Oh wow. Last week I was visiting my beautiful cousin, Mary, in California and she served me the most incredible Carnitas. In her younger, single-er days, Mary spent a lot of time in central America and ate a LOT of food like this. When I asked for a recipe, Mary hemmed and hawed a bit because, it turns out, she really doesn’t have anything close to a recipe. This meal definitely falls into the “method” categor; Mary is my favorite kind of cook.
Mary did share some how-to’s and I experimented until I found what I like. My whole family went nuts over this meal. Some of this will be in Mary’s words (in purple) followed by my suggestions:
Meat: Roast a large piece of pork (a pork roast or a pork butt) at 285 degrees for 8-9 hours. I put a sliced onion and two cups of vegetable stock in the deep stock pot with the meat. I put the cover on the pan and put it into the oven. I ended up adding water a couple of times because the fat from the meat was getting close to burning and there was no moisture left in the pan. This might not be necessary depending on the piece of meat. (Important note: you can also do this in the crockpot and it works beautifully and requires a little less babysitting.)
Around one hour prior to eating, shred the pork with a fork; drain off some of the excess liquid if there’s too much. Then Cousin Mary directed me to add about 1/4 cup shortening or lard and put the meat back into the oven for 1 hour or so. I opted not to do this step, mostly because I didn’t have either lard or shortening in the house.
The goal with this pork roast is to get it to the point of being dark brown and crispy. The last hour in the oven should crisp it up nicely.
Rice: Mary wrote, Use the long grain kind. I cook the rice in vegetarian chicken broth for the liquid. I’ve also tried chicken and beef broth together-gives great flavor! The spices I add are cumin, coriander, , Cayenne, , garlic powder, salt and pepper . I am going to try turmeric the next time (gives it that yellow color you see in restaurants) I’ve no idea how much of each. sorry=)
I cooked 2 c. of rice in 4 c. of chicken stock. I added:
- 1/2 t. cumin
- 1/2 t. chili powder
- 1/2 t. garlic powder
- 1/2 t. turmeric
- 1/2 t. Mexican saffron
- 1/2 t. salt
I brought all the ingredients to a boil. I let the rice boil on a medium high burner for about 3 minutes and then put the lid on the pan. I turned the burner off and left the pan on the burner as it cooled. (If you have a gas stove or if you don’t have room to leave the rice on the still-hot burner, simmer on the lowest possible setting for 20 minutes.)
Pico de Gallo: Mary says, I just chop up yellow onions, roma tomatoes, finely chopped garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. The longer it sits the better it tastes. I try to make it first but hey, doesn’t always work out that way.
If you want to liven up your pico try trading the yellow onions for red. Then add black beans (partially drained) and finely chopped jalapeno. Voila! A whole new variation! Of course keep the garlic and tomatoes and other stuff.
So, here’s what I chopped up and set aside a few hours before dinner:
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 6 roma tomatoes
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 bunch cilantro (Mary doesn’t like cilantro, but I LOVE it, so here it is!)
- 3 T. lime juice
- salt to taste
Here’s my go-to recipe for Pico de Gallo.
Black beans: Mary’s method: I partially drain the beans. Then I add cumin, coriander, chili powder, Cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder, salt and pepper and the juice from one lime. It the beans need liquid add some chicken broth or water. Cook on med-low until beans soften a bit.
I basically did just what Mary told me to on the beans. I put about 1/2 teaspoon of each of the spices that Mary listed. I used vegetable stock to add some liquid.
Cabbage salad: Mary says, I use the bagged stuff from the store but have also shredded it myself-either way it’s delicious. I add olive oil, white or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, pinch of sugar, and toss well. I add a little of each until I get the flavor I like. I also use apple cider vinegar for the sweet and sour flavor. You could even add sliced red onions for extra punch.
I shredded my own cabbage because I couldn’t find any plain, bagged shredded cabbage. To one medium head of shredded cabbage, I added:
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 t. sugar
- 3 T. white vinegar
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. coarsely ground pepper
Mary concluded: The ‘casada’ of Costa Rica, the marriage of rice and beans, was different each time I ordered it. So you have a pretty free hand in how you make it-so long as there’s rice and beans and some kind of cooked meat and a salad.
Now, for the eating….
First, we set all the ingredients out on the table:
Then we loaded our plates and added a couple of warm flour tortillas (Mary assured me that corn tortillas are actually a bit more authentic.)
Then we assembled our own personal tortillas with all the ingredients on our plates. I started with beans, then rice, pork, cabbage, and pico de gallo. The result was just amazing. What GREAT flavors! Now I’m wondering how often I can get away with serving this to my family.
This meal is a great one to serve to guests. If you’re unfamiliar with Mexican food, this would be a great place to start because the spicy factor is pretty tame…unless you kick things up by adding peppers.
Although the pork is clearly the star of this dinner, if you need to feed vegetarians, there will be plenty of food if you just use the other ingredients in those tortillas.