Eat with Your Hands [Michoacan-style Carnitas with Pickled Red Onions]

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, b
ut 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:
avocado slices
queso fresco or Manchego
salsa verde

Tomatillo Salsa
1/2lb Tomatillo, hulled, rinsed and cut into quarters
small handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
Generous squeeze lime juice
1/2tsp salt

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
4-5 cloves
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. 


Expanding my Taco Horizons [Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables]


Did you just get so excited? I know I did. 

The word ‘taco’ brings about emotions in me that food shouldn’t be able to. I get excited from the pit of my tummy to the tips of my toes when I hear that sacred word. TACO! It happened again. Oh god I love them so much. 

Whenever my mom asks my sister or I what we want for our birthday dinners (yes, we still get to pick whatever we want even though we’re both well into our 20s) its consistently a resounding “TACOS!” or “FAJITAS!”. We do love our Mexican food so very much. So much, in fact, that Mr. GL doesn’t much like to be around me when I’m eating Mexican because I turn into a rabid dog focused only on stuffing as much of everything-on-the-table as I can in one tortilla. Often I fill my tortilla so full that I end up eating it with a fork and knife, defeating the whole purpose of tacos all together. Oh, what a life. 

Over the summer I had the pleasure of dining Ottawa’s SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar a few times and was amazed to learn that there was more to tacos than Old El Paso had told to me.  How pathetic, right? Somehow I believed that tacos were a thing of merely taco seasoning and ground meat. I feel ashamed to tell you this, but we’re friends. And friends tell each other the truth. My eyes were opened. And tacos have never been the same. Not that I plan on wiping Old El Paso from regular rotation around here, that will never happen, but I shall be expanding my taco-horizons. 

When I accidentally stumbled across a recipe for crispy shrimp tacos this week, my world came to a sudden halt. A doughy taco shell, stuffed full of a cumin-spiked tomato, shrimp and cilantro mixture and then… get this, are you ready? Rolled up and DEEP FRIED. The resulting roll is somewhere between a taco and a taquito, bursting with this extremely bright and fresh filling. It was a game changer. A life changer. A WORLD changer, if you will. I know you won’t be surprised to learn it’s a recipe from White on Rice Couple's stunning blog. They are the cat's ass, Diane and Todd. If you haven't been for a visit, I'll wait here while you go and take a look. Go ahead. Right now. I insist!

See what I’m saying? Brilliant. And those photos? Forget about it. I can only dream of being that kind of talented some day.

These tacos are so good I didn’t even sit down to eat them. I stood there, hanging over the counter, tossing them back as fast as I could. What a pretty picture that paints. I served some quick pickles alongside to contrast with the rich filling and they were a perfect addition. 

Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables
adapted from White on Rice Couple 

The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but my market had run out the day I went in to grab some. I urge you to try and find some at your Latin Market, their flavour is so much better than flour tortillas, I find.  

Taco Filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos (or chilies of your choice), diced
1 tsp ground cumin
3-4 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cut into 1/2” pieces 
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Oil for frying, enough to fill 2” in your frying pan (preferably peanut or Grapeseed oil)

8-10 corn tortillas
Tomato Broth (recipe follows)
Quick pickled vegetables (recipe follows)

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and let them sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, chilies and cumin and cook for another minute.  Add the tomatoes and shrimps and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is about ketchup-consistency. It shouldn’t be too watery. Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and let cool. 

Roll and Fill the Tacos;
Fill frying pan with oil to a depth of about 2”. Heat the oil to about 350-375 or until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it in the oil. 

Two at a time, drop the tortillas in the oil for 1 second just to soften. Place on paper towels to drain. 

Lay tortillas flat and spoon 2-3 tbsp of the mixture onto one side of the tortilla. Roll them up tight (ends open) and secure with a tooth pick. Repeat until no more filling remains. 

Place tacos, 3-4 at a time, into the hot oil for 1.5 minutes. Flip over and cook for another 1 minutes until golden brown. 

Place fried tacos on paper towels to drain. Serve with tomato broth and quick pickles. 

Tomato Broth;
3-4 tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 sweet onion, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed

In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth. 
Pour tomato puree into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. It should be a soupy consistency. 

Quick Pickles
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
2 jalapenos, sliced into rounds
2 carrots, cut into thing strips
1 small daikon, cut into thin strips 
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
large pinch of salt
Large mason jar

In a bowl, add the vinegar, water sugar and salt. Whisk until sugar dissolves

Place half the cauliflower and jalapenos into the bottom of the jar. Add the carrot/daikon strips, and finish with the rest of the cauliflower jalapenos. Pour pickling bring over until the jar is filled and vegetables are submerged. Place the lid on the jar and let pickle for at least an hour in the fridge. These will keep for 1 week.