Guest Post: Self-shredding carnitas

I have a very special treat today: the first-ever guest entry on the blog! (This looks like it may be a bit of a Guest Week, since my mom cooked us a great, simple dinner while she was here visiting, and all I did to “help” was steal beans and take photos.) Bridge faced an Extreme Meat Challenge this weekend, and has a recipe to share plus a cautionary tale about letting someone faceless do your grocery shopping.

After enjoying Kate’s delectable cider-braised pork with caramelized onions, I decided to give braising a go. We received a gorgeous cast iron enamel pot from E’s dad last spring, but anything we could think to cook in it seemed too heavy until autumn recently crept in. The pot is only four quarts, but in our tiny Manhattan kitchen, it seems like a real beast.

So, last week, I proposed that we get a pork shoulder from FreshDirect. I love FreshDirect for its convenience, but they’re not the most organized. This might explain why I once received an enormous box of Chocolate Peppermint Luna Bars in lieu of the bottle of apple cider vinegar I’d ordered. (I thought about donating the Luna bars but E pointed out that we will need them in case of a zombie attack, so they now reside on the top shelf of our cabinet. This is a true story). I truly believe that there is a Homer Simpson-type at the very end of the packing assembly belt, just throwing random items in willy-nilly before taping up the boxes and sending them off to the trucks.

The other problem with FreshDirect is that you can estimate the size of the meat you’d like, but what they throw in the box is what you get and what you pay for. Which is why I was surprised when E unpacked the boxes in our kitchen and asked me, “Why did you get two?”
“Two what?”
“Two pork shoulders.”
“I didn’t,” I replied, getting up and going into the kitchen. Indeed, they had sent two untrimmed pork shoulders, one weighing seven pounds and one weighing thirteen pounds.

We pondered our options – the smaller shoulder, the one we paid for, was certainly something we could tackle. We decided to make carnitas (more on that in a moment). The larger one, however, was an issue. Given that we’ve recently embarked on a strict budget-adherence mission, it seemed silly to give up free food. But there were several problems in keeping the large shoulder. One, we couldn’t store it whole. It absolutely did not fit in the freezer. It barely fit in the fridge, and there, it was only going to keep for two days or so before we had to do something. Two, we don’t own anything near large enough to cook such a large hunk of meat. It would have to be divided.

(Image from
I think we got most of sections 4 and 5.

I called Kate and she suggested the same, advising me that there would be definitive points of amputation (my word, not hers – this thing was enormous, I swear). She told me to trim it into roasts and chunks (for stew meat, etc) and hopefully I could maneuver the smaller bits into the freezer.

Now, I thought “untrimmed” meant there’d be some excess fat on it and I’d have to do some cute and clever carving, like one does with a heavily marbled steak. I did not realize that “untrimmed” means that there is a hefty layer of skin covering the meat. In fact, I had almost finished trimming the seven pound shoulder when E came in and said, “That’s a lot of skin.”
“That’s fat,” I replied, hacking away with a sushi knife.
E shook his head, and upon closer inspection, I saw pores.

During the trimming process, I’d frequently run into the living room, shake my bloody knife in the air and bemoan the disgusting slab of carcass that had taken over our bright little galley kitchen. [Editor’s Note: The kitchen is not as tiny as some in Manhattan, but the counter space is severely limited. I honestly don’t know how Bridge found space for a 13 pound pork shoulder.] Our cat Giuseppe also took up residence in the kitchen, showing great interest in the meat, his tiny pink-padded paw slooooooooowly reaching toward the mountain of meat before being swatted away. Over. And over. And over.
[EN: Joe also likes to sit on anything Bridge bakes.]

Joe, feigning innocence:

So, the carnitas. I got this recipe from Epicurious and ignored the part about green onion rajas because I decided to make my own salsa.

The recipe is very simple. Take one 4lb pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into two-inch cubes, and put them in a pot. We ended up with more meat than they suggested, but I just threw it all in the pot and poured in a 32 ounce container of organic chicken stock. Add water until the meat is submerged by about a half-inch and bring the whole thing to a boil.

After it boils for a minute or so, lower the heat to a simmer and leave it partially covered for almost two hours, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Two hours later, I went to check on it and…almost nothing had happened. The pot was still completely full of liquid and chunks of pork. We had some errands to run, so I opted to turn off the burner, cover the pot, and leave it for three hours or so.

Upon returning home, I let it simmer for another two hours and got to work on a simple salsa of plum tomatoes, scallions, chopped cilantro, jalapenos, a little olive oil, lime juice, and salt.

That’s when E got impatient and began poking at the pork chunks with a wooden spoon. I warned him that we had to wait for the liquid to absorb and then it would be time to shred the meat, but when I looked in the pot I was shocked to see that his poking had caused the pork to self-shred into a beautiful mound of white meat, thereby sucking up all the extra liquid. I simply added salt and cracked black pepper, plus a lime’s worth of juice.

With some warm tortillas, the fresh salsa, and a cold Corona, we both agreed it was one of the top ten meals we’d ever made. I think the trick with the pork is to gauge doneness by feel and texture, not by cooking time. The recipe was off by two hours, and the end result was well worth it. Also, minus the trimming debacle, it was insanely easy to make. Not to mention, we have tons of shredded pork left for sandwiches and tacos.

Now, any ideas for ten pounds of trimmed pork shoulder? In the end, we threw away an entire garbage bag of skin and fat, but we are still the very proud owners of two huge roasts, plus a gallon-sized Ziploc of stew meat. Thanks, FreshDirect. I think.

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