10 January 2010

That Burning Sensation

I was standing naked under a hot stream of water as I cried for Alannah. She ran upstairs as if on cue, a small tub of organic crème fraiche in her hand. I immediately started slathering it on my privates as the hot water showered over my body. It felt so... gooooood.

No, we haven't taken our love for food to a sick new extreme. This is the result of making what I have deemed the Best. Carnitas. Ever.

While at our local outdoor market today, we happened upon a number of fabulous looking ingredients, one of which was gorgeously lean pork shoulder. This became, as we often do when marketing, our key item for the day, around which we'd focus the night's meal: Carnitas. "We still have tortillas," Alannah said. "We can make burritos."

Perfect. We bought a few other ingredients we'd need, including some peppers, onions and (unfortunately out of season) tomatoes to make a salsa. While I usually like my burritos loaded, carnitas are the star when they're the filling, and thus call for a lighter burrito where some nice, crisp veggies are the perfect foil to the rich meat. (For the history and construction of a standard, full-on carne asada burrito in English and in French, see the entry on the proper Mission Burrito.)

Normally, carnitas can be made of just about any meat, but normally pork shoulder. Chunks of it are slowly simmered in lard, and at the end of the process, the temperature is raised until the meat browns. It's then drained, shredded, and – voila – used in a burrito, on a taco, or any of a gazillion other ways Mexican meats are served.

Being in France and always considering local ingredients, I decided to eschew the lard for... duck fat! That's right, folks, we're having carnitas confit for dinner! Here's how it goes:

  • Put about a cup of duck fat in a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet (if you have a cover for the latter)
  • Slather your meat in salt and ground cumin
  • Once the duck fat is clear and simmering, insert your meat, and reduce the temperature to keep the fat at just a simmer. You don't want too much bubbling.
  • Feel free to add some sliced onions, diced chilis, garlic or whatever to the mix. Not necessary, but nice.
  • DO add some slices or wedges of one orange on top.
  • Cover with the lid and allow to simmer 60-90 minutes
  • You'll know the simmering is done when you can break the meat easily with the tip of a spatula.
  • Remove the lid, take out the orange slices, and turn up the heat 'til the fat is bubbling hot. Allow the meat to brown.
  • Once browned, move the meat (and what's left of your onions/peppers/etc.) into a mixing bowl and shred it using two forks. This is easy and kind of fun.
  • If you're a maniac like me, and your fat is still on the heat and reducing, throw the shredded meat back in the fat for an extra dose of richness. If you're sane and don't necessarily want to put your cardiologist's children through private school, skip this step.
Now, enjoy your carnitas.

Tonight, we had it burrito-style with a little rice, pinto beans, sour cream, and salsa. The salsa was made with finely diced sweet onions, the juice of one lemon, a couple of pinches of salt, and three fresh peppers. One red, one green, and one light green.

Now here's the thing. You should always wear protection when dealing with hot peppers. A pair of rubber gloves are indispensable when chopping up and removing the seeds form chilies, preventing that burning-hot capsaicin from getting on your fingertips and under your fingernails.

Of course, we're in France, where the hottest chilies (with the exception of those bought from Asian or African markets) have the strength of half a Maginot line. I've gone to the market and been warned that the peppers I was buying are "très forts" (very strong) only to go home and find that the peanut M&Ms in our candy drawer are spicier.

Well, not tonight.

I prepared the peppers sans-gloves, as I have become accustomed to with the weak-ass peppers of l'hexagone. After mixing and tasting the salsa, I noticed a bit more bite than usual. Well, what a pleasant surprise! The salsa made for an even better accompaniment to the Best. Carnitas. Ever.

It was only after dinner that I noticed my fingers were burning. I attributed it to cooking, my hands dangerously close to the scalding duck fat as I turned the meat while it browned.

Then I went to the bathroom.

And a few minutes later, I felt the burning spread.

Hence why I was just in the shower, rubbing sour cream into my junk as my wife looked on in horror. And maybe amusement.

You'll be happy to know that my wedding tackle is in the clear now. Unfortunately, my hands are still burning, but this means that I've typed out this entry in record time. Because I'm about to run up and soak them in sour cream again.

In the meantime, try and enjoy your carnitas.

1 comment:

  1. Oh god. You poor thing. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Sorry, couldn't resist. :D