Back during finals week, my good friend Tim and I made what could be one of the best meals we’ve ever had. I was cracked out from writing my seemingly endless stream of research papers and really couldn’t afford to take the time to make anything more complex than Easy Mac that day, but I felt like I had to make something good to save my sanity. A lot of the food that I ate that week was just plain wrong: miniature bags of Ruffles scavenged from random nooks, tortilla chips with American cheese melted on top, individual slices of bread sprinkled with nothing more than Maggi seasoning. The worst part was that all of my papers’ topics pertained to food; I tortured myself with colonial descriptions of traditional Native Mexican cuisine and full-color advertisements for WWI-era economical patriot dishes. Next semester I’ll write about something less stimulating, like Stalinism.
I copped the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and it’s some good shit. It’s definitely not as much work as it sounds. The result was an amazingly satisfying pick-me-up in the midst of a soul-crushing finals week, and it tasted even better when we were drunk! Incidentally, I would recommend pairing this with a Pinot Noir.
Carnitas (feeds two hungry college kids for two days)
- 1 (4 lb.) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8-inch thick
- Table (or kosher) salt and ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 small onion, peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 lime, squeezed
- 1 orange, halved and squeezed
- 2 C water
- Tortillas, lime wedges, minced white onion and fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion halves, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch over (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/2 cup of juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to over; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.
2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
3. Using two forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve carnitas immediately after cooking in warm tortillas and with garnishes.