by Ben McCarthy
Summer is great time to have parties and share food with your friends and family. This recipe for Carnitas tacos is a delicious and fairly simple dish that is perfect for parties and get togethers. Pair it with a simple spicy coleslaw and some cold Mexican beers and you’ll be in for a treat.
This recipe involves meat and I could write a whole book on buying, cooking and eating meat. I’m going to try and keep it relatively simple for the sake of space. Whenever possible I try and buy locally grown, grass fed meat from family farms. I seldom ever buy meat that is not locally grown or at the very least organic. Why? Firstly because these animals are raised on factory farms, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones and then slaughtered. In short they aren’t really animals in the true sense of the word. If you don’t have a problem with these ethical concerns (and I urge you to do some research on your own if this is the case) then you should consider my second reason for buying and eating locally grown, grass fed meat: it tastes better. If you don’t believe me then go out and buy a pork butt from Shoprite and one from Kiernan Farms at the Nyack Farmers market, make this recipe with both and compare the two. The locally grown meat will inevitably (and I’m willing to bet money on this) be juicier, more succulent and more flavorful than the store bought Shoprite meat.
So why isn’t everyone buying locally sourced meat? Well for starters it costs more, sometimes a lot more. Why? Because the animal you’re buying actually got to be an animal. Most people cannot afford to buy and eat local meat everyday of the week, its simply too expensive. That alone should be a warning sign, you shouldn’t be eating meat every night, even if it is grass fed and locally grown, its not good for you (no this isn’t some health nut pseudo theory, its been proven scientifically).
Okay so you’re not the type of person who eats meat every night of the week but you still can’t afford those $17/lb steaks, what to do? Buy the cheap steaks from Shoprite instead? Wrong. Buy cheaper, less conventional cuts. Almost every country besides America uses (almost) the entire animal, they cook and eat the cheap cuts in order to afford the expensive ones on special occasions. Surprisingly the cheap cuts are often the most delicious. Carnitas (translated as “little meats”) are made from one such cut, pork butt (often referred to as Boston Butt) or pork shoulder. This cut is cheap and often looked down upon, but believe me when cooked the right way (as in this recipe) they are more delicious than any steak taco you will ever eat. I only buy pork butt (or shoulder) from the farmers market or from butchers that are supplied by local farms (there are a bunch in the city, my favorite being the Meat Hook in Brooklyn). Kiernan Farms has a stand at the Nyack farmers market and sells boston butt for around $8/lb, definitely not as cheap as your local Shoprite but not killer expensive, 2-3 pounds of pork butt will yield a ton of carnitas.
So lets get down to the actual recipe, it’s really pretty simple and doesn’t take much, if any, skill in the kitchen. As long as you can cut meat into cubes you’ll be fine. Carnitas are slow cooked so if you’re going to make this recipe leave plenty of time, but again the active cooking time is not a lot, you’re going to let the stove do the work for you. When the carnitas are done they will be falling apart. I like to serve mine with a quick and easy jalapeno cole slaw, some fresh avocado and a drizzle of my favorite hot sauce and of course corn tortillas. You can get ones that probably aren’t the healthiest at Avispa market on Main Street or at most supermarkets, Old World Market off of 59 also sells a great stone ground yellow corn version that are a little more expensive but delicious and healthier. But hey, you can add anything you want to these, they are tacos and should be experimented with.
Carnitas (adapted from Homesick Texan and Smitten Kitchen)
About 3 pounds pork butt or shoulder
½ cup of orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
Cut the pork into roughly 2 inch cubes and place in a large pot. Add the lime juice, orange juice, garlic and salt. Cover the pork with water, the water should just barely cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for around two hours. Do not touch or move the meat. After two hours turn the heat to medium high, cook the meat like this for around 45 minutes and turn occasionally. All of the liquids should be evaporated and the fat from the pork should be sizzling and browning the meat, you can turn the meat while doing this which will help make it fall apart. When pork is browned all over remove from heat and serve.
Quick Jalapeno Coleslaw
1/3rd of a cup red wine vinegar
2 Jalapeno chiles (if you don’t like a little kick just add one)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
½ cup of olive oil
1 head of cabbage (green or purple) shredded (thick or thin, however you like your slaw)
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1/4th of a cup chopped cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper
1 cup of scallions, chopped (not necessary but a nice addition)
Blend everything but the cabbage and red onion in a food processor, place cabbage and red onion in a bowl. When ready to serve pour dressing over and mix thoroughly.
Ben McCarthy is a junior at Hunter College studying pre-med and creative writing. He is also the lead guitarist in the alternative rock band Regret the Hour. He loves to cook and try new food and grew up cooking with his mother.
Photo Credit: Smitten Kitchen