Sunday, October 30, 2011

Carnitas Flacas con Salsa Verde

Lately, my son has been complaining that we eat too much chicken. I don't know what he's complaining about since he doesn't eat much of anything, chicken or otherwise (which is a blog post for another time and venue). But, with his complaint ringing in my ear, I woke up today thinking that carnitas sounded good.
I've made carnitas before and they were pretty good, but I wanted more flavor than just pork, garlic, salt and oil. I loved this recipe. As usual, I altered some things from the recipe I found online, so this is my recipe. It cuts down on the fat/lard that's typically found in carnitas. The meat does dry out a little more than if I'd fried it in full lard, but if you drown it in salsa verde, you'll never know. So, I give you skinny carnitas with green sauce ... or carnitas flacas con salsa verde. Buen provecho!

Carnitas Flacas con Salsa Verde
1 medium onion, quartered

2 pounds pork roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt
2/3 cup Criollo sauce
6 cloves garlic, divided
2 medium bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into four pieces
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
6-8 tomatillos, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, split and seeded

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
2. Season pork chunks with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a 9-inch square casserole dish. Pour Criollo sauce over pork. Add onion quarters, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon stick to dish. The pork and seasonings should fill the dish with no spaces. Pour vegetable oil over the top. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
3. Set fine-meshed strainer over 1 quart bowl. Remove onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer pork and liquid into strainer. Let drain undisturbed for 10 minutes until the fat and juice separate. Transfer pork back to casserole. Skim fat from surface of liquid and pour it (yes, the fat) back into the pork, then roughly shred the pork. Season to taste.
4. Transfer remaining liquid (the non-fat liquid) to medium saucepot. Add tomatillos, onion quarters, garlic, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeño to saucepot with strained pork liquid. Add water to one inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until vegetables are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Blend salsa with hand blender or in a stand-up blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
5. While salsa simmers, place casserole dish with pork under a high broiler and broil until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pork and stir to expose new bits, then broil again for 5 more minutes until crisp. Tent with foil to keep warm.
6. Serve hot with warm tortillas, queso fresco, cilantro and cilantro-lime rice on the side.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for a quartered orange instead of the Criollo sauce. I didn't have an orange and didn't want to go to the store, so I used Criollo sauce, which has naranja agria (bitter orange) in it. It is also loaded with other fabulous Latin flavors. It works great as a marinade on its own or as it's used here. If you use the orange, juice the orange into the raw pork, then wedge the orange pieces (rinds and all) into the casserole. Remove and discard them after the initial roasting is done.
I imagine you could use green tomatoes instead of tomatillos for the green sauce, although the two are very different. The tomatillos have a very citrusy flavor and I happen to have a lot picked fresh from my garden.
If you don't like a lot of spice, swap out the jalapeno for a poblano (or two). They have a lot less heat, but still add another flavor level to the sauce.

Lessons Learned: The pork was a little dry. I think next time, when I pour the rendered fat back into the dish, I'll include a little more of the pork juice with it to keep it moister. As it is, I did add a little more vegetable oil to the pork before I broiled it ... but only a little.
I absolutely loved the aroma that came from my oven as the pork got happy with the onion, garlic, cinnamon and bay. I can't wait to try it with the orange. And I can't wait to try it after I first marinade the pork in Criollo sauce overnight. That ought to really boost the flavor.
The two-pound roast was enough for my family of four. This recipe could easily double and triple. But keep this in mind: The reason why everything needs to be wedged together in the pan is so that the meat doesn't dry out. Sure, it'll dry out some -- that's what happens when you broil shredded meat -- but by creating a steam bath with the tightly tented dish, all that great moisture stays in the meat as long as possible.
You can make this several days in advance and then crisp it under the broiler just before serving.
Is this truly a skinny verson of carnitas? Maybe. Maybe not. But I will say this: All but 1/4 cup of the fat in the dish comes directly from the roast, which was pretty lean.

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