Chipotle Carnitas

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

First off, if you landed here expecting an approximation of the carnitas from Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant, you’re in the wrong place. Instead, it’s my slight twist on traditonal carnitas, the mexican pulled-pork staple.

Carnitas is one of my favorite taco and burrito fillings, but I’d not made this delicious meat at home.
I decided to start with Rick Bayless’ recipe that employs a two-phase cooking method: first moist, then dry[ing]. My variant uses chipotle peppers for flavor, rather than other spices or smoke flavoring.

Truth be told, my newfound inspiration to  actually make carnitas was that I found a lean 2 pound pork rib end roast in my freezer; I’d bought it some time ago on sale for less than $3 per pound. Also, I happened to have a broiler pan with rendered bacon fat from yesterday’s breakfast. Bacon fat is typically quite salty (compared to lard), but I had accidentally purchased low-sodium bacon, so I decided to experiment with using the bacon fat in place of salt and lard, or oil, that you typically find in carnitas recipes.

Soaking dried chipotle peppers

Soaking dried chipotle peppers

First, I soaked two large dried chipotle peppers, rinsed them, removed the veins, seeds, and stems, and then liquified them with some of the soaking water (~1 cup) in a blender.

Blended chipotles and soaking water

Blended chipotles and soaking water

Next, I cut the pork into approximately 2″ cubes and placed them in a baking dish. Because the rib end roast was quite lean, I added the warm rendered pork fat (~1/3 cup) from cooking 1 pound of low-sodium bacon (left from yesterday’s breakfast).

Boneless pork end rib roast, cubed and topped with rendered pork fat.

Boneless pork end rib roast, cubed and topped with rendered pork fat.

I poured the chipotle and water mixture over the pork, covered the dish, and put in a preheated 375° F oven for 1 hour.

Cover the pork with fat, and water mixture, in a covered dish in preparation for moist cooking phase.

Cover the pork with fat, and water mixture, in a covered dish in preparation for moist cooking phase.

After this, I uncovered the pork, placed the baking dish on a foil-covered pan (in case of spatter), and “dry cooked” until the water mostly evaporated, leaving just the rendered fat. During this phase, be sure to turn the pieces regularly, e.g., progressively more frequently to every 7-15 minutes, both to keep the pieces moist and to prevent burning on top.

Beginning dry cooking phase, uncovered.

Beginning dry cooking phase (uncovered)

Total cooking times was 2 hours 15 minutes: 1 hour moist cooking (covered) at 375° F and 1 hour 15 minutes dry cooking (uncovered, turning occassionally) at 450° F. Afterwards, I used two forks to pull the pork into small pieces.

Finished carnitas, pulled into small pieces with two forks.

Finished carnitas, pulled into small pieces with two forks.

I served the carnitas in tacos, on warmed tortillas, topped with a homemade chipotle garlic salsa and slices of fresh, ripe avocado.

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

This was a satisfying first effort at carnitas, having mild smokiness both from the bacon and from the chipotles. I’ll definitely make it again. I’ll caution you about using bacon fat here, though… it definitely had a generous amount of salt, so don’t add any more. A less-lean cut of pork would be a better option, obviating the need for added fat to get the moist consistency that one expects from carnitas.

Here are the recipes I consulted for preparation ideas:

UPDATE (March, 2013):

I made this again, this time with pork shoulder roast ($1.99/lb.), just its natural fat and a bit of salt, but with many more rehydrated chipotles and an ancho chile.  This was great too, and less salty than the prior experiment with rendered bacon fat.

Carnitas taco with white onion, cilantro, and hot sauce.

Carnitas taco with white onion, cilantro, and hot sauce.

UPDATE (March, 2014):

I tried this same preparation with beef shoulder roast. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great technique for beef; it just wasn’t tender. Once cooked, I had to chop the meat into tiny pieces. It tasted good, and is not unlike the texture of the finely chopped steak some mexican kitchens serve, but isn’t tender the way pot roast or barbacoa would be. For that, you’ll have to slow cook for longer time.

Beef shoulder roast prepared by this wet, then dry method; it's not the same.

Beef shoulder roast prepared by this wet, then dry method; it’s not the same.

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Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs

Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs with Spicy Cashew Basil Coconut Curry

Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs with Spicy Cashew Basil Coconut Curry

I am happy to say I’ve just acquired a new vegetarian housemate. Oh, I was quite happy with my previous housemate/friend – also a vegetarian – but he moved back to India a couple weeks ago. In hindsight, it’s obvious that I’d been focusing much more on vegetarian dishes in the blog in past months, in part due to the fact that I wanted to be able to share my meals.

However, last night, I also had some carnivorous friends as dinner guests, so I made a “segregated” meal that it could be enjoyed by the carnivore or vegetarian: boneless asian-style ribs accpompanied by a thai-inspired spicy coconut curry with cashews and whole basil leaves.

The curry is nearly identical to my previous Spicy Cashew and Basil Curry, except that I used coconut cream instead of tahini in the sauce, substituted carrot for red pepper and black mushrooms for baby bellas. (Trader Joe’s was selling quite large containers of whole basil leaves for only $3. That’s quite a treat in the middle of winter!)

The ribs are similar to what might be served in American Chinese restaurants. They’re both convenient to make and to eat, because they bake for just a short time and are boneless.

Country, or “country-style,” ribs aren’t really ribs at all. They’re a leaner cut near the shoulder. (More info here.) But they’re an inexpensive and fair approximation and their awkward shape causes them to often be served similarly to small pieces of rib meat. (I bought 2 pounds for just $4, on a half-price special.)

Ingredients:

  • boneless country ribs, ~2 pounds, cut into strips or pieces of desired size
  • garlic, ~6 cloves, minced
  • hoisin sauce, ~1/2 cup
  • brown sugar, ~1/2 cup, packed
  • soy sauce, ~1/3 cup
  • chili garlic sauce and/or Sriracha hot sauce (optional – I used both), ~1-2 T.

Directions: Prepare a marinade from these ingredients in a bowl large enough to also accommodate the rib pieces, and place the rib meat into the marinade, coating well. If time allows, optionally marinate for 4 hours (refrigerated), as I did here. Lay the rib pieces out on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan or baking dish, and cover with remaining marinade. Cook 20-35 minutes in a 400° F oven, turning occassionally and covering again with marinade. Time varies based on size of pieces and thickness; the ribs should reach 140° F internally. I baked the ribs pieces (~1 inch thick max.) for about 35 minutes total.

These sweet country ribs were delicious and a nice option to accompany a vegetable curry. It might have been luck that the country ribs I bought were quite tender, since I baked them for so short a time, in contrast to the slow-cooker ribs recipes you often see.

So, with the current housemate, expect lots more vegetarian recipes from me… but a subset will still be reserved for us carnivores. :)

Here are the recipes on which this meal was based:

A Very Yellow Breakfast: Omelette and Cornbread

A Sharp Cheddar and Kyopolou Omelette with Cornbread

A Sharp Cheddar and Kyopolou Omelette with Cornbread

Maybe it’s just the winter weather, but I was definitely in the mood for something bright for breakfast, and yellow is my favorite color, so I decided on cornbread and eggs. Actually, that’s about all I had left in the house… so more than one reason for this meal.

This is merely a two-egg omelette with sharp cheddar cheese and kyopolou. I simply used the prepared Trader Joe’s variety that they call “Red Pepper Spread,” but authentically from Bulgaria. On the side is cornbread, prepared round from Jiffy brand corn muffin mix. (I substituted greek yogurt diluted with a bit of water for milk in the cornbread, since, *surprise*, I was out of milk.)

A Sharp Cheddar and Kyopolou Omelette with Cornbread

A Sharp Cheddar and Kyopolou Omelette with Cornbread

The omelette was served with a sprinkle of dried oregano and it made for a cheery, basic breakfast… it’s practially sunshine on a plate and maybe great fuel for wintertime Coldplay. :)

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

I should really come up with names for my dishes well before I go to post them. Tonight I spent half an hour on this one, only to arrive at “Thai-inspired Peanutty Rice Noodles with Catfish, Okra, Acorn Squash, and Onions,” … way too long.

This may seem like an asian-creole fusion dish, but it’s not since both okra and this catfish (I used Pangasius) are common to asian cooking.  Anyway, the dish is a rather nice mix of catfish, vegetables, and rice stick noodles (banh pho) with a sweet sauce including acorn squash, coconut cream, and peanut butter.

I apologize for the horrible state of the following “recipe,” but I didn’t measure anything and I’m apparently in a narrative mood; you’re probably not going to make this anyway. (That there is what’s called a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”)

First I soaked dried banh pho noodles in water to soften them. Then I baked a small acorn squash, halved with “guts” removed placed in shallow water in a baking dish, for 40 minutes in a 375° F oven.

Meanwhile, I prepared the rest of the sauce: a combination of fish sauce, soy sauce, water, brown sugar, peanut butter, and coconut cream. When the acorn squash was cooked, I scooped it from the skin and mixed it completely into the sauce with a wisk.

In a large pan with canola oil, I fried the catfish (thawed from frozen) and onion strips (thinly cut from half a large yellow onion). Once those were mostly cooked, I reduced the heat, added sliced okra (defrosted from frozen) and fresh thai bird peppers. Once the vegetables were warmed, I added the sauce (~2 cups total) and added the drained noodles to the pan, stirred carefully, and simmered until desired consistency.

I served the dish topped with cilantro leaf and chili garlic sauce.

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

Okra and Catfish Rice Noodles

I couldn’t find any precedent for this dish in my cursory search for Internet recipes.
Many thai dishes have catfish and others have noodles, but apparently the two don’t usually touch. If you’re familiar with one, please let me know. :)