Mother’s Day Carnitas

We’ve never made a thing about going out to eat on Mother’s Day.  Or Father’s Day.   Or Valentine’s Day, or any of the days that mean restaurants are crowded and specials are pricey.   So it wasn’t really a sacrifice to stay home today.

Sunday is often “Stunt cooking” day, where we do something complicated or time consuming or play with techniques.  When I made up the meal plan on Thursday, I picked something for Sunday I  wanted to eat and that the family would be able to pitch in and help with.   I’d found a pork roast in the freezer earlier in the week, and I’d been craving tacos.   So the meal plan for the holiday was carnitas in homemade tortillas.

Husband (still need that pseud) and I had been talking about pulled pork, so I did some research online, looking for recipes and comparing between features.   Doing that, I found The Food Lab’s post  on “The Best Way to Make Carnitas (Without a Bucket of Lard.” There’s nothing I like better than quality Food Science Nerd Content, so we decided to go with that.

I’m big on Order of Operations in cooking — figure out the most efficient order and timing, and don’t mess yourself up trying to do everything in recipe order, or everything at once.   The pork roast went into the oven before 2pm, braising in oil and aromatics.   A bag of dry black beans went into a pot on the stove about an hour later, with some onion and salt and a bay leaf.  The idea was to get all the tortilla fillings done and out of the kitchen before cooking tortillas.   I can make a lot of tortillas really, really quickly, but I need to have cleared the decks beforehand.

When the pork and beans were both done, my husband drained the pork from the cooking fat.  He shredded the cooked meat while I threw about half the cooked beans into the cast iron Dutch oven in which we’d cooked the meat and mashed them with a potato masher.   Pork went into a shallow roasting pan, beans into a serving dish.   And then it was tortilla time.

I love homemade tortillas.   I haven’t priced them out to the penny, but I suspect they’re not much cheaper than store bought.   I love them so much I don’t care.   But I don’t love the work, and I’ve figured out ways to streamline the process.    Husband prepped the other sides (a pickle of packaged broccoli slaw, crumbled feta, and pre-made guac) and I mixed the masa.

Our stove has a built in iron griddle, and I’ve got several cast iron skillets.   I get them all set up and turn all the burners to high.   Meanwhile, I start making small balls of masa – I use the food scale to make sure they’re all about the same size, though after a few batches my hand is pretty good at judging.   They’re all about 35 grams.

The best trick to making tortillas is to ignore the advice about using a cut-open ziplock bag and get some parchment paper.   Cut a bunch of squares just a bit bigger than the surface of your tortilla press — it feels wasteful to use that much, but you can re-use through several batches.   I have 16 or more.  Put one on the bottom of the press, put the ball of masa on it, cover with a second, and press the tortilla.  Pick it up, peel off the top sheet and put it on the base of the press.  Repeat the dough-top sheet-press routine, stack the second tortilla on the first, peel off the top sheet, and do it again.    You can press the whole batch before you start cooking, or you can press however many you have room to cook, plonk them on the griddles, and then press the next batch while the first cooks.

Tortillas went into a towel-lined casserole in the oven as they came off the griddles.   Since everything else was at the table, the whole casserole of steamy, soft, tortillas came to the table while the carnitas got the quick broil the recipe calls for.

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The meat was perfect.   The recipe is definitely going in the regular rotation.

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