Carnitas Garnie Recipe
"Pretty Much how Brandon (our Animal Manager) Cooks all Low-Temp Meats"
MISE EN PLACE
- Get some amazing pork butt/picnic roast/shoulder. It's just as easy to make 2lbs or 8lbs of this dish as long as the cook pot is big enough. I prefer bone-in because you'll effectively create a bone broth as you cook this dish which makes it that much more delicious and nutritious.
- Get or make some nice sauerkraut (or really any kind of fermented veg). I mix it up sometimes and use non-german style krauts like curtido. If it's a type of kraut you haven't had, I suggest shaking the jar and tasting the liquid for saltiness.
- Get some aromatics. Traditional Choucroute herbs include black pappercorns, cloves, garlic, juniper berries, caraway seeds, bay leaves. I always use minced garlic and sometimes juniper berries, but none of the rest. I mince the garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes to maximize medicinal benefits. I've also used rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and savory. It's all good.
- Get or make some tasty liquid. White wine, cider, non-red meat stock/broth, or some other creative lighter flavored/colored but delicious liquid. You'll need somewhere between a cup and a quart of liquid depending on how much you're making and how tight fitting of a lid you use.
- Get some high-temp fat. Lard, tallow, ghee, etc. Olive oil works but may smoke. Don't use butter because it will burn and smoke too heavily.
- Make sure you have real unrefined sea salt - e.g. gray Celtic salt. Not necessary but essential.
Heat oven to 200 - 350 degrees. Higher temp = faster. Lower temp = more developed flavor. If you have 6-8 hours go for 200. If you only have 3-5 hours go for higher temp. I sometimes will cook it in the oven over night at 200, take it out when it's done, remove the meat from the kraut and liquid, let it cool, and then finish an hour before dinner time. This is also a great leftovers dish, so you can always make it whenever and then just reheat.
In a dutch oven or a heavy oven-proof pot with a good lid heat high-temp fat to cover bottom of pot about 1/4 inch on medium-high to a temp just below smoking point (hot!).
Depending on how long you have to cook it and the shape of the pot versus meat, either leave the pork whole or cut into equal size chunks no less than 2 inches. The smaller the pieces the faster it will cook. The larger the pieces the more developed the flavor.
Rub some salt all over the meat. Get it into the nooks and crannies and fibers. This is a great opportunity to get intimate with the fat marbling, the meat fiber quality and texture and color, the connective tissues. (I also tell the pork it's beautiful which seems to make it taste better.)
How much salt depends on the kraut you're using and whether or not you're including the kraut liquid or if you wash the kraut. Less kraut liquid, and less salty kraut means you can use more salt on the raw meat. If you choose to wash your kraut (not recommended), then salt about as much as you normally would. While just the amount of saltiness is part of what gives this dish it's amazingness, I recommend erring on the side of less salt so you don't salt poison the eaters.
(Wait...That's a lot of salt!?)
You might be wondering, "why are we using so much salt - isn't salt bad for us??". Well, it depends! There is a difference between real, unrefined sea salt versus mined and processed, refined salt. The latter is a great way to disrupt vascular osmosis and contribute to high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues. But real seal salt aligns with human blood biochemistry helping not only to deliver sodium and electrolytes (and help your capillaries, nervous system and heart!) but also offers magnesium and other sea-derived essential minerals - effectively making it a nutrient-dense food. Know your salt!
Brown meat on all sides in the hot fat - about 2 minutes per side if fat is hot enough. You don't want to steam the meat just brown it. Do this in batches so meat chunks don't touch each other and leave the lid off. It might sputter hot fat/moisutre that burns and gets everything greasy so you might need to use a metal mesh cover or if needed partially cover the pot with the lid. As pieces are browned on all sides, set aside until all meat is done browning.
Add more fat as needed - you should always have a thin sheet of fat on the bottom of the pan. Make sure added fat gets back to temp before continuing to brown meat. Remember, we're using good quality fats here!
- Remove all the meat from the pot.
- Pour in the kraut - I include the liquid. Stir in aromatics except garlic.
- Nestle the meat chunks in the kraut.
- Pour in the tasty liquid to about 1/3 depth of pork - don't completely submerge the pork.
- Broadcast garlic on top of the meat. This gives a roasted garlic flavor.
- Put the lid on the pot and place in oven on middle rack.
- Check in a couple few hours depending on size of meat chunks and temperature.
- Liquid should always be a minimum of 1/2-1 inch deep. Add more tasty liquid as needed.
- Use a fork to pick at the meat. if the fibers shred with just a bit of resistance, it's perfectly done. If the fibers don't shred against the fork, then it needs more time. if the fibers fall apart when you fork it, it's overdone.
REST & SHRED MEAT
Once done, remove the meat from the pot to a separate dish that won't spill liquids as they drain out of the meat. Rest for at least 10 minutes.
While meat is resting, put pot on stove at medium heat to cook off any moisture from the liquid. You're going for as close to pure fat as you have time to reduce the liquid to.
Once meat is rested and moisture is evaporated, using 2 forks shred the meat to whatever size you want to eat it. The smaller the more crispy, the larger the more moist. I like crispy outside and tender inside so I go for little finger size chunks.
This isn't exactly frying, so I call it poaching. Before combining, taste the liquid and meat separately. Make sure it's not too salty. If it is, you might want to skip poaching and use the cheat method below.
You should have about 1/2-1 inches deep of fatty liquid in the pot now. If it's less, just be careful not to burn the kraut or meat. If it's a lot more, you may want to reduce the liquid even more, or follow the cheat.
Make sure fatty liquid is hot but not smoking or boiling. Poach the meat in the fatty liquid until meat browns. Keep meat in a single layer and poach in batches as needed. If you have the right amount of liquid, this should simultaneously poach the kraut. Again, be careful not to burn the kraut or meat.
(Cheat: you'll be missing the carnitas aspect here but it could come in handy. Skip the poaching step, and instead put the pork chunks/shreds under the broiler on high heat for a 2-5 minutes and turn/stir to crisp on all sides. Then use the reduced liquid+kraut as a gravy by ladling enough of the fatty liquid over the meat to taste.)
This is a super rich version of a rich traditional recipe. Couple the meat dish with lighter, lightly cooked, and/or high fiber dishes. I like to throw some fresh herbs on top - parsley, chives, sage, and pair with little dipping sides of sour cream, mustard, and horseradish. Or go another direction and try cilantro and salsas.
I like to serve the meat on a bed of lightly steamed brassica leaves or some fresh tender winter greens like spinach. Sometimes the fat drips out of the meat dish on the plate which can be a turn off for those who don't obsessively love fat (like Brandon does). The veg bed catches the fat drippings and makes the veg extra good.
To drink, I like dry cider with this dish. Traditionally folks drink this with either Riesling or other lighter and sometimes sweeter white wines.
Leftovers make excellent breakfast with poached eggs (actually water poached not more fatty liquid), or tacos with the addition of cilantro and salsa picante.
Enjoy with good company!