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January, 2011:

Carnitas: bring that porky magic to your own kitchen

Even though we’ve only been out of Mexico for three months now, we’re already starting to get the DTs for some good tacos. (or perhaps the more appropriate term is TTs– taqueria tremens??) We’ve not done an exhaustive taqueria inventory in the DMV area, but we are starting to get skeptical enough that I’ve begun researching recipes for replicating my favorite tacos at home. But with the zillions of taco options available in DF, where does one start?

Well, if I were forced to rank-order the taco offerings of Mexico City (which, as others before me have probably analogized, is really like being asked to choose between your own children), tacos al pastor would almost certainly take the number one slot. But most professional tacos al pastor recipes are a closely held secret, plus I have mental hang-ups over trying to make tacos al pastor without the iconic vertical spit. John hasn’t shown any signs of willingness to install said vertical spit in our kitchen, despite my assurances that putting it right where the window is would surely allow for sufficient ventilation.

Can you say, "Ways to Increase your Home's Resale Value 101"?? I'm sure I saw a rotisserie-spit installation on an episode of "Flip This House".

So while investigating a pastor recipe is still high on my list, I shelved that temporarily while looking into the city of Arlington’s feelings regarding spits installed on townhouse porches. This brings me to taco-child #2: carnitas. Carnitas is another pork-based taco offering (so you’re sensing a theme here…). I think some people get freaked out by the tendency of carnitas to arrive with not only meat but fatty/skin bits, but FYI– you can specify white meat only to your taco vendor. Word on the street was that carnitas get their rich, amazing flavor by cooking in fat, so I had kind of assumed carnitas would be either overly complex or overly horrifying to make at home. BUT then I came across this well-researched post from Homesick Texan.

She outlines a carnitas strategy based on a Diana Kennedy recipe that seemed so easy, it would be rude *not* to try it. I also liked that there was no ingredient of “x kilos of pork fat”, as I saw in other recipes online. To be clear– there’s still plenty of fat that renders from the pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt), but my arteries took some solace in knowing that at least we weren’t adding any more to it.

We used a ~5 pound pork butt & increased the liquids accordingly; took about 3 hours for cooking, as the recipe indicates. I foolishly neglected to take any photos before we set our Le Creuset pot filled with shredded carnitas goodness out on the table for our small gathering Saturday night, along with the traditional fixings of cilantro, raw onions, salsa verde & salsa roja. So you’ll just have to trust me when I say they were a wild success, and frankly some of the better carnitas I recall eating! I felt obligated to pass the recipe along to you, in the event you’ve not had the chance to try them anywhere like fan-favorite Carnitas Paty in Mexico City’s Mercado Jamaica.

Carnitas  (courtesy Homesick Texan)

adapted from Diana Kennedy

3 pounds of pork butt
1 cup of orange juice
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt

1. Cut pork into strips (three inches by one inch), add to a large pot with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours. Do not touch the meat.
2. After two hours, turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered (about 45 minutes). Stir a few times, to keep pork from sticking to bottom of pan.
3. When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat in the pan). Serve either cubed or shredded (pork will be tender enough that just touching it will cause it to fall apart).
Goes very well with a green salsas such as Ninfa’s green sauce or this tomatillo salsa or this salsa verde with avocados and tomatillos.
Serves 4-6


Ingredients for a Great Mexican Despedida

One Spanish word we quickly learned while living among the highly-transient expat population in Mexico City was despedida, a.k.a. farewell party. There seemed to be one happening on a monthly basis in our apartment building alone. As we approached the last few months of our time in Mexico, we paid more attention & made lots of mental notes as to what the ideal despedida might look like.

Our general policy with social gatherings is: more food, more people, more drinks, more better. Additionally for this event, I’d decided was that the only thing I reeeeeally wanted needed was: a tacos al pastor spit, with a dude serving tacos live at the party. (Because I knew *that* wasn’t going to ever happen again once we left DF.) Eventually John acquiesced. :)

Given that we aren’t actually Mexican, I’m not saying that the following list is by any means an official plan for organizing a Mexican despedida. But I am saying that we had an absolute blast, as did (I think) the actual Mexicans we had in attendance. That, to me, equals success.

Recipe for: Great Mexican Despedida

Serves: roughly 100 hungry/thirsty friends


Papel Picados: colorful, cut paper decor in the colors of the Mexican flag to perk up a lame-o party room, + nattily-dressed guests

Lona: a massive tarp covering the outdoor party area during rainy season, whose presence will almost ensure that it doesn't rain

Carne: an asinine amount of beef. In this particular American-skewed case, enough that you have to use a large cooler to mix the ingredients for John's Magic Burgers

Maestro de la parrilla: the Grillmaster, also appropriately attired

Alcohol y Mesero: just a small selection of adult beverages...plus a fantastic bartender/waiter to serve them. If you're in DF, we highly recommend Jose Cosme, who can be booked for events by emailing eligiotoze1@hotmail.com or calling Eligio Torres Zurita at 56-58-44-16 or cell 04455-54371894. Cost was about $100 pesos/hr pre-tip & he was fantastic, even cleaning up as he went.

Botella Grande: a comically-large inflatable bottle of Pacifico, purchased at the Corona brewery. Rife with potential for witty photos all night long.

Amigos: a bunch of great friends, whose presence is the only sad thing about the despedida because it reminds you how much you will miss them after you leave :(

...y mas amigos....

...y mas amigos... :)

Mariachis: the oldest, largest mariachi band to be found in Plaza Garibaldi, thoughtfully hired for you by your friends

El Mariachi Grande: They include the Big Jolly Mariachi, who comes complete with a massive sombrero that I'm totally sure gets cleaned following every performance, after it's been on the heads of 90% of the attendees

El Mariachi Apestoso: They also include The Stinky Mariachi. I don't know when this guy last washed his Velveteen Rabbit Mariachi Suit, but suffice it to say, it had been a while...

Copitas de Gelatina: Jello shots (This may also be a *slightly* Americanized despedida ingredient.) The mariachis informed us they could not have excesssively-cold drinks w/ice for fear of damaging their delicate vocal chords, but jello shots were evidently A-OK.

Tequila: room-temperature tequila shots were also deemed acceptable by the discerning mariachi crew

Limbo: it's generally a good sign when an impromptu limbo challenge emerges at your despedida

Baile: if the host and hostess both suck at latin dancing (note: unlikely at normal despedida), a thoughtful friend should attempt to teach the hostess how to dance, even if she is giggling like a moron.

Tensión Sexual: what would a party be without some good old-fashioned sexual tension between partygoers? Here, you can see the sexual tension FLYING across the air in front of Karina between me & The Stinky Mariachi. Meanwhile, John chats away in the background, oblivious to the orange-clad threat on his marriage.

Una Taquiza de Pastor: last but not least, the tacos al pastor spit, complete with the stern-looking tauqero. Tacos al pastor were my favorite taco option in Mexico-- marinated pork accompanied by onion, cilantro & pineapple. After waiting until the last minute to arrange it, I went with the local El Tizoncito chain (http://eltizoncito.com.mx/taquizas.php), who performed admirably-- even arriving almost an hour EARLY to set up! (shock) Hire your own trompo de pastor starting at ~$3k pesos for ~320 tacos + all the fixings/plates and tip (go to their Condesa location on Tamaulipas to sign a contract).

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a large sala de fiestas & shake to combine.

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