I was perusing the “Manager’s Special” section in the meat department of my local mega-mart this past weekend and found some ‘country-style’ boneless ribs. Country-style ribs aren’t ribs at all. They are sliced pork shoulder and need to be cooked long, low and slow.
I usually make North Carolina style Pulled Pork from pork shoulder. But I wanted to do something different this time. Carnitas is Mexico’s version of pulled pork. It makes for an awesome taco filling. The traditional method of making carnitas involves simmering chunks of pork in lard in a copper cauldron. Most of us don’t have a few gallons of lard hanging around—or a copper cauldron for that matter. Never fear, Serious Eats came up with an excellent alternative method that cooks pork shoulder low and slow in a casserole in the oven.
After reading the recipe and comments, I made a couple of changes. While the pork was in the oven, I made pickled red onions. The result was juicy, crispy, porky goodness. The pickled onions were a perfect complement
serves 4 to 6, active time 45 minutes, total time 4 1/2 hours
- 2 medium onions
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 pounds boneless country-style ribs— cut into 2-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium orange
- 6 cloves garlic, split in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into three or four pieces
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half
- 2 jalapeño peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed
- 3 limes, cut into wedges
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta
- 24 corn tortillas
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 275 degrees. Cut one onion into fine dice and combine with cilantro. Refrigerate until needed. Split remaining onion into quarters. Set aside. Season pork chunks with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a 9 by 13 glass casserole dish. The pork should fill the dish with no spaces. Split orange into quarters and squeeze juice over pork. Nestle squeezed orange pieces into casserole. Add 2 onion quarters, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick to casserole. Nestle everything into an even layer. Pour vegetable oil over surface. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
- Using tongs, remove orange peel, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer pork and liquid to a fine mesh strainer that is resting on a bowl. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a large skillet (cast iron is best). You should end up with about 1-1½ cup liquid and 1 cup fat. Using a flat spoon or de-fatter, skim fat from surface and add back to pork along with a half cup of liquid. Shred pork into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer remaining liquid to medium saucepot.
- Add tomatillos, remaining 2 onion quarters, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeños to sauce pot with strained pork liquid. Add water until it is about 1-inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until all of the vegetables are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Blend salsa with hand blender, or in a stand-up blender or food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Allow the salsa to cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- To serve: Place skillet on the stove over medium heat. Heat the pork until crispy on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Then stir with a spoon to expose new bits to the heat. Allow the meat to crisp on the bottom again, then remove it from the heat and cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
- Meanwhile, heat tortillas. Preheat an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Working one tortilla at a time, dip tortilla in bowl filled with water. Transfer to hot skillet and cook until water evaporates from first side and tortilla is browned in spots, about 30 seconds. Flip and cook until dry, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer tortilla to a tortilla warmer, or wrap in a clean dishtowel. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
- To eat, stack two tortillas on top of each other. Add two to three tablespoons carnitas mixture to center. Top with salsa verde, chopped onions and cilantro, queso fresco, and pickled red onion. Serve with lime wedges