It's no surprise that we're still reliving, if only virtually, our vacation to Mazatlan, considering the cold weather that's been visited upon us since our return. So when I saw giant pork shoulder roasts on sale at New Seasons, I had to grab one.
Then I pulled out my collection of cookbooks by Diana Kennedy, the woman who single-handedly brought Mexican cuisine to the attention of Americans who thought of Mexican food as refried beans and yellow cheese. She revealed the complex flavors and preparations, as well as the regional differences, in this ancient cuisine that was local, fresh and sustainable before we were even a glint in our founding fathers' eyes.
Simmering the ingredients.
We are crazy for carnitas, and when I saw her recipe for Carnitas Caseras, or home-cooked carnitas, it was a done deal. The preparation is relatively fast and easy and takes minimal effort, being basically a braised dish, and I had most of the ingredients on hand. So it was brown the meat, throw in the rest of the ingredients, let it simmer and then reduce the liquid. Easy!
Served with rice, guacamole, salsa, a salad and corn tortillas, it was like being back on the Malecon, feeling the warm breeze off the ocean. Maybe next time we take this trip we'll bring some friends along!
Carnitas Caseras (Home-Cooked Carnitas)
Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
4 Tbsp. lard or canola oil
4 lbs. pork shoulder roast, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 fresh marjoram sprigs or 1/2 tsp. dried
4 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 tsp. dried
3 bay leaves, broken up
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 orange, cut into eighths
1 c. milk
Salt to taste
Heat the lard or oil in a heavy braising pot, add the meat to the pan without crowding it and brown in batches. Remove the meat and saute the onion until softened, scraping up the brown bits from the meat. Put the meat back in with the onion and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat and fry, stirring and scraping until the pan juices have been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Drain off any extra fat and serve.
The carnitas may be prepared ahead up to the point of the final frying, but they should be kept covered so that the meat does not dry out.