Guy’s Night (Carnitas)
Betsy and I have a few other couples that we like to hang with on occasion. Usually we just get together, make some dinner, and drink copious amounts of beer and wine. Apparently though this was not ideal for the ladies in the group because a few weekends ago they scheduled a “Lady’s Night” and they made it a point that we were very NOT invited.
So we decided it would be a good idea to have a guy’s night mainly with the goal of making them jealous. I spent a few hours braising some pork butt to make some carnitas. I figured that would a good guy’s night dish. I was right.
I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the ladies were jealous of our carnitas.
Before I get too far into the carnitas though, I also made up a batch of my new favorite salsa. It’s really simple, but very tasty.
Yield: 1/2 pound per person
Boneless pork shoulder aka pork butt. I used a 3 pound cut for this post but just adjust it for however many people you are serving.
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons canola oil
3-4 Mexican beers
Assorted dried peppers (I used a mix of 2 ancho, 3 New Mexico, 7 arbol)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
Plus you'll want:
Flour or corn tortillas
Salsa (above or from a jar)
Red onion, sliced
Cojita cheese, crumbled
Black beans (optional)
1 28 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
1/4 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lime, juice only
2-3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
Handful of cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper
1) To make salsa, roughly chop all your ingredients and add them to a blender or food processor. Pulse until it's chunky. Adjust flavors to fit your tastes.
2) Trim off some of the larger chunk of fats from the pork butt. Chop the butt into a few large chunks and add them to a bowl with salt, pepper, and the juice from one lime. Let this all marinade for an hour.
3) In a large dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of neutral oil. Once hot, add pork chunks and sear well on all sides. Work in batches and don't crowd the pan. They will need 4 minutes per side to brown well.
4) Pour off the fat from the pork and reserve it for later. Don't wash the pot.
5) Add roasted dried peppers (roasted at 300 degrees for just 5 minutes) to the pot along with a cup of water. Use the water to scrape up all of the burned bits of pork in the pan. This is easy if you have it over high heat still. Then add all your other braising ingredients and bring to a simmer.
6) Add pork pieces back the pot. When liquid is simmering, cover, and put it in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours.
7) Remove your pork pieces from the pot after they braise and let them cool briefly. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees at this point.
8) Once your pork is cool enough to handle, pull it into strands with a few forks or your hands.
9) Add the pork to a baking dish. Pour the pork drippings from earlier over the shredded pork. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes and the top of the pork will get nice and crispy.
10) Serve with warm tortillas and lots of toppings.
To make it, just roughly chop up all your ingredients and then add them to a blender or food processor. The fire roasted tomatoes give the whole thing a great, almost smoky flavor. Muir Glen makes a great version.
Blend this up until it’s a bit chunky or whatever consistency you are going for. This was about right for me.
The important thing with salsa is to taste it on a chip as you go and adjust for flavors. Adjust for salt and pepper obviously but it also might need a bit more lime juice. It’s best if you can make this many hours before you need it because it’ll get better as it sits in the fridge. Also, it’ll get spicier so if you’re going to let it sit remember that’s gonna be hotter in a few hours.
Ok. So there’s a lot of different ways to make carnitas, but the thing to remember is that it’s pretty hard to go wrong. If you want to be completely authentic, you need to actually braise the pork in lard which was a bit intense for me. Not because I’m scared but just because I don’t have the space for like a gallon of lard in my pantry. Plus it seems a bit excessive. If you’re interested though, here’s a good authentic recipe.
Instead of that, I braised my pork in a spicy beer liquid and then broiled it really hot once it was pulled to get it nice and crispy. I’m getting ahead of myself though.
Preparing the Butt
When you get your pork butt it’ll be large. Try to trim off some of the larger chunks of fat and then cut it into even pieces, four or five is ideal for a 3 pound butt. Then toss them in a bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper and the juice from one lime. Rub this all in and let it sit for an hour at least, but the longer the better.
One very important to making these work is to make sure you brown the meat nicely before you braise it. This actually goes for anytime you want to braise something. In a large dutch oven (or something oven and stovetop safe), heat a few tablespoons neutral oil. Once it’s hot add your pork pieces. Make sure they aren’t touching or overlapping. I had to do mine in two batches.
Let them sit (don’t fiddle!) for 4-5 minutes on each side. You want a really nice sear on each side. These were my pieces. Remember that these are basically raw on the inside. This is going to give the final product a lot of flavor though.
In your pot, there will be lots of almost burned bits of pork and probably 1/2 cup of rendered pork fat. Pour off the fat and save it for later. We’ll need it in a few hours. It’ll look like this.
Oh… and don’t wash the pot!
If you have an assortment of dried peppers, they will give some great flavor to our braising liquid. I used a few that I had laying around. You can substitute 2 or 3 Tablespoons of your favorite chili powder if you want, but the whole chiles are cool.
If you use whole chiles, toast them in a 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes to activate all of their oils and flavors. Then you can add them right into the braising liquid.
The Braising liquid
Braising the pork makes it incredibly tender and flavorful and is really the only way to go in my opinion. Take the pot that you used to brown the pork (you didn’t wash it did you?!)
Put the pot over high heat again and pour in about 1 Cup of warm water. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape up all of those delicious pork bits. It should make a pretty dark liquid. Then add your pork pieces back into that liquid.
Add your beers, chiles, garlic, bay leaves, and enough water to just barely cover the pork. Should look something like this:
Let this come to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, put on the lid and stick it in a 325 degree oven for about 3 hours. It’ll take that long for all of the fat in the pork to melt completely.
After a few hours, you can lift your pork pieces out with tongs. You’ll know you’re done because the pieces should almost fall apart just from lifting them out. They should be really tender.
You’ll need to let these cool for a few minutes before you can handle them. Meanwhile, heat up your oven to 450.
Once your pork is cool, pull it into chunks using either your fingers or two forks. For guy’s night, I just used my hands because that’s the manly thing to do.
Add this to a baking dish.
Right now the pork is delicious, but it’s not as delicious as it could be. Ideally, we want to crisp it up a bit to make the texture even better.
Remember those pork drippings that were left over from browning the meat? Pour those over the pulled pork. Then add the dish into the oven.
After about 10 or 15 minutes, the pork will be crispy on the edges and just as tender.
Add this to a warm tortilla with your toppings of choice and you are ready for a meal.
If you’re curious what guys do when the ladies are out, I’ll let you in on a secret.
We try to take over the world.
Dorky? Maybe. But whatever. We had fun (and I won). Plus we ate really well.
So take that ladies. Maybe next time we’ll invite you.