Birthdays = Succulents + Succulent Pork.
At least that’s what Shannon’s birthday was all about this year! A prospective taco night had been on our minds for quite some time, along with succulent walls. With Shannon’s birthday fast approaching, I had to figure out a fun surprise for her, and something that could feed 15-20 people, and those two things fit the bill!
We spent the morning picking up groceries and getting the pork in the oven, before I blindfolded Shannon (as per her mother’s suggestion) and whisked her away for a surprise! After winding down country roads for about 20 minutes (or an eternity for blindfolded Shan), we arrived at Shannon’s happy place, Solar Gardens, where I surprised her with a “Living Wall” class! We made two wall mounted planters filled with tons of neat succulents, and got some much needed info on caring for our little succulent babies, something we definitely needed after giving some previous succulents a little too much love (*cough* water *cough*).
Armed with beautiful Living Walls, and our new expertise on succulents, we journeyed back home to finish preparing the Mexican birthday feast. We returned to a home filled with the amazing scent of roast pork, garlic, orange, and cinnamon, and we excitedly opened the Dutch oven to reveal perfectly roasted pork! It was so tender and juicy, we couldn’t help but “test” several pieces to make sure it was okay.
With the pork finished, Shannon went about
eating shredding it all, while I got to work on the tortilla dough, and other accompaniments. After making a huge mess of the kitchen, nearly cutting off a finger, and falling a little behind on dinner prep, Shannon’s friend Olya healed wounds with her Ukrainian wisdom (and some rye bread). Meanwhile Joyce took charge of some dishes, Chelsey’s boyfriend Nick took care of corn grilling duties, and we were on our way to a Mexican feast! We cooked the fresh tortillas, and went about assembling many (maaany) tacos, feasting until everyone had their share, and was uncomfortably full.
That’s what good dinner parties are all about right? Now for the recipe:
- 3 pound pork shoulder
- ½ white onion (quartered)
- 1 medium orange (quartered)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick (cut into 3 pieces)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Remove skin from pork shoulder, setting aside for later use, then cut the pork into 2 inch cubes, and season with 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Add pork into a dutch oven, packing tightly, so there are no spaces between the pieces of pork.
- Squeeze orange quarters over pork, and add the oranges pieces to the dutch oven, proceed to fill the dutch oven with the white onion, garlic cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick.
- Pour vegetable oil into dutch oven, there should be enough to cover the pork, if necessary add a bit more vegetable oil.
- If you have a piece of pork skin leftover, place it over top of all the ingredients, and place the lid on the dutch oven.
- Place in oven, cooking about 3.5 hours until pork is cooked through and tender enough to easily shred with a fork.
- Once the pork has cooked, remove it from the dutch oven, straining off any excess oil.
- Place in a large bowl, and shred with two forks, seasoning to taste with salt & pepper.
- Strain the rest of the oil and drippings into a large enough measuring cup or bowl, and allow the fat to separate from the drippings.
- Once the fat has risen to the top, remove it from the surface with a flat spoon.
- If the pork ends up being a touch dry, you can add a few spoonfuls of the fat to the shredded pork before broiling.
- With the fat and liquid from the pork separated, save 1 cup of the liquid portion for the salsa verde (recipe link below), if you don't have 1 cup of the drippings, supplement the rest with water.
- Before serving the pork, spread it on a large pan or casserole dish, and broil in the oven on high, about 5-6 minutes, allowing the edges of the pork to crisp up. Remove the pork from the oven, mixing around, and placing back in for another 5-6 minutes to crisp some more.
- If not serving immediately, cover with foil to keep warm.
- You can also make the pork in advance, storing in the fridge, and following the broiling process above to reheat and crisp up the pork before serving.
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.
This recipe is really easy to do, and if you’re not making the accompanying salsa verde, you don’t have to mess with the whole separating drippings and fat, making it even easier. Of course, I HIGHLY recommend the salsa verde, it’s like the gravy of Mexico for tacos! A.K.A it’s amazing and I could put it on everything.
The key to what makes this pork so delicious (aside from the wonderful ingredients), is that it’s cooked “confit”, which involves cooking in oil or fat, at low temperatures, to make an extremely tender dish. Traditionally pork carnitas are cooked in pork lard, but since most of us don’t have a vat of pork lard on hand, this essentially accomplishes the same thing with vegetable oil. Of course, adding the leftover pork skin on top helps keep moisture in, and adds some of that delicious pork lard, as it renders down during the cooking process.
So go on, feast, and eat tacos until you can’t stand!