I schlepped a Dutch oven around for 10 years before I finally used it. Even though I grew up watching my mom, aunt and Nonie use Dutch ovens, and enjoying their mouth-watering creations, from braised, wild fowl, like the pigeon, pheasant, and quail my grandfather and uncles brought home, to tender osso buco and pork shoulder roasts, I just never took the time to try my hand at using the heavy cast iron pot myself.
My first Dutch oven was a hand-me-down, which didn’t bother me. I come from a long line of hand-me-down kitchen whores who appreciate old stuff, like heavy cut-glass platters, Bauer bowls and vintage egg beaters that just can’t be matched in today’s fancy cookware stores.
So what kept me from using the Dutch oven? A few things: First, I was too lazy to ask my mom; second, I was determined to master the art of crock pot cooking, because I was working outside of the home and didn’t have time to babysit a meal. So I spent several years churning out crock pot crap: dry, boiled, tough, blade or chuck-roasts that were supposed to be “succulent and fall-off-the-bone,” according to the recipes, such as they were.
Fast forward about four years. Now working from home as an editor and writer, I found myself one day thinking long and hard about my grandmother’s pot roasts, and how she got them that way. I called my mom and asked her about that silky meat from days gone by. She said, “Dutch oven.” And the rest is history.
Now I’m serving up the juicy, fork-tender meat with the browned exterior that a crock pot just can’t deliver. I make everything from coq au vin to lamb stew, and even blackberry cobbler with the help of my little friend. In fact, some mornings, I do the first step, browning the meat, while my kids are getting ready for school. I also prep the veggies that I’ll add later. Once the meat is browned, I slap the lid on the pot and put it in the fridge. Later in the day, I add the broth and spices, and into the oven it goes while I have two to three hours to play with for shopping, running, cleaning house or hanging with my other little friend while the kids are at baseball practice: the remote control.
So here’s my version of perfect carnitas, which has been altered slightly from the original to suit my taste-buds. Note: To produce a less traditionally Mexican flavor, I just back off on the amounts of chile powders that the recipe calls for, which allows me to use the roast for a variety of things, from French dip sandwiches to old-fashioned skillet hash that is a favorite in my house fried up with eggs, as dinner or as a hearty breakfast in the morning. The beauty of this recipe is the technique; the flavors that you add (or don’t add) are entirely up to you. I call it “Carnitas-a-Go-Go” because it can go from carnitas to something entirely different as your taste buds demand it to.
- 2–3 lb. pork butt (shoulder) or pork tenderloin (less fat)
- 1 large or two medium yellow onions, diced fine
- 5 large cloves of garlic
- 1 tblsp chile powder
- 1 tblsp ancho chile paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups of beef broth
Cut the roast into large chunks (about the size of a baseball) and brown in the Dutch oven right on the stove-top, using olive or vegetable oil, for three or four minutes on each side. Salt and pepper to taste while the meat cooks as you turn to brown each side. Remove the meat, blot on paper towels and set aside.
Drain the oil from the Dutch oven, except for about a tablespoon or two; add the onions brown until glossy and soft. Add the beef broth and bring to almost a boil, scraping away bits of the meat from the bottom of the pan. Whisk in chile powders and then place the chunks of browned roast back into the pan. Add a little more beef broth so that the pork is about 2/3 submerged.
Put the Dutch oven, uncovered, on the middle rack in a pre-heated, 350-degree oven. Ladle some of the liquid over the meat about once per hour. In three hours, you will have tender, moist carnitas that will shred easily using a couple of forks. To speed up the cooking, put the lid on about halfway through the cooking time. This will also preserve more liquid.
How to Use It:
Prep the following: diced tomatoes, diced onion, shredded cheese, and sliced avocado. Put those, along with salsa, sour cream and chopped lettuce on the counter. Give your family the choice to “order” a burrito, soft taco or salad, adding only those toppings they like. Serve with refried beans and rice.
Perfect for breakfast the next day, or the next night’s meal. Boil a few potatoes and slice. Saute chopped yellow onions until fully softened, then add in the potatoes and meat. Fry that baby up until a nice crisp forms and serve with a fried or poached egg on top.
Carnitas French Dip
Either for leftovers the next day, or the same night you make the roast, use the leftover liquid in the pot as your “au jus” for dipping. Pile the shredded/chopped carnitas into soft rolls and top with any cheese you like. Serve a cup of au jus for dipping with each sandwich.
Italian Pork Sliders
Eliminate the chile powders from the recipe and add Italian seasoning instead. I use a combo that includes dried oregano, thyme and rosemary. Add sliced red and green bell peppers and a can of diced tomatoes before placing in the oven. When done, pile into soft rolls and top with Monterey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese.
Instead of a pork shoulder, which tends to be highly marbled with fat (and subsequently why it is so tasty), use a pork tenderloin roast. Tenderloins are super lean anyway, but I still trim them when I get them out of the package.
All Photos By Amador Food & Review – All Rights Reserved