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Carnitas


This Mexican dish is similar to pork confit and rillettes, or the classic French confit made with Goose or Duck. In each case, meat is spiced and salted, then slowly cooked in a bath of its own fat. This keeps the flavours and juices from escaping, while the salt and gentle heat convert tough collagens into delicate gelatines. Flavours suffuse the tasty, tender, moist flesh.

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Ingredients
4 lb (2 Kg) Pork Shoulder, with bone and skin
1 lb (500 g) Pork back fat
4 tsp Coarse salt
8 cloves garlic, 2 oranges, 4 limes, bay leaf.

You should marinade the meat and render the fat in advance.

Marinade Grind coarse salt (about a ½ teaspoon per hundred grams, or four ounces, of meat) with the zest of the orange and limes, and plenty of garlic. Trim the skin and excess fat from the meat. Score the meat deeply, to the bone, making cuts a bit less than one inch (2cm) apart. Rub the salt and garlic paste over the meat. Pack the meat in a closely fitting casserole, add the bay leaf and juice from the citrus fruits and leave to marinade in a cool place for 8-12 hours, turning from time-to-time.

The marinade can be varied. You can mix and match a selection—oregano, cumin, coriander, chipotle chiles in adobo, or something more exotic, such as cinnamon, but I think it is more authentic to be minimalist with the marinade—salt, citrus and garlic—and provide a selection of salsas when serving.

If you can't get pork back fat, fat belly pork, or pure pork lard will do!

The chicharrones are a delicacy in their own right. Put them on a baking tray, salt lightly then return to the oven for ten minutes or so until they are crisp and golden brown. You can eat them as they are—as an excellent snack to accompany a chilled margarita.

Rendered Fat Cut the skin and fat roughly into 1 cm (½'') strips; pack it, with the trimmings from the meat, in a casserole. Add enough boiling water to almost cover and bake, covered, in a slow oven (150 °C 300 °F) for a few hours. You can remove the lid from time to time and stir. The fat is rendered when you have slightly golden scratchings floating a a clear liquid. Remove the scratchings with a slotted spoon; use these to make chicharrones. You can let the mixture cool then keep it in the refridgerator, or, if you've allowed enough time for the meat to marinade, proceed immediately to the next step. You should have a layer of white fat with an aqueous liquid or jelly below.

Slow-cooked ConfitPlace the meat, and its marinade, in the casserole with the jelly and rendered fat. There should be enough fat to cover the meat. Put the covered casserole in a slow oven (120 °C 250 °F) for two or three hours. The meat can be preserved, under the fat, in the refrigerator for several weeks, then gently reheated, or used immediately.

Pull the porkWarm the casserole if necessary; drain the fat from the meat; keep any aqueous juices aside to use as gravy. Use two forks to pull bite-sized chunks of meat from the bone. It should come easily. Spread the meat on a baking tray and crisp briefly (ten minutes or less) in a hot oven (200 °C 400 °F) to produce nuggets of succulent softness with a crisp caramelized exterior.

Serve in tacos with salad, guacamole, and Pico de Gallo—chopped tomato, onion, and chiles—or other salsa.

Rillettes are similar in process. Fat and lean pork, salted then slowly cooked—with added liquid, which is absorbed into the meat. These are pulled then normally eaten cold, spread on bread.

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