25 Recipes #3: Carnitas

Or, as I referred to it, Chipotle at Home. Because seriously, it smelled like Chipotle up in our house.

Before I get to the delicious parts of this meal,I want to start with a confession.  For the first time in a while, I had difficulty working with a piece of meat.  Not technical difficulty, though it wasn’t the easiest cut to butcher – an emotional/visceral response to what I was working with.  David Lebovitz’s recipe called for a 4-5 pound boneless shoulder cut, but I opted to use a picnic shoulder since, well, that’s what we had on hand.  The picnic shoulder is a fatty bone-in cut, so there was a considerable amount of cleaning necessary – and after all of that, a clearly articulated joint.  I had to put down my knife for a second.  Thank you again, Mr. Pig, for your happy brief life, and for the many delicious and nourishing meals you have provided for us.

After that, however, making the carnitas was easy as pie.  Our four pound picnic shoulder yielded about 2 1/2 pounds of usable meat – at least for this recipe – so I tweaked the recipe a bit, and probably would make further adjustments for future preparations.  First, the meat is browned in a bit of oil in a large heavy pot.


Remove the meat to a tray lined with paper towels to blot up the excess fat.  Pour about a cup of water into the pot and scrape up the crusty bits of goodness from the bottom.  Stir in the spices:  chili powder, ground cumin, bay leaves, a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick, and a diced dried chili or two.  Add the pork back to the pot, and pour in enough water to cover the meat 2/3 of the way.


Braise uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about two hours, checking halfway.  The original recipe called for 3 1/2 hours for 4-5 pounds of meat, so I roughly halved the time, and added more liquid after an hour as it was looking pretty dry.  After two hours, the meat was cooked through and verging on dry but it wasn’t yet dinnertime, so I added another 1/4 cup water, turned the oven down to warm, and put the lid on to trap the moisture and heat.

Since there was no way that the three of us were going to eat 2 1/2 pounds of meat, I prepared several other components to fill out the meal and provide the fixings for several lunches worth of homemade “burrito bowls”.  First, a couple of onions and a red pepper sweat slowly over low heat in a covered pan:

Slow-sauteed peppers and onions

Second, an attempt at Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice, except that I had neither cilantro nor lime.  Instead, we had white rice that was boiled, steamed, and tossed with minced green onion:

Green onion rice

And finally the pièce de résistance:

Et voila, carnitas!

Gloriously flavorful – if slightly dry – carnitas, which we devoured nestled in corn tortillas and topped with rice, veggies, salsa, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  The 2 1/2 pounds of meat yielded enough for dinner for three plus four substantial lunch portions.  We – OK, I – devoured the veggies, so we substituted corn in our subsequent lunches, along with the rest of the rice, shredded cheese (or crumbled City Goat), and salsa.  This was the first of my 25 Recipes that really knocked it out of the park, and I can NOT wait to make this again.

Carnitas from David Lebovitz
Cilantro Lime Rice from Chipotle Fan

Photo by John Zwinck

Frustrated by my lack of business cards and inspired by this post on what to wear to conferences, I spent about $10 at Vistaprint, which included 250 cards with my personal contact information and URLs, a card case, and shipping.  I don’t have many occasions when I need a business card, but now I’m prepared for those times when I really DO need to give out my information and don’t want to have to scribble it on something easily misplaced like a receipt or a name badge.

Well, that $10 paid off today when a card dropped in one of those fishbowl drawings won me FREE CHIPOTLE FOR UP TO 30 PEOPLE.

That’s right.  Free.  For up to 30 people.  My office has 20 full time staff members, so that’s how many lunches we’ll be getting next Tuesday.  If everyone gets a burrito, that means that my 25c business card bought at least $119 worth of food.  Now that’s what I call a good investment.

1104 Healthier Fast Food

Tonight I had an intense craving for – something. I didn’t know what, though, except that it didn’t exist in my kitchen.  It wasn’t a frozen pizza or a sweet potato or something bad for me.  I maybe wanted a burger? but I didn’t want to spend $10 on one, nor did I want a greasy-gross fast food burger.

This waffling continued for upwards of an hour as I looked through my Yelp bookmarks and chatted with Jackie about how we were both hungry but didn’t want to make or order something for our lonesomes.  If I’d been in Alexandria, we would’ve ordered a pizza from Monterey and then hung out with Harper all evening.

Photo by JackiePants

Instead, I ordered Chipotle: a burrito “bowl” with rice, sauteed veggies, green salsa, shredded cheese, and oh so good carnitas. Chipotle prides itself on the freshness and quality of their ingredients – especially the pork – so while I know it isn’t the best or most local choice, it does still feel like a responsible and delicious one. And I was super happy with my meal, which is half the battle these days.