The alternate title for this post should be “The Snake, The Cat and the Visit to the ER or How I Missed Cinco de Mayo.” I was really looking forward to developing a new recipe for the holiday, which commemorates Mexico’s defeat of the French at The Battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo has become more of a holiday in the United States than in Mexico. It’s a big deal in the state of Puebla, but not so much in other areas of Mexico. Here in Southern California it is huge, primarily because everyone likes to go out and throw back a few margaritas and feast on Mexican food. Like St. Patrick’s Day it really is just another excuse to go out for a drink with friends. Not there is anything wrong with that…
While preparing my carnitas I happened to glance out the window into the back yard and saw my cat Cece with an obvious look of a predator ready to kill. Kind of like in this picture…
I had no idea what she may have cornered, but last week my two cats hunted a mole, a few dozen lizards and a couple of birds. Except for the birds, everyone escaped more or less unharmed. I went outside to ward off any more carnage and saw this:
WARNING! IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF SNAKES SCROLL PAST THIS PICTURE
Growing up in this house, reptile of all sorts were always around so I have no fear of them. I do have enough sense to stay away from the dangerous ones, such as rattlesnakes, but this one seemed more scared of the cats then anything. And since I got close enough to take this picture I was also close enough to hear that unmistakable sound if it was a rattlesnake. But since this snake looked to be a good 3 feet long, I decided to get the cats out of harms way and put them in the house. Those rocks around the snake are boulders, each 4 -5 feet tall, so that gives you an idea of the size of the snake. I scooped up one cat and threw her in the house, and went back for Cece. She apparently wanted to stay outside and play with the snake because she went from being a sweet and gentle cat to this:
One arm shredding later, I had to go to the ER for my puncture wounds and subsequent infection. I had “Cat Scratch Fever” and not in the way Ted Nugent meant. (I am dating myself with that reference!) Bandages, swollen hand, no computer, must rest hand, etc. etc. = no Cinco de Mayo carnitas. I have now learned that if I see Cece the cat corner a snake again she is on her own! Now, on to the recipe…
I love carnitas, which make perfect sense as I love pork from the ears to the tail. Carnitas usually starts with pork shoulder or butt, which is a cut marbled with rich fat. The meat is well seasoned, then slow cooked in lots of pork fat. Yes that’s right, it is covered in LARD and cooked on low heat until tender. The heat is then raised so the outside of the pork caramelizes, making a crispy outside and a tender. juicy inside. As I do not keep that much lard in my house (though I see nothing wrong with having that much) I decided to braise the meat until tender then quickly roast it to caramelize the outside. This technique works just as well, and tastes just as good. Serve your carnitas with warm corn tortillas, salsa, avocado, fresh cilantro, pinto or refried beans and whatever other garnishes you like.
3 lbs county style pork ribs or pork shoulder
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp achiote paste*
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp aleppo pepper**
2 TB rendered bacon fat or vegetable oil (I always have bacon fat in my refrigerator. Doesn’t everyone?)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
Place the pork into a large glass dish or bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, achiote paste, cumin, oregano, salt, ancho chile powder and aleppo pepper. Pour the marinade over the pork, refrigerate and marinate overnight. Turn the pork once or twice to insure even marination.
In a large deep pot heat the bacon fat over medium high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Brown the pork well on both sides, then remove from the pan.
Add the garlic cloves, and cook for one minute. Add the reserved marinade and stirring occasionally, cook for 2-3 minutes, until reduced slightly. Add the chicken broth and pork, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer.
Braise the pork about 1 1/2 hours, turning the pork once about an hour into the cooking. When the pork is tender, remove it to a baking sheet and let it cool until you are able to handle it. Pull the pork apart into large chunks, discarding any large pieces of fat. Pour approximately a cup of the cooking liquid over the pork to insure it does not dry out. Roast the pork in a 400 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, until nicely caramelized.
I made tacos with my carnitas, but this juicy meat lends itself well to salads, burritos, or just by itself. And don’t forget the cerveza or margaritas.
* You kind find achiote paste in the ethnic foods section of your grocery store or you can make your own from this recipe from Chow.com
** If you do not have Aleppo pepper you can use 3/4 tsp ancho chile powder