There’s something about Summer that makes me crave Mexican food. As blistering days melt into hot, blackened evenings, my mind starts drifting towards cool guacamole, spiced brisket, fragrant coriander and salt-rimmed margaritas.
It’s an obsession that I share with my good friend Matt, who recently blogged about his Mexican New Year’s feast over at Inspired Food. Pork carnitas, home made tortilla chips, pineapple salsa and chunky guacamole… now, that’s my idea of Summer culinary heaven.
Over the past month, I’ve revisited Matt’s post more than once to drool over his carnita recipe. Despite cooking Mexican at least once per week, I’ve historically gravitated towards brisket, chicken and black beans rather than smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder. Though I have made carnitas, they’ve never been to the specifics of Matt’s recipe.
Last Sunday, everything changed. I woke early, arriving at the market with carnitas in mind. Negotiating the aisles, I chose pork, garlic, onion and oregano alongside items for guacamole, esquites and salsa. I checked out, drove home and ascended three flights of stairs to our apartment.
I turned on the air conditioning and started unpacking each bag of groceries. Bag one, no oranges. Bag two, limes… but no oranges. Bag three? Darn it. No oranges.
I glanced at the window, my eyes narrowing in the glare of the blazing sun. Sweat dripped from my brow as I contemplated another insufferable dash to the local store. No oranges equals no pork carnitas; well, not according to Matt’s recipe. But out of desperation (and encroaching heat stroke) I decided to improvise.
I rummaged around in the fridge, desperately unearthing lemons, limes and a bottle of The Cidery’s still apple cider. As pork goes naturally with apple, I decided to douse the shoulder in the cider whilst exchanging the oranges for a lemon. In the back of my mind, I hoped that the sweetness of the cider would balance the lemon’s extra acidity. I had no idea if it would work.
After removing the rind from the pork, I decided to score the flesh before making small incisions to house slivers of peeled garlic. Much like my technique for slow-roasted lamb, the idea was for the garlic to slowly infuse during the cooking process, melting down into sweet, sticky goodness. As an afterthought, I grilled the crackle alongside the meat, crumbling it into pieces to add to the carnitas upon assembly.
In my mind, the gentle heat, nuttiness and tang of the infused oil would add a beautiful layer of complexity to both dishes. The golden hue of the oil also looked spectacular against the creamy guacamole and vibrant splashes of paprika.
Six and a half hours later, five boys and one girl sat around a table to eat succulent, slow-roasted pork, crispy crackling, tomatillo salsa, esquites, pickled cabbage and creamy guacamole. Piles of warm tortillas were claimed with eager hands from their nest of aluminium foil.
After sampling the meat, I’m pleased to report that the Brookfarm oil certainly added an extra layer of smoky complexity. Each bite was soft and delicious, contrasting beautifully against the pop of crackling, sweet kernels of corn, acidic cabbage and cool guacamole. In absence of required oranges, the proxy lemon and cider worked effectively to add both sweetness and tang to the meat. I was well pleased (and so were the boys, judging from their seconds… and thirds).
So; despite yet another failure in my history of following recipes, I have to admit that this was a beautiful improvised success. But next time, I’m stockpiling oranges. For Matt’s carnita recipe, of course.
- 2kg boneless pork shoulder, rind removed
- 80ml Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil
- 1 red onion, roughly diced
- 4 garlic gloves, peeled and halved
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp ancho chilli powder
- zest and juice from 1 lemon
- 500ml (2 cups) dry apple cider
- 200ml water
- 1 jalapeno chilli, halved (seeds left in)
- sea salt flakes
- freshly cracked black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano and ancho chilli powder. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, then mix well.
Place the pork into a shallow dish that will fit in your refrigerator. Cut a few shallow slashes into the surface of the meat, then rub in the spice mix (ensure that you massage the spices well into each slash and crevice). Using a sharp knife, make eight 1-cm incisions over the surface of the meat; stuff half a garlic clove into each.
Cover and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Place the pork into a large pan or ovenproof dish, then add in the lemon zest and juice, cider, water, sliced jalapeno chilli and diced onion (add a few extra garlic cloves if you like). Drizzle over the Brookfarm lime and chilli oil, then grind over some more salt and pepper.
Cover tightly with foil and place into the preheated oven; immediately reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f).
Cook the pork for 5 1/2 hours or until the meat falls apart when poked with a fork. Uncover and cook for another 30-45 minutes, basting with the cooking liquid until the sauce reduces and the pork starts to brown.
Remove from the oven, place the pork onto a heat-proof plate and cover it with foil. Drain the sauce into a small pan and reduce it over medium heat until thickened. Shred the pork with a fork and pour over the reduced sauce. Mix well and add a little more lemon, salt or pepper according to taste.
Serve the pork on a large platter, accompanied by warm tortillas, lime wedges, guacamole (recipe to follow), salsa, esquites (or blackened corn salad), sour cream and extra cheese if desired.
Lime and Chilli Guacamole
- 2 medium ripe avocadoes, peeled, stones removed
- 1 tbsp of chopped ripe tomato (you can leave the seeds in)
- 1 tbsp finely chopped Spanish onion
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil, plus extra to drizzle
- sea salt
- white pepper
- smoked paprika, to serve
- coriander leaves, to serve
Coarsely mash the avocadoes onto a chopping board (or in a bowl, if you prefer). Squeeze over the lime juice and season well with salt and pepper. Make a well in the centre, then add in the chopped onion, tomato, macadamia oil, lime zest, garlic and cumin.
Mix well, taste and add a little more salt and pepper or lime juice if required. Serve in a small bowl, drizzled with some extra macadamia oil, garnished with coriander and/or dusted with smoked paprika.
Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lime and chilli infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.