Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beer Braised Carnitas Tacos

It’s spring break of my senior year at college. I could be writing a quick dash of a blog post in between Pina Coladas on the lido deck and all night karaoke in the seven seas lounge or something along those lines. But no, that would just be a little to college-y for me, and lord knows I’m ready to get as far away as possible from college-y right now (two more months, two more months, two more months). Instead I’m the kid using the week off to catch up on doctor’s appointments, get my emissions inspection, and maybe even study for the midterms waiting for me upon my return. But you know what, it’s all good. It’s also time to read some much-too-neglected books, take the morning to do an hour of peaceful yoga, and sit in the sun with a cup of green tea. Honestly, that’s all I really need.

With spring break comes the frantic feeling that warmer weather is on its way. It signals the time to pack away the long woolen coats, to place our boots back into their boxes until the inevitable nip in the air returns and to change the way that we eat. No longer is my body craving the rich starches and the ever-comforting warmth of soups and stews. We enjoyed our time together but it is time to bid adieu. My mouth now seeks the flavors of the south and southwest. Lime, smoked meats, tomatoes, cumin, seafood, red chilies. My fingers itch to unfurl the grill from its frozen depths. The earth around creaks and groans as it thaws from icy existence and prepares to open up and spout out breathing life.

Though I refused to speed up the warming process and immerse myself in sun and beaches for the week, I did treat myself to a little hint of the atmosphere that comes with the months ahead. On a rare warm day last week, I kicked back on my porch with a book in hand and waited. For what, you may ask. For carnitas to cook, my friends. Yes, carnitas. It even sounds summery, in a tropical and exotic sense the way it rolls off the tongue, begging for you to add a little flair to the pronunciation like carneeetas! It impresses people too. You casually mention that you’re spending the next three hours beer braising some carneeetas and they look at you with wide eyes and say, “wow I thought that was something they could only make at Chipotle.” “I’ve just so happened to master the process,” you could respond, but on the inside you’ll be laughing because you know it took about 5 minutes to put together and the rest of the time is spent leisurely enjoying the intoxicating scent it spews into the air.

Essentially, the fatty meat blips away in beer and some other lovely flavorings until the liquid evaporates. After that, you crank up the heat and let the now meltingly tender pork crisp up in its own rendered fat. After that it’s a simple process of warming up some corn tortillas and filling it with the toppings of choice. The carnitas, almost sweet in flavor, pair well with a tangy offset. I topped my tacos with some pickled red cabbage and apples. I used Farmstead Ferments brand, made locally and fermented naturally, for its super tangy taste, but any pickled or just plain raw red cabbage would work. I also added a dash of sour cream, some chopped tomatoes, avocado slices, and wonderful salty queso fresco. One bite, incorporating a little bit of each taco filling, speaks of nothing but summer bliss. It’s zesty, crunchy, juicy, and packed with so much southwestern flavors that I could almost swear that my surroundings momentary transitioned into a New Mexico landscape. Carnitas, we will meet again soon, not just as the food that will help me through the home stretch of winter, but also as a new potential summer staple.

Beer Braised Carnitas Tacos
Serves 4

Most people use pork shoulder for carnitas because of the high fat content. Because I was making this for myself and did not feel the need to buy 4 pounds of meat (I do have some self restraint) I went with a two-pound package of boneless country style pork ribs. They provided enough fat to crisp up the pork at the end and allowed me to halve the original recipe so that it serves four (two tacos each) or feeds one person for four nights in a row. Whichever. Also,I used a nice citrusy beer for this recipe. I used New Belgium’s Dig Pale Ale, but any pale ale would probably work. And, if you do not want to use the alcohol, just replace it with water.

1½-2 pounds boneless country style pork ribs
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 Tbs. lime juice
1 clove minced garlic
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. salt
8 oz. beer
8 corn tortillas

pickled red cabbage (I used Farmstead Ferments)
sour cream
tomatoes, chopped
avocado slices
queso fresco
anything else you’d like (roasted corn, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, etc)

Cut the meat into 2-inch cubes. Throw them into a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. Add the orange and lime juices, garlic, cumin, salt, and beer and mix to combine. Then add enough water so that it just covers the meat. Bring the pot to the stove and bring the contents to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the meat cook away for about 1½ to 2 hours without touching the meat but skim away some of the foam residue that gathers on top. If the liquid seems to be evaporating very quickly, add a little more water until the cooking time has reached at least 1½ hours. 

Once the liquid has evaporated and you are left with just the fat at the bottom of the pan, turn the heat up to medium and let the pork cook in the fat for around twenty minutes. Stir the meat gently every so often to let it crisp evenly on all sides. Once it is all nicely browned, transfer the meat to a serving dish.

To serve, warm the tortillas by placing them on a dry, screaming hot frying pan for about 30 seconds per side. Place some meat inside the tortillas and add the toppings of your choice.


  1. I have this recipe bookmarked from when I first saw it on Smitten Kitchen--yours turned out great! Another reminder that I should try it out.

    Haha and I laughed at the beginning of this because I'm the exact same way (except my spring break is in two weeks, lucky you!) except I find myself repeating over and over in my head "only a year after this, only a year after this." Haha, not quite the same but you know.

  2. I swear, I love cooking with beer more than I love drinking it. And I'm a grad student! It seems like it should be the other way around... :)