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Friday, Nov 28, 2014
South Shore News

Carnitas appeal for variety and ease


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With a dinner party for visiting family on the horizon, I was a happy camper. Especially when the company constituted a niece staying with us for the very first time.

In the past, hosting this kind of soiree used to involve a remarkable amount of stress for me. I’d try to fix “company” food – something requiring a lot of planning and work, instead of a solid, relatively work-free meal.

And it was always tough finding foods to prepare that would please everyone at the table.

An unscientific survey of my clan, including my recent visitors from Tennessee, turned up two who didn’t like onions, three who are trying to eat like cavemen, and a smattering who have declared war on complex carbohydrates. I also can’t forget the one who’ll turn and run if she sees anything that resembles a pea.

So nowadays, my “company” food is carnitas.

Fresh flour tortillas (I’ll tell you more about these in a moment) serve as a vessel for juicy pork that’s been braised for hours, and then seared. The magical bits of charred meat accompany a variety of toppings.

Think taco bar.

I let everyone build his or her own plate with the shredded pork, flour tortillas, lime wedges, fresh minced cilantro, diced tomatoes, salsa, thinly sliced radishes and minced onions. Sometimes I also add sour cream, queso fresco or grated cheese for the offering.

Even the pickiest eaters will find something agreeable.

Marinating and cooking the pork the day before pares down my hands-on time so that I’m free to spend time most of the evening with the family instead of the stove.

Traditionally when making carnitas you braise a big pork roast and then sear it, but I reverse that order and let my pressure cooker sear the meat first, and then I then let it braise for 45 to 55 minutes or until it’s fall-apart tender.

Which brings me back to the centerpiece for my easy summer supper, the flour tortilla. Bland by design, it can be easily overlooked.

Last year a friend told me about Garcia’s Bakery, 5805 S.R. 674, in Wimauma. So I checked it out and was amazed to find this small, unpretentious shop makes close to 800 supple flour tortillas on a slow day.

They’re simply fresher than anything I’ve ever purchased from the grocery store.

If you’re planning to follow my lead, be forewarned: I’ve walked into Garcia’s and been disappointed because they were sold out of tortillas. For that reason, I recommend calling ahead if you have your heart set on feeding an army. The number is (813) 633-2848.

While I’m at Garcia’s Bakery, I usually gather a sampling of its unique sweet treats, cut them into bite-size pieces and arrange them on a platter.

Enjoy.

Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

4 pounds pork roast, leg or shoulder

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon coriander

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup chicken stock or broth

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Rinse and dry the pork shoulder. Mix the cocoa powder, salt, pepper flakes, oregano, white pepper, garlic powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper and rub all over the pork. Place the pork in a slow cooker and top with the chopped onion and chicken stock.

Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 hours.

Once the meat is tender, remove from the slow cooker and let it cool slightly before pulling apart with a fork. In a large sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Press the meat into the oil and fry until crusty on one side, then serve.

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