Weekend Fare: Pork Carnitas with Fire Roasted Salsa

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Every time we have someone over for dinner, we think a few days ahead of what we should make.  If it’s someone we are not 100% sure we’ve cooked for or not, we almost always ask each other, “Have we made them carnitas, yet?”  The answer is usually “yes…but I’m sure it’d be okay to make them, again.”  This is the kind of recipe that is so easy it feels like cheating, and people always ask, “What did you put on these?!” and it’s awesome to be able to say, “salt.”  And that’s it.  Salt, water, pork.  This is yet another example of how amazing pigs are.  And, this recipe makes a TON.  So you can feed at least 8 people if you have a couple side dishes and some tortillas.

The weather is looking more and more like summer, and while it’s not quite grilling weather, this recipe is about as close as it gets to being full-blown patio summer-fare.  We always have a little mise-en-place set up to go with these soft tacos: chopped onion and cilantro (necessities) and here I have pictured some shredded sharp white cheddar and a fire roasted salsa.  (not pictured, but always in my heart is my ultimate guacamole recipe, which deserves its own blog post.  And it will get it)

This salsa is also our go-to homemade salsa.  Beats anything out of a jar by a mile and is completely able to be altered to your heat preference or even your cilantro preference.  There’s two people in this world.  Those who think cilantro is the greatest and goes well on anything from Thai to Mexican cuisine, and those who think cilantro tastes like soap.  I’m very glad I wasn’t born in the second camp.  My brother was, and he’s made this exact salsa recipe without cilantro and swears it’s the greatest he’s ever made.  So there you go.  Not coincidentally, both of these recipes are from Rick Bayless.  He’s our absolute go-to for Mexican cuisine.  Not only is he an amazing chef and cookbook author, but he COULD be the nicest person to ever appear on television, and probably in real life as well.  One day, we will go to Chicago and spend the week doing nothing but eating at his various restaurants.  Until then, we’ll live vicariously…

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Pork Carnitas

4 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch slabs
Salt

Moist cooking.   Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each slab of pork in half and lay the pieces in a baking dish (they should fit into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish without being crowded).  Liberally sprinkle with salt (about 1 teaspoon) on all sides.  Pour 1/3 cup water around the meat, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 1 hour.

Dry cooking.   Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Uncover the meat and cook until the liquid has completely reduced and only the rendered fat remains, about 30 minutes.  Now, roast, carefully turning the meat every 7 or 8 minutes, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes longer.  Break the meat into large pieces and serve on a warm platter, sprinkled with salt.

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This is what the meat should look like before you shred it.  Nice and glistening in its own fatty juices and caramelized from the oven.

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Fire Roasted Salsa

1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, preferably fire roasted
1/4 cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt

In a small ungreased skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and garlic, turning regularly, until they are soft and blotchy brown, about 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic.

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Cool until handleable, then pull the stem(s) off the chile(s) and roughly chop.  Peel the skin off the garlic.  Scoop into a tall measuring cup and pulse with an immersion blender until smooth (or in a regular blender, but this is so much cleaner.  I hate cleaning my blender.  I hate my blender.)

Add the tomatoes with their juice.  Pulse until you have a coarse puree.  Scrape into a serving dish.  Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2  teaspoon.  You’re ready to serve.

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Try to keep a list of everyone you make this for, as to not appear a one-trick pony like we have numerous times.  We can cook more than this, we swear…we just don’t want to.

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