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we live in awesome

Recipe: carnitas

We are three weeks away from the Food and Light Workshop! Todd, Diane, Helen, and I have been working like mad to put this event together. We have a fantastic group of attendees converging on Boulder at the end of June including some of my favorite food bloggers. It’s not too late to snag a spot! There are a handful of spaces left and if you’re flying into Denver, Southwest Airlines has a Rapid Rewards double credit program for any flights into or out of Denver. (I know this because I just booked two flights out of Denver).

pussy willows

the thaw is well under way

Productive weekend? Fun weekend? Hot? Busy? All of the above (or rather, everything to the left) for me. Jeremy and I managed to get quite a bit taken care of for work and around the house. We even took Kaweah for a swim. Each year it gets harder and harder for her to make it to the high alpine lakes, so we try to ease her into the hiking season. She still loves it and she’s still a complete nut.

in search of the stick

scooby snack

throw the stick!

It’s been uncommonly humid in our neck of the woods this weekend and that makes for interesting weather. As we walked Kaweah back from the lake, we saw some striking mammata in the sky as the sun dropped closer to the horizon. The hot air from the day gave way to the flow of cool air coming off the melting banks of snow in the forest. The mountains are invigorating. Jeremy and I sometimes get bogged down in the work we have to do and forget how much good it does to just step outside and breath the clean mountain air and drink in the gorgeous surroundings. I climbed an embankment to get a shot of the clouds and then called down to Jeremy, “We live in AWESOME!” We really do.

mammata just before sunset

Okay, but Awesome became awesomer after I learned to make carnitas. Can you tell I’m on a taco kick? It’s because of our trip to California and that lovely Mexican food in the Central Valley. It’s been on my “want to make” list forever and I referenced my go-to book for all things wonderful and New Mexican – The Border Cookbook.

cumin seed, chiles de árbol, mexican oregano, garlic

blend with salt and pepper

I have made this dish two ways. The first attempt used ground cumin, a New Mexican red chile, and regular oregano. It wasn’t bad. Then a few days later I was at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder talking to Dan about sponsorship for Food and Light when I saw every spice I was missing in the recipe. I ran about gathering what I needed since the recipe was fresh in my head and went home to make another batch.

it was not a lot of fun cutting this sucker into cubes

mix the spices with the pork

I definitely recommend trying to make this with the proper ingredients. It’s fine if you can’t, it’s just a slightly ghetto version. But the toasted cumin seeds change the character of the carnitas from pretty good to downright sizzling. Hey, I make these mistakes so you don’t have to. It’s because I care.

relatively even distribution of yum

sear the pork

So I chickened out of using lard or shortening because I thought vegetable oil was a healthier alternative. I know… this coming from the person known simply as “Butter” in many circles. Don’t judge!

add milk last

cooked down to browned goodness

The addition of the milk really transforms the carnitas into those signature morsels glistening with that crisp outer layer. Let the liquid cook down and keep scooping up the beautiful browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Flavor. Country. I stuffed some carnitas into blue corn tortillas with queso fresco, cabbage, and salsa. As my friend Figs would say, Booyah!

serve hot and fabulous

my personal favorite – carnitas in tacos

[print recipe]
from The Border Cookbook

4 garlic cloves
2 tsps cumin seeds, toasted
2 tsps dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 chiles de árbol or cayennes
2 1/2 lbs. pork Boston butt, cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening (I used vegetable oil, call me a wimp)
1/4 cup milk

Blend in a food processor or mash with a mortar and pestle the garlic, cumin seeds, oregano, salt, pepper, and chiles. Place the pork cubes in a medium bowl and mix in the spices until the pork is evenly coated. Let sit at room temperature for a half hour. Warm the fat (lard, shortening, or oil) in a large deep, heavy pan over medium high heat. Add the pork and sear the meat. Reduce the flame to barely simmering and cover the pot. Let the pork simmer for an hour, giving it a stir every 20 minutes or so. Remove the cover from the pan and stir in the milk. Increase the flame to medium-high and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. There will be a lot of browning on the bottom of the pan – scrape that up and stir it in (that is the GOOD stuff). After 15 minutes, the meat should be browned and lightly crisped on the outside, yet moist and tender inside. Serve hot (I like mine in tacos). Serves 6.

30 nibbles at “we live in awesome”

  1. Jane L says:

    I loved your recipe, it simplifies so much from other recipes that I’ve seen that I am going to try your version. Thanks for the beautiful pictures and great recipe.

  2. Hannah says:

    Fancy that! I came for the recipe and have walked away with knowledge about the natural world that I’ll be sure to pull out to impress people around me at some point. “Oh, those clouds?” I’ll sniff haughtily, “They’re mammata clouds. EVERYONE knows that”. :P

  3. Wei-Wei says:

    I’m going to start calling you Butter from now on. I love how you combine my two favourite topics into one: beautiful photography and delicious food! Carnitas look gorgeous, and the clouds and kaweah look flawless. As usual. Wonderful photos!


  4. Nan says:

    Mmmm, I’m excited! Earlier this year I hosted The Great Sunday Carnitas Cook Off (at the time there was three feet of snow outside and I was bored and a bit tunnel visioned– what can I say). I made two different versions of savory pork at the same time. My family judged the results. I thought I’d discovered my favorite version but now I’ll just have to buy ‘nother hunk of butt and give your recipe a whirl. Your version looks wonderful and doesn’t use too much salt — a good thing as the other recipes I tried were a bit too salty imo. Thanks the new recipe (and for the meteorological lesson too!)

  5. Belinda @zomppa says:

    Smashing photos. Look at that face!

  6. Perez says:

    I’m going to have to give that book a try. Some of the recipes at least look like the Texas borderlands style of Mexican food that I love.

  7. Susan @jeannesamary says:

    Lovely post, Jen. You capture your subjects so beautifully. Your blog is such a gift to your readers.

  8. M @ Betty Crapper says:

    I haven’t had food cooked with lard since I was a child. I think my Cuban grandmother used to cook with the brand El Cochinito. Then they got health conscious and switched to vege oil. Boo!

  9. Ruth Ann says:

    I love all of your photos, but I especially like seeing Kaweah because she looks so much like the black lab we had when I was a kid.

  10. Marisa says:

    These look awesome – who knew the secret ingredient was milk?

    PS: Kaweah is just gorgeous, as always.

  11. TheKitchenWitch says:

    YUM, Jen! I think I’ll be making a special trip up to the Savory spice shop so I can make these! Me lovva my Mexican food!

  12. The Italian Dish says:

    Man, you really do live in Awesome. So gorgeous. We, too, are on a taco kick so I was jazzed this morning to find this recipe in my e-mail. It’s definitely going on this week’s dinner line up.

  13. Vicky says:

    I had no idea the secret ingredient was milk – I learned something today! Thanks!

  14. Erin says:

    Beautiful food/pictures/everything, as always. What lake is that? I want to go to there!

  15. FOODESSA says:

    The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.
    Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.
    Flavourful wishes, Claudia

  16. melanie says:

    Reading your blog and looking at your amazing photos is always uplifting and inspiring.Thank-you.

  17. Andrea Meyers says:

    I adore The Savory Spice Shop, have ordered from them several times. I MUST visit their Boulder store while there. Can’t wait for the workshop!

  18. Georgia Pellegrini says:

    You get to eat homemade carnitas tacos AND enjoy those views. Wow that is the life.

  19. Y says:

    Tacos, scenery.. sigh.

  20. Caitlin says:

    Excuse me while I drool. Even with the fantastic tacos here in SJV, it’s good to know I might be able to make good ones once I’m exiled to the southeast, far far away from real Mexican :)

  21. Helene says:

    These are going on this weekend menu. Ab-so-lu-te-ly.
    Can’t wait to hit the Spice Shop when I come to the workshop!

  22. Aran says:

    your photos of colorado transport me back in time jen. a big sigh… gorgeous as ever!

  23. Kirsten says:

    I know what you mean! It has been hot as hell here in Boulder! Today was lovely, though. I ate half a chilled watermelon and praised the Gods of Summer.

  24. theminx says:

    Gorgeous! I’m contemplating making carnitas soon, but using Rick Bayless’ recipe that only uses lime as a seasoning.

    Pretty dog. :)

  25. jenyu says:

    Hannah – I am a weather nerd. Totally love it. I actually think a lot more people would be weather geeks too if they got out more often to see these really cool phenomena! :)

    Nan – that is so cool, a carnitas cook off!

    Perez – I think you’ll dig the book, it has never disappointed me. I endorse it whole-heartedly!!

    Marisa – I know, right?! I found it interesting, but after cooking it, it really does make it so perfect. Who would have known?

    TKW – definitely check out Savory Spice Shop, they are so awesome and Dan (the owner of the Boulder store) is such a sweet fellow. It’s just pure FUN to walk in there.

    Erin – that’s Brainard Lake at about 10,000 ft. In summer you can drive there – there are MUCH better lakes in the high country :)

    Andrea – I can’t wait for you to get here too!

    Helene – yes, I’ll take you by there. It’s just a few blocks from the workshop!

    Aran – let me know when you come back to visit!

  26. Rochell Goodrich says:

    What a great blog… just discovered you today!!! Love the pics and the recipes – can’t wait to see what I’ve been missing… Thanks!

  27. Ellen says:

    These are incredible! A few simple ingredients and not too spicy (don’t let the chiles fool you). I can’t vouch for the texture because I messed up the cooking process and they didn’t get soft and crispy, but the flavor is amazing. I definitely recommend cooking in pans that allow a single layer, even if that requires multiple pans at once. Don’t skimp on the ingredients: toast the cumin, get arbol chiles at a Mexican grocery. I replaced the Mexican oregano with half regular oregano and half marjoram, since apparently its closer to Mexican oregano. The carnitas are perfect paired with flour tortillas made fresh from your favorite Mexican restaurant and topped with a little fresh cilantro. Will definitely make these again when my family is in town.

  28. Ellen says:

    I just made these for the second time! Cumin is my favorite spice so this is the perfect recipe to enjoy it. This time they really got nice and crispy. I had to sear the meat in batches in order to get the cripsyness since I didn’t have a big enough pan. I also made homemade flour tortillas and got a little queso fresco at the grocery. Plus topped it with a little homegrown cilantro, delicious! If you ever pick a recipe to go all out and hunt down the right ingredients and accompaniments from the Mexican grocery, make it this one!

  29. Cindy says:

    Many years ago I lived in San Diego and used to get Carnitas Nachos that I have never forgotten. I saw your picture in a google search and had to give the recipe a try. A big huge hearty Thank You is in order!! Although I served the carnitas as tacos this time, with some home made pico de galla and quacamole, I will definitely put them atop some warm freshly made tortilla chips next time. These is absolutely, by far, the best recipe out there! If I wanted pulled pork, I’d make pulled pork – I wanted carnitas and you gave them to me! Finally!! Simple easy recipe with as much flavor as you want to create! If you’re reading this – try it!

  30. DeAnna Davis-Rice says:

    sorry it did not have the real taste of carnitas. You have to use the lard and you have to use a bottle of mexican coca cola as well. You don’t cut up the cut of meat, you simply boil it down and it breaks apart on its own. it tasted okey, but it didn’t taste like carnitas

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