There's something beautifully simple about braising a big hunk of meat in the slow cooker all day. Especially when said hunk of meat falls off the bone into tender shreds of flavorful, juicy carnivorous bliss that can then serve as the basis for several delicious meals.
You can use this meat in many ways but I kicked off my porcine journey with pork carnitas tacos for a small crowd of family and friends. I started by assembling the ingredients for the braising liquid - a combination of fresh orange juice, tomatoes, garlic, chipotles and spices.
I happened to have some exceptional tangelos courtesy of our friend, Phoebe, who sent us a crate from Florida. Their juice is remarkably flavorful - sweet and tangy at the same time in that hard to describe way of truly top-notch citrus.
The chipotles come packed in adobo sauce in a can that I would buy for the label, alone. ¡Vive las morenas! But the peppers do add a wonderful smoky, spicy flavor to the meat.
I poured our last jar (sniff) of home-canned tomatoes into the slow cooker and added the garlic, the chipotles, the tangelo juice and half the salt. Then I turned to the pork shoulder, clipping its strings, and trimming away the excess fat before rubbing it all over with a mixture of ground cumin, cinnamon, oregano, sea salt and black pepper.
Although you can certainly skip this step and save yourself the trouble of washing another pot (as the recipe I was working off directed), I seared the roast in a Dutch oven for a few minutes on each side before I put it in the braising liquid in the slow cooker as it does give the flavor a nice little boost.
Once it was browned, I levered it out of the Dutch oven and put it in the the slow cooker with the braising liquid where it bubbled away for about eight hours (more is fine), filling the house with mouth-watering smells. I turned it several times to ensure that it was submerged equally.
Meanwhile, I put together a quick brine of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and hot water. Then I got out my trusty mandoline and made short work of a red onion that I set aside to pickle for a few hours. I find that pickled onions make a great counterpoint to most things, especially meats.
Eight hours of cooking time leaves you ample time to prepare your fixings although certain things, like avocado, needs must wait until just before serving, of course.
I happened to have a pineapple to hand because James, my three-year-old, had been hounding me to buy one for weeks and I had finally succumbed, whereupon he promptly lost interest in the manner of children the world over... But I cut it up into a fine dice and then turned the rest into virgin piña coladas which I served with the tacos. And both boys drained their glasses which I counted as a victory of sorts.
Things were ratcheting up into the usual pre-dinner insanity that takes place here nightly when I took the pork shoulder out and we could not manage a photo of me going at the thing with two forks. But it yielded an impressive pile of tender, shredded meat.
I warmed up a bunch of corn tortillas by placing stacks of five tortillas, wrapped in tinfoil, in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes and then leaving them in their foil until it was time to eat them - it worked beautifully. I served the pork carnitas alongside a cavalcade of bowls filled with fresh pineapple, chopped tomatoes, pickled onions, thinly sliced radishes, shredded purple cabbage, this wonderful salty lime mayo sauce, chunks of perfectly ripe avocado, a jar of our homemade salsa, and some lime wedges.
Each warm, little package of tender, flavorful meat was topped with zingy onions, buttery avocado, juicy chunks of sweet pineapple and the cool, fresh cilantro. I ate at least three...
As for the rest of the meat, barbecued pulled pork sandwiches are definitely in our future as well as maybe some kind of creamy polenta dish with pork. Hallelujah for multiple meals from one one mess in the kitchen.
The recipe below is adapted from Sarah Kate Gillingham's recipe on the Kitchn.
Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas Tacos
* 1 (4-6 lb) pork shoulder (a.k.a. Boston butt or pork butt) roast - bone-in yields the best flavor
* 3-4 cups of liquid (orange juice, beer, stock or some combination of those things )
* 1 quart of diced tomatoes or tomato purée
* 4 diced chipotle peppers in adobo (I used 2 because my kids don't like spicy food)
* 8 garlic cloves, smashed or pressed
* 2 Tbsps coarse sea salt
* 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1 Tbsp ground cumin
* 1 Tbsp dried oregano
* 2 tsps ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional/to taste - I left this out for the kiddos' sake)
1. Place half the salt and all of the other spices in a bowl and give a little stir to combine. Cut the strings and remove them from the roast. Using a sharp knife, trim any excess fat from the pork roast, then rub the spice mixture all over the pork roast. Heat a little bit of butter or bacon fat (I keep mine in a jar in the fridge) in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sear the roast for several minutes on each side, until browned.
2. Place the tomatoes and liquid (juice, beer and/or stock), garlic, peppers and the rest of the salt in the slow cooker then add the browned roast and cook on low for roughly 8 hours, turning every few hours to ensure even cooking. You'll know the meat is done when it is falling off the bone.
3. Remove the meat from the cooker and let it sit on a cutting board or large plate until it's cool enough to handle safely. Using two forks, shred the meat and remove the bone. Save some of the cooking liquid to use for reheating and/or as a sauce. I actually saved all of mine and have frozen it to use next time I make this.
4. Serve the meat with warm corn tortillas, avocado, cilantro, radishes, pineapple, sour cream or lime mayo, tomatoes, pickled red onions, thinly sliced cabbage and the like.
You might also like:
- Grilled Fish Tacos - Simple, Healthy & Delicious
- Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans with Pork Belly & Skillet Corn Bread
- Garlic Scape & Pork Friend Rice
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