Monday, May 3, 2010


We're celebrating Cinco de Mayo at work this week with a South-of-the-Border themed potluck. And I'm bringing carnitas with all the fixins'.

California style carnitas -- ending a 22-year carnitas hiatus that started when we moved to Bermtopia from Southern California.

There's nothing like 'em. I haven't been able to find them in Bermtopia. Well, carnitas like Cali carnitas. And -- until now -- I've never been able to replicate them at home.

Note the operative words until now.

But first a word about carnitas. It's Spanish for small meats. Usually pork butt -- slow-roasted or braised till the meat becomes this dreamy-crazy carmelized melt-in-your-mouth confection tasting of spice, citrus and smoke. Throw in a warm corn tortilla, an oozle of guacamole and dash of fresh salsa and you've got yourself a little handful of heaven.

The Wonderfully Patient Spouse introduced me to carnitas while we lived in Orange County in the 1980s. Oh, and fish tacos, too. But that's another story.

Inevitably, we found the best carnitas in the smallest taquerias imaginable. Places so tiny and spartan you questioned whether they were actually inhabited by human beings. That is, until you saw the carnitas turning lazily on a rotisserie framed by a smokey restaurant window. Minutes later, we'd be standing at the counter. . . watching as the cook himself shaved thin, yet incredibly succulent, slices of meat onto our tortillas. . . anticipating that first bite into porcine perfection.

So, this is what was playing over and over in my head this week, thinking about our upcoming Cinco de Mayo potluck. Naturally, I turned to my cookbook authority on all things Mexican -- Williams-Sonoma's "Mexican Food." Seriously. Despite the chi-chi rep, W-S kicks it when it comes to ethnic cook books.

The recipe is simple enough: Pork shoulder or boneless country-style ribs (I did ribs), orange zest, orange juice, sea salt, plus a little water. (From the confessional: Forgive me, father, I threw in a little fresh ground pepper. Just because.) The meat braises in a pan rather than on a rotisserie. (A small concession if the outcome is anywhere close to the OC carnitas of my dreams.) And W-S assured me all this magic would take an hour, with another 15 minutes or so for the meat to carmelize in its rendered fat.

Four hours later, yes, four hours later . . . I had beautiful, magnifico carnitas that easily matched the ones we enjoyed in SoCal back in the day.

After 22.5 years living in a carnitas-free zone, it was worth the wait.

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