Carnitas con Rajas

I decided it was time to explore something I haven't cooked... carnitas. There are a few ways to cook this tasty dish, but basically all of them involve slow cooking a Pork Butt (shoulder) for about 3 hours. The yield from this patience is well worth it, especially if you have to "tend the stove" and there happens to be a football game on.

Carnitas are cooked traditionally in Michoacan by simmering cubes of pork shoulder in a copper pot filled with lard. Most people today a)don't have a bunch of lard lying around, and b) want to try to keep their cholesterol under 350. In this first go-round, I decided to try a semi-traditional method by simmering lightly seasoned meat on the stove and then reducing the liquids till done. To accompany the carnitas, I added Rajas and Avocado-tomatillo salsa.

I love Rajas, and the recipe got me of to a simple but pretty good start. It was fairly mild, and I might add a little more heat next time. The avocado tomatillo salsa is an excellent version, and I'll use it again.

Carnitas (adapted from DianaKennedy)

3 pounds of pork butt
Orange juice and water in a 3 to 1 ratio, enough to cover the meat
2 teaspoons of salt

1. Cut pork into strips (three inches by one inch), add to a large pot or cast iron skillet with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours. Do not touch the meat.
2. After two hours, turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered (about 45 minutes). Stir a few times, to keep pork from sticking to bottom of pan.
3. When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat in the pan). Serve either cubed or shredded (pork will be tender enough that just touching it will cause it to fall apart).
 Serves 4-6

Notes: The key to this recipe is that the meat has fat, so don't trim it! If there's not enough fat on the meat the recipe will turn out too dry. The brilliance of this recipe lies in its simplicity. Add rubs or spices as desired, or simply season with salt.

Hasson's famous Avocado Tomatillo Salsa

1 ripe avocado
1 medium tomatillo
1 stemmed jalapeño pepper, quartered*
1 Cup water
1 Tablespoon white distilled vinegar
3/4 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 Tablespoons diced onion

Chef's note: 
For less heat, remove seeds from the jalepeños.
To make it hotter, substitute serrano peppers to the recipe.

In a blender or food processor puree all ingredients.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 lime to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Makes 1-1/2 cups

You can use different peppers or seasonings but this is a good basic recipe, by Rick Bayless.

4 medium, fresh chiles poblanos, roasted and peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2/3 cup crema or whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (thyme, Mexican oregano, marjoram)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chiles: Stem and seed the roasted chiles. You can remove the veins if you want a more mild rajas. Slice the chiles crosswise into 1/4" strips.

Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat and fry the onions until they brown, about 7 -8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chile strips, cook 2 minutes.

Add the cream, herbs, and bay leaves and simmer until the liquid reduces enough to just coat the vegetables. Remove the bay leaves, taste and adjust salt as needed. 

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