Homemade Carnitas 12-07-07

5 pounds of pork shoulder, with fat, trimmed into 2 inch (or larger) cubes;
4 T. butter;
4 T. canola oil (lard would be ideal, but I had no lard);
1 red onion, roughly chopped;
1 head garlic, peeled and cloves smashed;
6 bay leaves, broken up;
2 navel oranges, cut into eighths;
1 cup milk:
1 cup homemade smoked turkey stock (or just use more milk);
20 peppercorns, crushed;
1.5 T. whole cumin;
Kosher salt to taste.

Fry meat with butter/oil/lard in heavy pan until browned (the browning will be lost in the subsequent cooking, but the flavors will not). Fry onions and garlic as meat finishes, taking care not to burn either. Transfer pan contents to a baking dish, pouring any rendered fat that may still be in the pan back over the meat. Add the remaining ingredients, crushing the oranges a bit to extract some juice (orange peels can impart a bitter flavor, so I leave it up to the cook’s judgment to whether to peel or not. I did not).

Cover the baking dish with foil and transfer to a 300 to 325 degree oven. Cook 3.5 to 4 hours. It’s OK to peek under the foil and move the pork around from time to time. In fact, it is OK to taste things as you go after the first hour or so. This will help you learn about how low and slow cooking metamorphoses the meat’s texture from that of a pork chop to that of luscious porcine succulence. When fork tender, remove from oven. Fork tender for me is when I can insert a fork and twist, and the meat busts apart under the gentlest of pressure. Also, for this dish, I like to make cubes of meat that are larger than two inches–more like three or four, but that is up to the cook.

The pork can be eaten at this stage, and it will be quite delicious, but it is not proper carnitas until the meat has been browned once again. Pull the pan from the oven, and remove the meat from the liquid that has rendered out during cooking. It’s fine to transfer the meat back to the heavy pan you started with. Browning/crisp the outside of the meat. You can do this on the stovetop, in a hot oven (say 375–400 degrees) or even under the broiler. Personally, I like to eat the meat the first night without the second browning. Then, with the leftovers, I sear the meat in a pan as I am heating it up or, if I want to feed several people, I use the oven.

Rember: What is ideal is a chunk of pork so tender you can put it in the center of a tortilla and flatten it easily with a spoon, a chunk in which the fat is so luscious you find yourself looking for the most unhealthy morsel. For tacos, serve with chopped cilantro, onion, or whatever your fancy dictates.

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