My daughter informed me that the one thing she really looks forward to every evening, amid the many hours of homework she puts in, is dinner. A really good dinner has the power to make everything else — mounds of homework, the day’s worries — fade away. In this, she is her mother’s daughter.
This is one of her favorite dishes. It is a bit involved, but well worth the effort. Carnitas means “little meat” in Spanish; it is pork that has been cooked twice. The pork in this version is braised, shredded, and then lightly fried. I have always served it with another dish, Poblanos with Cream (also known as Rajas) because the combination is so nice. Poblanos are chili peppers–darker, smaller, pointier, and just a tiny bit hotter than green bell peppers (capsicums). Though most recipes for Rajas do not include mushrooms, mushrooms and cream have an affinity for each other, and I simply had to add them. With black beans and some chopped tomato as finishing touches, this is a meal for all the senses. Pile everything into a warm tortilla, roll it up, and enjoy.
Note: When cutting the raw poblanos, protect your hands. Poblanos are not a very hot chili pepper, but you do not want to cut them with bare hands and then accidentally rub your eyes. You will not be happy. Since I do not have kitchen gloves lying around, I pop a plastic sandwich bag on each hand, and then proceed. Not the most elegant solution, but necessity is the mother of invention.
Carnitas and Poblanos with Cream
3 – 3.5 lb. pork (shouldn’t be super lean; boneless country-style ribs or non-loin boneless pork chops are good, as is cubed pork for stew)
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/4-1/2 c. canola oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp. (or to taste) chicken bouillon powder, preferably a brand without MSG
freshly ground pepper
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped (I cut off the top of the bunch of cilantro at the point where leaves end and stems begin, discard any sub-par leaves and big bits of stem, then chop everything else)
1. Place the pork, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a large stockpot, add water to cover by about 2 inches, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until pork is tender. Add water if needed. Let pork cool in broth, if possible. If you are short on time, remove pork with tongs and place on a rimmed baking sheet until cool. With very clean hands, shred pork, discarding any fat that may be on the meat. There should be about 6 c. total. If not, adjust amount of bouillon powder accordingly.
2. Heat 1/4 c. oil over medium heat in a large skillet, add onions, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Mix in shredded pork, taking care to distribute onions and oil as evenly as possible. Let pork cook without stirring for a few minutes until bottom layer is golden and getting crispy, then scrape up browned pork from bottom of skillet, and let new layer of pork on bottom of skillet get crispy. Repeat several times, until pork is golden and there are ample crispy bits throughout. Add up to 1/4 c. more oil as needed to keep pork from sticking and drying out too much.
3. When pork is just about done, add bouillon powder and pepper, and mix in very well. Cook for a few more minutes, check seasonings, and turn off heat. Add chopped cilantro and mix through.
4. Serve with flour tortillas, Poblanos in Cream, black beans, and chopped tomato.
Poblanos with Cream
5 large poblano chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 c. cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Cut poblanos in half lengthwise, and cut out the white membrane, including all seeds. Place the poblanos skin up on a baking sheet and broil until skin is bubbly and black, checking frequently. Immediately place poblanos in a glass container with lid, and put on the lid. Leave for 15 minutes, then remove the poblanos, peel the skin off, and slice into strips. Reserve.
2. Heat oil in skillet, then add mushrooms and sauté until liquid has been released and mushrooms are soft; add poblano strips and sauté for a few more minutes. Add cream, and simmer gently until heated through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.