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


1106 SO Into this Dinner

Early on in our time in DC, I discovered Teaism on an overcast and lonely afternoon of wandering around downtown. Just a few blocks off the Mall, Teaism became a go-to spot for us if we were in the city and needed lunch after going to the Portrait Gallery or one of the other Smithsonians. On this particular day, however, I fell in love with their bento boxes.

Lunch at Teaism

The contents varied from trip to trip, but the upper right hand corner remained constant: sticky rice with a nutty savory seasoning called furikake, which I loved enough to pick up a jar that then sat unused – until today.

A Damn Good Dinner

Dinner tonight was marinated and broiled tofu – worlds better than last night’s – and a packet of Trader Joe’s brown rice with furikake. Salty, savory, and so damned good. My marinade was a bit of this and that – all measures are approximate, and you should absolutely adjust as suits your tastes:
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 large clove garlic, pulverized by whatever means you see fit
Vegetarian alternatives to fish and oyster sauces are apparently available at ethnic food stores, but I haven’t tried them, so I make no promises. All I know is that if you marinate tofu in this stuff for half an hour and then broil it for about 8 minutes on each side, it will be all you can do to not EAT IT ALL UP.

0809 Curried Pork, Cilantro Pesto

I had intended to make Curried-Pork Noodles at some point this week, but when we came home yesterday and discovered our freezer minutely ajar, the pork was moved up to the front of the meal queue.  Once this was discovered, I should’ve just removed the bones from the chops and ground the meat up straight away – but alas, I was tired and flustered, and so I went to bed instead, dreaming of kebabs as I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning motivated to make my imagined kebabs, and in doing so made one of those stupid prep mistakes that only happens when you’re not quite awake.  One bowl contained cubed pork topped with yogurt for a marinade.  The other bowl contained my breakfast yogurt.  You can guess which bowl received the generous spoonful of curry powder.  Augh!

Since I’d already started playing with the idea of the recipe, I decided to take it a step further.  The cilantro that I picked up last week was getting a bit limp, so I whizzed it up in the food processor with a chopped up banana pepper, olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and salt and pepper, which produced a pesto-like sauce with just a bit of heat.  While the pork broiled away on skewers in the toaster oven (instead of on the grill – curse you, rain!), I made a pot of white rice.  I was overly cautious with the cook time on the pork, but the moisture from the rice and the “pesto” made it work.

In the end, we had a fantastic and simple dinner with pretty complex flavors – and I felt like a contestant on Top Chef, having remixed the components of a recipe into something different, yet recognizably like the original.

0518 Spontaneous Soup

Like last night, it was unseasonably cold and rainy tonight – a good night for a simple but filling soup and for sitting on the couch.  While Shane ran a few errands, I sauteed onions, garlic,  and a leftover sausage in a bit of butter, then added chicken stock and simmered the whole thing with a couple of handfuls of white rice.  Just before serving, I tossed in some fresh spinach and let it wilt while warming up leftover dinner rolls from this weekend.

I imagine we won’t have many more nights like this for a few months, so it was good to enjoy a last cold weather meal – and then some (kind of miraculous) PRETZEL M&Ms later during LOST.  That’s right: pretzel. m&m’s.  Pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

0412 Chicken Paella

I’ve had a bit of a love affair with Spain over the last 10 years – partly to do with the spring break I spent there when I was 20, partly to do with the time I spent on (and dreaming of) the Camino, and partly to do with Spain’s love of pork in the forms of chorizo, jamón ibérico, and the Museo del Jamon. So it’s a bit surprising that I haven’t attempted paella before, right? It’s only the national dish!

0412 Chicken Paella

I’m not sure if tonight’s dinner was the best representation of said national dish, but it sure smelled killer.  It also weighed enough that I needed both hands to lift it in and out of the oven.  The chicken was moist and flavorful, and the snow peas had a satisfying crunch.  If I were to make this again, I would probably use a LOT less rice – but I’m satisfied with the first attempt!

Quick Chicken Paella with Sugar Snap Peas from Bon Appetit

0317 Grilled Tilapia with Golden Rice

0317 Grilled Tilapia with Golden Rice

Dinner prep tonight made an awfully big mess for two relatively simple dishes.  Two tilapia fillets, grilled in the hot hot cast iron grill pan with just a little salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lime juice added at the table.  A savory rice dish from Moosewood that would’ve been boring on its own, but paired nicely with the buttery fish.  From those recipes, we had nearly every inch of counter space covered with following dishes: 3 pans, a bunch of food processor components, cutting board, zester, and at least one knife, plus our lunch dishes and a few things left from the night before.  This pile often feels insurmountable, and that is WITH a dishwasher.

I digress.

This dinner, while not especially quick, was especially easy.  I soaked the rice for ~10 minutes while sauteeing the onions and prepping the carrots.  We didn’t have any ground cardamom, so I substituted a bit of cumin and coriander for spice.  When everything went into the saucepan, I started heating the grill for the fish.  From start to finish, I think dinner took 45 minutes?  And then Shane was so hungry after his workout that he’d finished his entire dinner in the time it took me to take the photo.  On a related note, I’m not sure how I feel about this photo.  I’m trying to learn more about how our camera works, and tonight I tried something different.

Golden Rice from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites