Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Cooking with Rod


By Rod Cohenour

For years my sweet wife has had a special love for carnitas. We've tried to capture that special flavor and texture that make carnitas so delicious. This month she decided to really research and compare the many recipes from the traditional to those making use of all the new timesaving equipment.

After all that research, she opted to create her own take on the delicious, traditional Mexican meat - Michoacan Carnitas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo!! Try it, I think you'll like it!

~Bon appetit!


(and Variations)


Ms Carnitas (Pork Marinated, Braised, Roasted, and Broiled)

    * 5 pound Pork butt/shoulder roast
    * 1-2 large Bermuda (white, sweet) or Spanish (yellow and mild) onions, diced fine
    * 3-6 Garlic cloves, minced
    * 1 tsp. Chile powder
    * 1 bay leaf (remember to remove before final step, broiling of cubed meat)
    * 1 Chipotle in adobo sauce, minced. Use the sauce too.
    * 2 tsp. Ground cumin
    * 1 tsp. Ground black pepper
    * 1 tsp. Dried Oregano
    * 1 tsp. Smoky Paprika
    * 1/4 cup Lime juice
    * 2 cans Orange juice concentrate, thawed
    * 1 large Orange, peeled (retain the peel), membrane and any seeds removed, remove sections whole. Retain orange slices in tightly sealed Ziploc in fridge to be used as garnish, as part of your Black Beans Salsa or even in your mixed green salad with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and avocado
    * 1-3 Jalapeno peppers, minced fine, after removing membranes, stem, and all seeds (Can substitute Serrano or Ancho or Poblano Peppers, but flavor will be altered slightly with the Ancho or Poblano choices. They are more mild generally but possess strong recognizable flavors)
    * 1 cup Butter
    * 1 cup oil (corn oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil - negative is its low heat smoking tendency, positive its incredible flavor. I don't recommend Olive oil here simply because I personally do not like its flavor in Mexican food)
    * 1-2 cups from 1 liter Dr. Pepper
    * I bunch Cilantro, tough stems and any brown or damaged leaves removed. Reserving a few pretty leaf arrays, loosely chop the remaining stems and leaves


Rod and I have never tried to make traditional carnitas. Just kinda tried what seemed right but couldn't achieve that incredible taste. My favorite of all Mexican meats I believe including fajita meats. Maybe a tie with Puerco Adobada. (Adobada is generally pork marinated in a "red" chili sauce with vinegar and oregano. Or Al Pastor, spit roasted pork shaved off the larger piece on the spit, then embellished with a sauce of some type, more like barbecued pork.) So, I spent time doing what I do - I researched... and researched...and ...

Carnitas translates directly as "little meats" actually. The pork butt/shoulder is trimmed of heavy fat but the desirable option will be a well marbled roast. You want the marbled fat to sort of dissolve and add to the pan liquor which will be used to glaze the finished bite size chunks to caramelize.

Traditional carnitas require sauteing in Manteca (Mexican lard rendered from a fatty cut of pork) only available in specialty markets; but often I see my usual choice for chicken and other cuts, a combo of equal parts butter and oil like corn oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil (negative is its low heat smoking tendency, positive its incredible flavor). I don't recommend Olive oil here simply because I personally do not like its flavor in Mexican foods.

    1. To marinate overnight. Cut the pork butt into smaller chunks about 6" cubes to make more manageable and provide more meat surface.
    2. After trimming and large cubing of the pork shoulder for overnight marinating, the meat is added to a pan large enough to submerge the roast in the marinade. Again, traditionalists will encase it in a sheaf of kosher salt to break down fiber and begin tenderizing the meat. We, like so many, are restricted from heavy use of salt for health reasons.
    3. Cover with lime juice, one half the orange juice concentrate and the Dr. Pepper. If needed add more Orange juice and additional Dr. Pepper to cover.
    4. Prepare to slow roast:
    Remove the roast from marinating liquid but do not dispose of the marinade. Strain any bits out but we will use the marinade.
    5. Then brown the cubes slowly in the butter and oil. The pork butt's own marbling and soft fat cap will dissolve and provide the Manteca the traditionalists demand. Not too brown, as the carnitas require many stages of cooking and this is merely the first step toward those tender but crispy caramelized bites you crave.
    6. Once you're getting ready to start cooking, don't trim off the soft fat. The fat will keep the carnitas moist on the inside, flavors the meat and provides the “lard” that will render during the final cooking stage to give that desired crunchy exterior that good carnitas always have.
    7. Then remove the lightly browned cubes to: 1) a Slow Cooker or 2) an instant pot or 3) a large stew pot or 4) an oven proof roasting pan or 5) a stove top pan (remember, you have to spend more time watching if stove top). Spread the meat out to form one layer.
    8. Top the cubes with a melange consisting of the chopped onion, fresh minced garlic, all the spices, Chipotle and Adobo sauce, diced Chile peppers, the orange peel and the strained marinade plus the remaining orange juice, and Cilantro (retaining the best for garnish).
    9. Use a low oven heat of about 300° F to roast the pork for a couple of hours, letting juices permeate the meat and condense as well. Turn the cubes at least once during this process, checking to make sure sufficient liquid remains to cover and permit the meat to simmer in these tasty cooking liquids.
    10. When your pork is cooked through and still moist, remove the roasting pan from the oven.
    11. Now cut the 6" cubes carved from the original pork roast into smaller pieces to provide more surface for the pan liquor to affect. Each 6" cube should now be cut into thirds, each now about a 2-3" chunk. You'll use the pan liquor for a caramelizing glaze as you finish the truly now "little meats" under the broiler. Just let the cubes brown nicely and get a bit crisp (but not dry) around the edges. Turn over, glaze, broil the other side.
    12. You'll use the remaining pan liquor to make a thickened syrupy sauce to drizzle over the carnitas before serving. Simply pour up the liquids, again straining out other bits. Add pan liquor to a sauce pan. These ingredients give the Carnitas that luscious golden brown color, impart all the blend of flavor, and help to tenderize the meat.

Carnitas are versatile. Ready now to use as an ingredient in tacos, enchiladas, burritos, or a layered casserole, but our choice is to make the Carnitas the star of the show.

Serve as a sauced meat with sides of salad, corn, and iced tea or lemonade. Make sure the following embellishments are available for your dinner guests:

    * Ms Fresh Pico de Gallo (recipe follows)
    * Ms Black Bean Salsa and Variations (recipe follows)
    * Warmed flour tortillas
    * Fresh creamery butter
    * Shredded cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, cotija)
    * Crisp Bell Pepper strips, celery sticks, green onions
    * Crisp cabbage wedges
    * Radishes, whole or sliced, but icy cold
    * Extra cilantro
    * Sour cream
    * Chipotle or other hot sauce
    * Guacamole
    * Jicama chilled, with lime and lemon slices near
Ms Fresh Pico de Gallo

My Pico de Gallo recipe is simple:

    1 large bell pepper,  membrane n seeds removed, chopped fine
    I firm large tomato diced fine 
    I large Bermuda or Vidalia onion (big white, or sweet) diced fine
    1 - 2 fresh jalapenos, stem, membrane and most seeds removed (control heat by two things, posted heat for the pepper ??? that depends on where it was grown and the weather while growing AND how much membrane and seeds you choose to leave in. I don't like eating the seeds not because of the heat)
    Minced garlic  or garlic powder (gently! Don't over power the fresh flavor)
    Tiny dash ground black pepper

Toss together, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate in covered container at least a few hours to let the flavors blend.

I often use fresh veggies but have also chopped up grilled or roasted. A different flavor sensation.

Ms Black Bean Salsa (and Variations)

    1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can drained, NOT rinsed whole kernel ?? corn
    1/2 cup Pico de Gallo (recipe given above)
    Chopped fresh Cilantro for a bright taste. Don't overdo. Save some pretty leaves for Garnish
    Add a good squeeze of lime juice
    Toss with fresh chopped avocado (use a couple slices with Cilantro for garnish)
    Can add citrus fruit like orange  sections, a big squeeze of lemon  juice, pineapple  tidbits and a Tablespoon of its juice.
    Or  mango or  peach or watermelon  diced fine.
    Try to keep fruits and veggies cut about the same size as a bean.

Cover and refrigerate for a couple hours before serving with hot buttered flour tortillas or corn tostados or add a few tablespoons atop your meat (pork carnitas, flank steak, enchiladas, burritos, whatever)


    1. Can always substitute Serrano, Ancho, or Poblano Peppers for the Jalapenos. The taste will be different, the degree of heat may change but it's your dish when made in your kitchen.
    2. Carnitas leftovers (who ever has leftover Carnitas?) can be refrigerated for up to five days in a tightly covered jar, add some of the pot liquor or water, even chicken broth sprinkled over all to retain moisture. Carnitas can dry out rather easily. They can even be frozen but we do not recommend that as they tend to dry out
    3. Our grandsons, especially Cole, adore Carnitas for breakfast. Eggs your way, warm buttered flour tortillas, fresh juice, melon slices or fruit cup are perfect additions.
    4. Make sure to set your table with a full array of items that enhance the Carnitas. See our suggestions above


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