Monday, June 25, 2012

perfect pork carnitas tacos with roasted spiced sweet corn on the cob

     These are, hands down, the best pork carnitas tacos I have ever made. 

     I consider myself a carnitas connoisseur.  Call me a snob, but it's true.  They are simply the best taco on the planet, in my humble opinion.  There are a couple neighborhood Mexican Restaurants that do them right (the beauty of living in Houston), but there's nothing like making them at home.  I've tried a few recipes/methods that work well, including Homesick Texan Carnitas (from Homesick Texan Cookbook) which has wonderful citrus notes, and most recently, a slow cooker version, which included beer, from How Sweet It Is.  I married the two and created this version, and the result is pure pork bliss.


    There was a big attraction for me to the slow cooker version in the flexibility it affords, though I wasn't sure this method would provide the crispy brown goodness needed for the just-right end result.  But it sure did!  All you need to do is follow two key steps to achieve perfect pork goodness:  1)  Brown the pork butt on all sides before it goes into the crockpot; 2)  once the meat is nice and tender, remove pork,  shred, drain liquid, and add back into the crockpot to fry.

     We planned them for a Sunday afternoon meal, so I started them at about 10 p.m. on Saturday night.  At about 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, I pulled out the pork, eliminated most of the fat and the bone, discarded the cooking liquid, shredded the pork and put it back into the crock for another hour or so, turning every so often so it "fried" and browned up nicely.  The end result was just what carnitas should be... crisp and tasty browned bits on the outside, while the meat remains tender and succulent.  

     For the tacos, I served the meat piled on corn tortillas, which I heated on the grill, and topped with diced mango and avocado, and some fresh cilantro and lime.   

     We had the grill going, because it seemed to me that the ideal side for these tacos was locally grown, Texas Sweet Corn on the cob -- spiced with ancho chili powder and lime.  

   For the corn, shuck, wash and pat dry.  Tear yourself a square of aluminum foil for each ear of corn.  Rub with butter, and season with salt, pepper and ancho chili powder (just a sprinkle). Roll up in the foil.   Grill, turning occasionally, to allow all sides to contact with the heat, for about 15 minutes.  Remove from foil to platter. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top just before serving.   

carnitas tacos
serves a bunch

4 1/2 to 5 pound pork butt, bone in
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 bottle beer (I used New Belgium Summersault Ale, perfect for its citrus notes)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
corn tortillas

Combine the dry spices/seasonings together in a small bowl.   Heat a cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil.  Sear pork butt on all sides until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side).  

Add pork butt to crockpot and sprinkle seasonings all over all sides of the meat.  Pour in beer, orange and lime juice and add in garlic.   Cook in crockpot on low setting for 10 to 12 hours (mine was ready in 10) until very tender.  Remove pork, shred the meat, and get rid of most of the fat and bone, discard the cooking liquid.  Add shredded pork back into crockpot and cook for another 30-45 minutes or so, turning every so often with tongs so it "fries" and browns up nicely.  

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