Monday, January 28, 2013

The Carnitas Cure--Beer Braised Carnitas

It is a cold wind that blows across Long Island.. And with this kind of cold my taste buds call for a long simmered meal. Hmmmm, should I make a beef stew? Or a fiery chicken curry? The wind wails outside my window, encouraging tantalizing thoughts of spicy treats. I look outside watching the mailman, his face hidden under a large Cossack hat. Nestled in the mailbox along with bills and flyers is the latest issue of Bon Appetit. My daughter Shauna and I wrestle over the issue. We like to drool  over cookbooks and  food magazines, dog-earing pages we think are possibilities. This issue is no different with so much content to choose from. Inspiration usually comes to me from cookbooks and magazines

My daughter is truly my right hand in the kitchen, my sous chef, and my culinary sounding board. We argue about what to make for dinner. We share mouth-watering details of meals eaten in restaurants. We salivate over a description of an exotic food find. Our travels are meticulously planned around the next culinary bend in the road. We share an affinity for food trucks. She obliges by bringing me munchies from her forays into NYC. Waffles from Wafels & Dinges, bimbibap from the Korilla Food Truck and barbacoa tacos from  9th Avenue. Most of all she anticipates the task at hand, is the knife that magically appears by my side, packages leftovers before I can clear the table, washes dishes that are cleared without prompting. And like most girls of her generation , she ALWAYS asks, "Whats for dinner?" That question usually comes  in the form of a text with exclamations or a call prefaced by asking if she can pick up anything for me. But I digress from the subject at hand.

She contemplates ideas. We look through my meager pantry and decide to venture out into the cold to replenish my bare cupboard. Braving the frigid temperatures, we stockpile provisions. My small table is laden with a hefty pork shoulder, Mexican chillies, tomatillos, onions, avocados and Coronas. Mexican food is always a big hit in our house. I have a few go-to cookbooks when it's fiesta time. Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday has a well-cracked spine. I also love the Fonda San Miguel treasure trove of recipes 

The first dilemma is whether we should braise the pork on the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. The last option is my choice. It is gingerly vetoed. Shauna doesn't like to disagree with me in case she has to hear "I told you so." 

Then again, a braise on the stove is delectable especially when the emanating aroma makes your taste buds tingle. The slightly acrid smell of toasting chillies catches in your throat, making you cough.  The sizzle of beer when it begins to simmer. The crackle of tomatillos and onions in the oven. Our senses stimulated, we leave the braise for several hours.

Soon the small apartment begins to smell like a home south of the border. 

As darkness unfolds outside, Shauna shreds the pork and stirs it into the sauce. 

The tomatillo salsa is ready. I cut some avocados. Sour cream sits on the table to counteract the spiciness of the chillies. Warm corn tortillas appear in a cloth-lined basket. We are salivating as we lay the table.

Beer Braised Carnitas
Makes 8 tacos

4lb pork shoulder (with a bone)
6 cloves garlic
2 guajillo chilies
2 ancho chilies
2 cascabel chilies
2-12oz. cans beer (we used Corona)
1 cup water
3 teaspoons kosher salt

Accompaniments .
Tomatillo Salsa (recipe below)
Avocados, sliced
Sour Cream
Corn Tortillas, warmed

Clean the garlic cloves and chop them roughly.

Place a cast iron pan on a high flame for 2 minutes. 

Add the chilies to the pan and lightly toast them for 2 to 3 minutes.

De-stem all the chilies. Remove the seeds of one guajillo, one ancho and one cascabel. If you don't want the spice, then by all means deseed all the chilies. We like our pork with a kick so we left all the seeds in.

Place the pork in a large dutch oven, one that has a lid that will cover the pork.

Add the chiles, garlic, salt, water and beer.

Bring the liquid to a boil. Then cover with a lid, lower the flame, and simmer.

Now comes the hard part..waiting!

Simmer for 4 hours, turning the pork after every hour. At this point the pork should be fork tender. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until the liquid thickens.

Turn off the flame, take the pork out of the sauce, and shred it. 

On a medium flame, mash the chilies into the sauce. They give the sauce body.  If you are not an ardent fan of spice, this would be a good time to take them out.

Add the shredded pork back into the sauce and stir well to coat.

Keep the carnitas warm while you assemble the accompaniments.

Tomatillo Salsa

Makes 2 Cups
6 tomatillos.
2 red onions
2 jalapeno chilies
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Husk and rinse tomatillos.

Peel and cut onions into large chunks.

Slice the jalapenos and remove the white membrane and seeds.

Place vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until the veges have a slight char.

Pulse the roasted vegetables using a food processor till chunky.

Season to taste.

Any unused salsa keeps for a week in the fridge.

Our plates are a mountain of amalgamation of pork, avocado, and tomatillo salsa. A perfect mouthful for a cold winter night.

As the saying goes, "a son is a son till he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for life."