Meyer Lemon Carnitas

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Don’t you love when a dish that you’ve heard breathless praise about lives up to its expectation? Having fallen head over heels for pulled pork, the call of carnitas had to be addressed.  Carnitas are a Mexican pork dish, where the meat is first braised, then sautéed for a wonderful flavor and texture.  As with any recipe I offer having to do with regional cooking, classic dishes, or pork, I relinquish any claims to authenticity.

The key to carnitas is a fatty piece of pork, since first the meat is simmered in liquid, releasing the fat, and then after the liquid evaporates, the meat is sautéed in the same pot, in the fat that was rendered from the braising.  Don’t try this with a tenderloin.  If this sounds a little explicit, I’m sorry but sometimes cooking and life are a little graphic.  But we knew that already.

I bought two big bags of Meyer lemons, which are sort of a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon, tart and slightly sweet at the same time, and while I certainly have been juicing them for vinaigrettes and marinades and salsas, and have plans for some lemon bars, I was so excited to use their juice as the source of acidity to these carnitas.

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2 to 3-inch chunks

1 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice

2 onions, peeled and quartered

To serve:

Warmed corn or flour tortillas (see Sidebar)

Tomatillo salsa or pico de gallo

Slivered cabbage

Crumbled queso (see Note)

Pickled napolitos (see Note) or jalapenos

Sliced or cubed avocado

Meyer lemon wedges

  1. Toss the pork with the salt and pepper.  At this point you can refrigerate it for up to 2 days (see Note).
  2. Place the pork in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and add ½ cup lemon juice, the onion, and cold water to just barely cover the pork.  Bring just to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, then reduce the heat so that the liquid is simmering, and let it simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours, until the liquid is evaporated.  You don’t have to monitor it much during this time; in fact the less messing around you do the better.
  3. Now the second part of the cooking process takes place, and here you need to be in the area.  Cook the chunks of meat in the fat that will have released during the simmering.  Flip the chunks as the bottom side gets browned, every few minutes or so, so that all sides have a chance to be in contact with the hot bottom of the pan and brown up nicely.  The meat should start to fall apart as you brown it and turn it, and all in all it should take a total of about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the meat from the pan, let it cool a bit, and using your fingers or two forks, shred if it into big chunks (see Cooking Tip).  Sprinkle it with the remaining ¼ cup lemon juice.  Serve with the warmed tortillas and the toppings.

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