Why do we eat out at restaurants? Well, sometimes it has to do with being too tired/lazy to cook or not having enough ingredients on hand, other times it’s just a way to meet up with friends and socialize, you may want to try something new, and sometimes you just crave a dish that would take too long to cook at home. Obviously, there can be other reasons as well, but these usually apply to me. As I cook more and more dishes at home, some restaurant types fall out of favor. For example, we rarely eat out at Italian restaurants anymore. The two foods I missed most after moving to Chicago were good sushi and good Mexican food. We eventually found some good sushi restaurants, albeit more expensive than in LA, but we didn’t have the same luck when it came to Mexican food. Ironically, after I moved back to LA, the Mexican restaurant we went to based on Yelp was a complete and utter disappointment! We probably would have had a more satisfying meal at the shady late night taco trucks behind Jons! Since I knew finding Mexican ingredients shouldn’t be a problem in LA, I decided to try to cook some of the dishes I crave at home.
There are lots of dishes I enjoy, but the one thing I almost always end up ordering is carnitas, or as it is sometimes called Mexican pulled pork. I rarely eat pork in this country, but carnitas never disappoints! I sometimes wonder if the restaurants have connections to some happy pig farms where they get treated humanely, being scratched behind their ears and given back rubs, and in return the pigs generate tasty meat. I should probably do some research and try to find such a farm around us. There are lots of recipes for carnitas out there, and my recipe was inspired by the posts from Cook’s Illustrated, Homesick Texan, and David Lebovitz. It takes a long time to make it, but most of it it’s inactive, so plan accordingly and enjoy the tasty result.
For the salsa, I picked up some tomatillos at the store. I’ve always wanted to cook with them, and this seemed like the perfect occasion for it. Plus, it meant I would get to test drive my new food processor :-) I knew I wanted to roast the tomatillos, but if you prefer to boil them, you can follow the directions from Simply Recipes.
Now, I could have bought the tortillas and made my life easier, but I decided I was up for the challenge of making my own, without a tortilla press. That’s how the oddly shaped tortillas came to life. I do not mind the shape, as it makes them definitely look homemade, but if you do and can spare the space in your kitchen, a press would make it easier.
About portions, the salsa makes enough for 16 tacos depending on how much you like on yours, the recipe for tortillas makes 8 which feeds two people, and I am still counting the tacos from the carnitas, but around 30 would is a good estimate.
- 4-5 lb pork (loin, shoulder, butt, with some fat)
- 1 tsp cumin (whole or ground)
- 1/2 onion, quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 1/4 cup lime juice (~ 2 limes)
- 1/2 cup orange juice (2-3 oranges)
- 2 1/2 cups water (or enough to cover the pork)
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp chile powder
- 1 tsp ancho chile powder
- Salsa Verde: 1 lb tomatillos, 1 serrano pepper, 1 jalapeño, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 onion, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1 Tb lime juice, salt and pepper
- Tortillas: 1 cup masa flour, 1/2 + 2-3Tb water, pinch of salt
I followed David’s advice and salted the piggy generously with salt, wrapped it plastic wrap, and let rest in the fridge for 2 days. When ready to cook, remove the pork from the fridge, unwrap, and cut into big chunks (~2 inches). Place the pork pieces into a dutch oven, add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil on stove top.
Cover, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat starts falling apart.
Continue cooking pork until some of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is tender (about another hour). Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove pork pieces from the broth, brake into smaller pieces, and place on a baking sheet.
Reduce the broth until it becomes a thick sauce.
Spoon some of the liquid over the pork pieces on the baking sheet.
Roast pork in the oven until it browns (~10 minutes), flip and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
While the pork is roasting, you can start on the salsa. Remove the husks from the tomatillos, wash them, slice in half, and place on a baking sheet. Arrange the garlic cloves and the peppers on the sheet as well.
Roast in the 425 F oven until the peppers are charred on the bottom, flip and roast until charred again (10-20 min). If you want the tomatillos to char as well, you can choose to broil them instead of roasting in the oven.
Let the peppers cool until you can peel off their skin. Remove the seeds if looking for a milder salsa. I only removed the seeds from the jalapeño. Place tomatillos, peppers, garlic, onion, lime juice, and cilantro in a food processor/blender. Process until finely chopped and well blended. Season with salt and pepper.
About 1 hr before you’re ready for dinner, start working on the tortillas. Mix the masa flour with the water and knead until you can form a smooth ball of dough.
Cover in plastic wrap or with a towel and let rest for about 30 minutes. Break the dough in 8 pieces and shape it into balls. Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Prepare a plate with a towel to keep the tortillas warm. Roll the dough in between plastic wrap sheets or just use a tortilla press.
Place in the skillet and cook for about 30 sec – 1 minute, or until it starts to brown on the bottom.
Flip and cook for about 30 seconds.
Remove tortilla from the skillet, and store in a towel.
Serve a bowl of carnitas with salsa and tortillas. Make your own tacos and enjoy the results of your hard work :-) I can’t claim this was easy, but in the end it was well worth the effort in my humble opinion!
If you’re still reading, what Mexican restaurant dish should I tackle next? ;-)