layer on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet or on a broiler pan. The meat should cover almost the entire surface of the pan. Place the baking sheet on the lower-middle rack and broil until the top of the meat is well browned but not charred and the edges are slightly crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip the pieces of meat and continue to broil until the top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and any garnishes that you like.
All 3 of us loved this pork. These tacos were easily some of the best I had made. The pork just melted in your mouth and was cooked perfectly. You could easily use this pork in other ways for other Mexican meals if you wanted, such as burritos, enchiladas or tamales, but I think they worked great as a taco myself. We did have some good leftovers which I am looking forward to having for lunch this week.
As a good side dish to go along with this, I decided to make a Cuban-Style Black Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos). I thought it would make a nice accompaniment to the pork and I got the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen as well.
Cuban-Style Black Beans and Rice (Moros y Cristianos)
1 cup dried black beans, rinsed and picked over
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 large green peppers, halved and seeded
1 large onion, halved at the equator and peeled, root end left intact
1 head garlic, 5 medium cloves removed and minced, remaining head halved at the equator with skin left intact
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces lean salt pork, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 medium scallions, sliced thin
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts of cold water in a large bowl. Add the beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
In a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, stir together the drained beans, broth, water, 1 pepper half, 1 onion half (with root end), halved garlic head, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the beans are just soft, about 30 to 40 minutes. Using tongs, remove discard the pepper, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Drain the beans in a colander set over a large bowl, reserving 2 1/2 cups of the bean cooking liquid. If you don’t have enough bean cooking liquid left, add some water to equal 2 1/2 cups. Do not wash out the Dutch oven.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rice in a large fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, about 1 1/2 minutes. Shake the strainer vigorously to remove all excess water; set the rice aside. Cut the remaining peppers and onion into 2-inch pieces and process them in a food processor until broken into rough 1/4-inch pieces, about eight 1-second pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary; set the vegetables aside.
In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and the salt pork over medium-low heat; cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned and rendered, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the remaining oil, chopped peppers and onion, oregano, and cumin. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice and stir to coat, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the beans, reserved bean cooking liquid, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Serve, passing the scallions and lime wedges separately.
A few things about this recipe. First, I did not use salt pork. I had bacon on hand, so that is what I used. If you are using bacon, you only need to cook it for about 4 to 8 minutes instead of the 15 to 20 for the salt pork. If you want a more vegetarian version of the recipe, eliminate the pork altogether and use water instead of the chicken broth. You could also add a little tomato paste when cooking the vegetables for some more body and flavor. Lastly, although a traditional sofrito calls for green peppers, green peppers upset my stomach and Michelle’s, so I went for red pepper instead. I actual like the flavor better and the color of the final product. This recipe makes a lot of rice and could easily feed 8 people, so you may want to cut it down to half if you have a smaller table to feed. Overall, I thought it was a very nice side dish and I could use the leftovers with a wide variety of other dishes.
I also made the fresh salsa that I usually make, which is America’s Test Kitchen as well if you want to check it out. I also made the guacamole I had made in the past as well if you want to see that recipe. The entire meal turned out great and we had a very relaxing late lunch/early dinner for the day.
I do have several other recipes to share for this week, including the dessert I made for tonight of a Mango-Pineapple Fruit Salad. I also have recipes this week for chicken, crab cakes, griddle cakes and a few others since I didn’t get to share any this past week. Check back and see if you like anything you see. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!