It’s infrequent that I wax poetic about meat. Save for Mr. GL’s dad’s BBQ Teriyaki t-bones and every so often, a good braised piece of meat, I eat a mostly vegetarian diet. It’s not by choice, but more out of convenience, I find.
Today, however, I come here with one thing on my mind. Carnitas. Meltingly tender, slightly tangy, stuff-into-your-face-until-your-pants-don’t-fit Carnitas. I can, with every ounce of certainty, tell you that I love them more than anything. At least as far as edibles go. Maybe even more than some people. But I won’t mention who - no feelings will be hurt in the making of these delectable “little meats”, as carnitas translates to. I’ve had my share of tacos, and pulled pork, and low-and-slow braised meats, but none compare to the perfection of these Michoacan-style Carnitas.
They are simple. Very, very simple. So much so that I was skeptical of them, but as this is my second time making them and they are just as good as the 1st time around, I’ve concluded that I have found my taco-soul mate. Something magical happens to that lowly pork-shoulder while it simmers away in a modest combination of orange juice, lime juice and water (that’s it! Can you believe it?!). Because the pieces of meat aren’t trimmed of their fat, once the simmering liquid evaporates, they are left to bubble in the rendered pork-fat which gives them a luxurious crispy crunch on the outside. Once nestled into a corn tortilla with a little queso fresco or Manchego, pickled red onion and tomatillo salsa, you have the perfectly balanced bite of crispy, chewy, tangy, sweet, and sour. Have I sold you yet? I sure hope so. Your life won’t be complete without these Carnitas - I know that sounds super dramatic, guys, but I’m not kidding. Your life will suffer without them!
They beg to be made in advance, making them the perfect dinner party companion when you’re not really sure how much everyone will eat (they make incredible leftovers) and you want to be able to be, at least in appearance, calm and collected once your guests arrive. In addition to being convenient, they are just so freaking fun to eat. You know me, I love eating with my hands, and these are at the top of my 'eat with your hands' list.
Michoacan-style Carnitas with Pickled Red Onions & Tomatillo Salsa
adapted from Homesick Texan
3 pounds of pork butt (shoulder), nice and fatty (untrimmed)
1 cup of orange juice
juice from 2 limes
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 tsp cumin seeds (optional)
Slice the pork butt into strips or cubes, whichever you prefer in your carnitas, about 3 inches by 1 inch. Place them in a large dutch oven or other large, heavy pot. Pour the juices, salt and cumin, if using, into the pot with the meat and give it a good stir. Add just enough water to barely cover the meat.
Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2.5 hours, no stirring or bothering the meat! After the 2 1/2 hours has passed, turn the heat to medium-high and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered. This is where things get delicious. Turn meat carefully every so often until it’s browned on all sides. There will be liquid fat in the bottom of the pot. Remove and serve immediately on warmed corn or flour tortillas or set cool completely, refrigerate and re-crisp (350 degrees - 20 minutes) in the oven before you serve.
Extras to serve with Carnitas:
queso fresco or Manchego
1/2lb Tomatillo, hulled, rinsed and cut into quarters
small handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
Generous squeeze lime juice
Puree in blender or food processor until smooth. Chill until ready to eat.
Sweet Pickled Red Onions
I’ve used both brown and white sugar in this recipe. Both taste wonderful, but white sugar keeps the onions a beautiful bright pink.
1 large red onion
3/4 cup of sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 whole star anise
pinch cinnamon (optional)
Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the onions as thin as possible (either in rounds or strips). Toss them and the rest of the ingredients into a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let them cool. Place in the fridge until ready to eat.
It’s funny how you get stuck in a funk with certain recipes in your weekly (monthly, yearly) routine.
There are a few things I make regularly that I’ve made the same way for so long, I don’t even think about them when I make them. And in making them without thinking, I often forget that everything can be made better with a little extra love and a little more effort.
Curry is one of those things. Onions, garlic, store-bought curry powder, cinnamon, coconut milk, whatever vegetables I happen to have on hand, and some cilantro and lime to brighten things up. Delicious, but far from inspired. And even further from how great a homemade curry can be. You probably already know this, since you’re always up to date on only the most awesome of things, but homemade curry paste is second to none. NONE. You hear me? If you could have seen my face when I tasted not one, but all of the raw ingredients used in making a curry paste, you wouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that each and every ingredient packs so much flavour, it would blow your shoes square off your feet. Not always in a good way, either. There’s a lot of extremely prominent, almost medicinal flavours that, for those of us not used to authentic Thai ingredients, would probably cause your face to contort into shapes you never thought possible. But when combined with everything else, it just works.
After doing a little research, I was slightly more intimidated than I was initially to try making curry paste at home. I read a few food blogs that focus solely on Thai cuisine that stated “If you don’t have all the authentic ingredients, and they must be fresh, don’t even bother making at home”. Lucky for me, I was able to find everything I needed.
I started asking around about ingredients and, as usual, Don, one half of the ever-wonderful local foodblog, foodiePrints, came to my rescue offering a suggestion of Manphong Supermarket for Thai/Vietnamese ingredients. And again, as usual, he was perfectly on point. A market that carried ingredients I’d never heard of, never seen before, and certainly never tasted (to the best of my knowledge, anyhow) took me completely out of my comfort zone and into a world that was exciting and new. I walked up and down every aisle, touching and smelling everything I could and grabbing up everything I needed. By the time I left, I had my arms filled with so many new and inciting ingredients, I could hardly fit them all into my basket to bike home with.
I can’t tell you how incredibly happy I am that I ventured slightly out of my realm of comfort in order to try something completely new to my kitchen. Twenty extra minutes of chopping and blending made for the best curry I’ve ever made at home. And I have made my fair share of curry, believe you me. The depth of flavours a homemade curry paste unleashes will shock you. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was a thrilling surprise. I promise you it’s worth it. Take the extra time, even if it’s just this once, to source out some not-as-easy-to-find ingredients and give it a shot. You’ll be shouting from the rooftops about how much you love it. I know you will!
Coconut Red Curry Pork with Thai Eggplant, Snap Peas & Enoki Mushrooms
adapted from 101cookbooks
If you’re unable to find specific ingredients, there is no shame in buying a high quality pre-made curry paste. In fact, it’s better than making one with inferior ingredients.
Red Curry Paste
makes about 1/2 cup
2 red Thai chilies
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 large shallot (2 small)
1 tsp galangal, rough chopped
1/2 tsp kaffir lime zest
1 tbsp lemongrass stalk, sliced thin
1 tbsp krachai, rough chopped
1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp toasted coriander seeds
1/2 tsp salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
1 shallot, diced
1 pork tenderloin, silver-skin removed and cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
5-6 Thai eggplants, cut into quarters
two handfuls sugar snap peas
a few small bunches of enoki mushrooms
Thai basil for garnish (optional)
Lime for garnish (optional)
extra Thai peppers, sliced thin for garnish (optional)
In a wok or heavy dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sweat until translucent. Add the pork and brown on all sides.
Add the curry paste, stir and let it cook for 1 min. Pour in the coconut milk and the eggplant and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until reduce by 1/3, about 10 minutes. Add the snap peas and cook for another minute.
Spoon into bowls and serve with a little bundle of mushrooms, a squeeze of lime, some basil and a sprinkle of peppers.
Every so often, a day comes along where the weather is so perfect. And if you’re schedule permits, you get to enjoy this day the way beautiful fall days should be enjoyed.
That was yesterday. I had a quick latte to start the day off while I watched my stories (aka Regis & Kelly - can’t start a day at home without them. Won’t.) and then headed out on my bike to the grocery store. It was threatening rain when I left the house but as though the weather God’s knew I wasn’t prepared, the clouds parted and let the sun shine through for just a little while.
You know those moments that are so perfect, so heart-stoppingly beautiful, that you wish you could freeze them in time, stick them in a box, and look at them whenever you were having a less-than-perfect day? Again, that was yesterday. Halfway to the store, as I was zipping down 2nd Ave, the air was cool and the sun was shining bright on my back, hefty gusts of wind took the leaves from their summer homes on the trees and exploded them into orange confetti, and the air smelled of thick smoke from someone burning a fire nearby. I slowed my biked to a snails pace so I could soak myself in every single second of it. From that moment on, my day was made. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.
I had my heart set on spaghetti as I headed in the direction of the grocery store. There was no denying myself that. It just felt like a good day to be twisting and slurping noodles with a movie on and a glass of wine to accompany. And what’s more classic than a few big, tender meatballs in marinara piled high atop a bowl of tangled noodles? Answer: nothing. Don’t try and argue with me on this one. Not up for debate. I won’t have it!
The rest of the day, though the weather took a turn for the rainiest, I busied myself making meatballs and sauce. And I did so with the biggest of smiles and a warm heart. But that could have been from the wine. Come to think of it, it was probably the wine.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
adapted from Ina Garten
It’s vital to the tenderness of a meatball that you be gentle when mixing and forming. Do these steps with tender love and care and I promise you will come out with a soft, flavourful meatball.
1 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices of white bread, crusts removed an processed)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3/4 cup warm water
Combine all ingredients except for oil and blend, very gently, with a fork until combined.
In a large, heavy pan, add enough oil to reach a depth of about 1/4” and heat over medium-high until shiny.
While oil is heating, very gently roll the meat mixture into balls just bigger than a golf ball. You want them to be big but not massive. Put the meatballs into the oil, about 5-6 at a time, and let them brown on all sides, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer them to a dish until you’ve finished. Set aside. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pot.
adapted from Ina Garten
I used whole plum tomatoes for the sauce, which was fine, but having a picky eater in the house meant I needed to puree. So I left the original recipe’s suggestion of crushed tomatoes for those who like it smooooth.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 cup good red wine
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2lbs spaghetti, cooked to al dente accordingly to package instructions
Good quality olive oil
In the same pot as you browned the meatballs, drizzle with a little oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine and turn the heat up to high. Cook, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until wine has almost reduced completely. Add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper. Add the meatballs to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30-40 minutes until sauce has thickened slightly and meatballs are cooked through.
Serve over spaghetti with a sprinkle of Parmesan and a drizzle of your best olive oil.
(and to answer your question, YES, I DO love Parmesan. A LOT. And I won’t apologize for it.)