Friday, September 17, 2010

Carnitas Possibly Perfected

Moist and flavorful

Previously, I have been experimenting with making authentic carnitas. (See previous posts) Real carnitas are simmered in large amounts of lard, then finished in hot lard to crisp the outside and carmelize the meat. Faux carnitas are braised in liquid and then broiled in the oven to achieve the crispness.

The braising method infuses the pork with tons of flavor, but the meat can be a bit dry. Broiling in the oven doesn't quite bring out true pork goodness like a hot fry bath. The advantage of the simmer in its own fat method keeps the meat moist, and really puts a nice crust on the meat, yet it is lard. Finding the right balance between the two has been my quest.

Whole pork shoulders were on sale awhile back at less than a $1/lb. That is a wonderful price to be had. 10 pounds of meat for about $10. Only a whole shoulder has bone and skin and cutting one of them up becomes an ordeal. I grumbled "never again" would I succumb to seductive sale prices and have to cut up meat, but that was only because I hate getting my hands grimy with meat juice, and I do not want to cut my fingers.

I decided to make larger chunks of meat than I had been making in order to retain more moisture in the meat. I also let it sit for about 12 or so hours in a simple brine of bitter orange juice, lime juice, onions, cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, and a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt.

I wanted to revisit oven cooking the meat. I removed most of the brine liquid and added about one pound of fresh lard. I cooked the meat at around 200°F for a couple of hours, then began raising the temperature a little bit at a time to help it achieve and sustain a soft simmer. In about four hours the meat was fork tender.

Next, I removed it from the fat/liquid to let it cool and drain. I had some previously well-used peanut oil in my ancient relic of a Fry Daddy, so I heated it up and added a few chunks at a time for a quick 1-2 minutes. The pork pieces create a really deep bubbling of the oil, and fattier pieces have a tendency to spit. They cooked up nicely, and I regret not taking a picture of their lovely crispness.

The moment of truth was revealed came when the chunks were opened up and shredded. Inside the meat was moist, infused with good flavor, and had the perfect exterior crispness without the heavy lard quality. Thus, I declare that I have quite possibly perfected carnitas!

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