beer braised carnitas tacos

beer braised carnitas tacos

I recently threw up the question on Instagram as to whether folks would be interested in more recipes that featured cooking with beer and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of MORE BEER. I am totally on board with this. For those that don't know me, I used to teach cooking classes at a little shop in Pacific Beach that has since closed (RIP Great News! Cooking School). All my classes revolved around incorporating local beer into food since I was, at the time, working at Stone Brewing Co. and am a huge beer nerd. I have now added a category to my site that is "cooking with beer" so you'll be able to find those recipes grouped together more easily. 

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Carnitas are definitely one of my favorite types of meat found in a taco. Also, carnitas are not the same as pulled pork or just plain braised pork. LET THAT BE KNOWN. Carnitas translates to "little meats" and I think that is just great. It originates from the state of Michoacán. Usually carnitas are made almost confit style where they're cooked in lard or oil until tender. I do mine a little differently with a mixture of beer and bacon fat, plus any additional fat that renders out of the pork. Traditionally, this dish is made with fatty pork shoulder (also known as pork butt). I like to use bone-in pork shoulder as the bone gives a lot of flavor to the dish. Pork shoulder is pretty readily available at most grocery stores but check out your local butcher or Mexican market if you're having a hard time tracking it down. The other important aspect is the beer. You'll want something that adds flavor but that has a low hop or bitterness presence because the longer bitter beer cooks, it will turn everything bitter. You can use kind of shit beer like tecate or another Mexican lager style beer. Shiner bock is a good one (we are in Texas after all). I would shoot for a darker lager or amber ale that isn't very bitter. After your meat is cooked and very tender, it's important to let the meat cool in the juices overnight before shredding. Then, the meat absolutely has to be crisped up in a cast iron. If I ever am served "Carnitas" that come to me pale, without any crispy browned goodness, I want to flip the table over. This part is absolutely essential, in my opinion, to great carnitas. Beyond that, the recipe is a real simple "throw everything in the pot" kind of deal. I like to serve the carnitas on a slightly charred corn tortilla with pickled onions, my fresh salsa verde and extra cilantro with some limes on the side. These are great for a crowd because it's so easy to make a lot of it. Have fun making these bad boys! --xx

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CARNITAS TACOS:
serves 6-8

4lbs bone-in pork shoulder or butt, cut into large chunks
salt and pepper

1 cup bacon fat or lard
1 orange, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 dried ancho chilies, whole
2 dried guajillo chilies, whole
1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
24oz lager or amber beer (pour into a large container and let sit for 30 minutes so it's flat)
1 tablespoon salt
water, as necessary

corn tortillas, warmed for serving
salsa verde (recipe below)
pickled onions (recipe below)
chopped cilantro, for serving
lime wedges, for serving

Preheat an oven to 300 degrees F. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat (I use a larger le creuset for this). Add bacon fat. While fat is heating, season pork chunks liberally with salt and pepper. Place pieces of pork in the pan and brown on all sides. Add sliced onion and garlic to the pot and arrange around the pieces of pork. Add cumin, bay leaf and dried chilies. Add beer and salt. If there is not enough liquid to come 3/4 of the way up the pork (we don't want to cover it), add a little water. Bring to a simmer and then remove from the heat and cover. Place in the oven and cook for 3-4 hours. Remove lid and cook for 1 hour more. Remove pot from oven and let the pork cool overnight in the juices (you can re-cover it). The next morning, pull the pork from the liquid and shred into pieces (it doesn't have to be super fine shredding). Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat and add the pork to the pan until crispy on one side and golden brown. Season with extra salt as needed and serve on tortillas with pickled onions, salsa verde and cilantro with some lime wedges on the side. 

SALSA VERDE RECIPE:
makes 1 cup

3 tomatillos, husk removed and rinsed (try to select bright green, firm tomatillos)
1 serrano pepper, seeds and stem removed
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 garlic clove, peeled
¼ avocado
juice of 2 limes
¼ cup minced cilantro
2 Tablespoons neutral oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Can be held in the fridge for up to 3 days. 

PICKLED ONIONS:
makes 2 cups

1 red onion, sliced thin into rings (i usually use a mandolin)
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Place red onion into a small container with a lid (mason jars work well).

In a small sauce pot, add vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns and bay leaf and warm until sugar and salt have dissolved. Pour warm liquid over onions and let cool. Transfer to fridge for 2 days until onions are pink all the way through. Can be kept for 1 year in the fridge. 

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