The Skinny: Crock-Pot Carnitas

Crispy, Spicy Carnitas
Mr. B's a sucker for pork. Although he likes to think of himself as a well-rounded carnivore, the mention of anything containing pork--or pork products--will have him squealing for a taste.

One of his all time favorites happens to be carnitas--that Mexican delicacy of twice cooked pork--the first, by a low and slow braise and the second time, with a toss into hot lard until the meat is crispy, caramelized, and deeply golden brown. And really, who could blame him? What better to heap into warm corn tortillas and top with chopped onions, cilantro, and spicy salsa?

Most of the time, we live in a "No Fry Zone," not because I'm opposed to anything deep fried--at least not when it's done well--but, mostly because Mr. B and I tend to cook in a style that can often be referred to--fondly, of course--as guerilla cooking, which means, we like to push things to the edge. Unfortunately, that usually means dismantling smoke alarms, opening windows, and praying for the best. For reference, I've seen Mr. B attempt a lobster bisque with a blow torch--a real, professional blow torch, and me, well, I've certainly had my moments of not clearly thinking through my culinary pursuits.

Up until this point, we've always managed to avoid disaster, and I wasn't about to tempt fate so early in the New Year by bringing a large pot of lard to a near boil. After thinking long and hard about how I could go about replicating crispy carnitas without frying, I finally latched onto the idea of using my crock-pot for the braise, and then employing my broiler to 'crisp' up the meat.

The results were wildly successful--even Mr. B, my carnitas expert, gave them a thumbs up. And, to make things even better, they're healthier than their fried counterpart--as long as you don't gobble them up by the pound.

Mel's Crock-Pot Carnitas
1 6-7 pound bone-in pork shoulder
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 bulb of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 20 cloves)
4 large jalapeno peppers, quartered (seeds and membranes intact)
4 tablespoons of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of paprika
2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon, or 2 cubes
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 bunches of cilantro, washed
1 cup of water or beer

1. Place sliced onions in the bottom of the crock-pot and top with the pork shoulder, fat cap up.
2. Rub the shoulder with the cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper.
3. Sprinkle with the bouillon and brown sugar.
4. Top with the chopped garlic and then lay the cilantro--stems and all--over the pork shoulder.
5. Tuck the jalapenos around the sides of the pork shoulder.
6. Pour in the water, or beer, and then cover.
7. Cook on medium for 8 hours; turn off crock-pot, and let the shoulder sit for 1 hour.
8. Remove pork shoulder to a bowl and gently remove the bone and pull apart the meat; cover and refrigerate overnight.
9. Pour the juices, vegetables, cilantro and drippings into a second container and add the bones; refrigerate overnight.

Part Two: The Real Deal
1. Remove the shredded pork to a sheet pan and spread out; cover with aluminum foil and return to the refrigerator.
2. Pour the drippings and scraps into a large stock pot. Cook on medium heat until reduced by 2/3. Strain broth and toss the scraps; return the broth to the pot.
3. Add 2/3 cup of fresh salsa tatemada (a roasted salsa of jalapenos and roma tomatoes--you can usually find this freshly made in the produce section), 2 pressed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of lime juice and cook until thick and hot.
4. Add shredded pork and toss to coat. Turn off heat and cover. Let sit for 20 minutes.
5. Spray a sheet pan with non-stick spray. Pour the sauced pork onto the pan (there should be minimal liquid as it should have been absorbed by the pork) and spread out.
6. Turn on the broiler to high and broil the carnitas until crispy and caramelized, turning once or twice.
7. Serve with warm corn tortillas, chopped onions and cilantro, salsa, and sour cream.


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