Sunday Night Special: Carnitas & Refried Beans
I haven’t cooked anything even vaguely worth documenting lately (there is a Christmas present country ham begging to be prepped for Easter—I’m just not sure what all of the fixings should entail because biscuits seem obvious yet I’m trying to avoid bread, but would one…or ok, two biscuits really hurt?) because I hadn’t felt up to snuff since mid-February. But now I’m back in the kitchen.
I forgot how amazing Mexican food is from scratch (or otherwise) because I tend to put all of my energy into re-creating Chinese and Malaysian dishes, rarely Latin American food. (I think I got seriously burnt out on every land mass south of the border when I was doing ten reviews a month for Latina.com early last year)
Every step of the process produced something fragrant and appetizing: the blanched, pureed tomatillos, as well as the pork fat that the carnitas created and the spoonfuls I added to the beans. Or maybe I’m the only one enchanted by the meaty smell of pork fat. (Every now and then I take the R to work [it’s a convoluted commute I only do when I’m lazy] and it puts me out at the Whitehall station next to Chipotle, a chain I never visit because I can’t stomach 1,000+ calorie burritos. They must stew carnitas because the corner smells like a roasting pig. It’s way more invigorating than the scent of coffee first thing in the morning.) In a perfect world the tortillas would’ve been fresh of the comal, not stiff grocery store circles, but I’m only capable of so much.
We have legumes in abundance, thanks to a Rancho Gordo sampler than never got given at Christmas. Some of the heirloom beans are esoteric but pintos are easy to deal with. I wanted them refried, which involved a two-step process from Rick Bayless’s, “Authentic Mexican.” (I just discovered that his recipes are easy to find on the web, but you miss all of the notes that way.) First you soak, then you make them soupy, afterward, you mash and cook with fat, oil or whatever. I used a higher proportion of beans to lard so I wouldn’t exactly call them fried, more like sautéed. A crumble of queso anejo on top of the brown mush gilds the lily. I omitted the cheese, though.
The carnitas recipe I chose wasn’t exactly traditional. Brandy? We did have a bottle of Courvoisier sitting downstairs for some unknown reason. You wouldn’t think so but carnitas are kind of like rendang, an unusual cooking style in that you slowly boil in liquid and aromatics first, then brown as the meat dries out. I used a combo of tangerine and mandarin orange juice because I had both of the diminutive citrus fruits wasting away in the refrigerator. Orange is more standard. Restaurants probably use pork shoulder, though a lot of recipes for home cooks recommend country style ribs. Either works; the ribs are just a little more manageable.
I didn’t have the energy for a salsa and a guacamole but was wanting avocado, so I made a tomatillo blend, guacamole picado, also from Rick Bayless. It’s spicy but you can eat big spoonfuls because the mashed avocado tones down the heat. A few dashes of Cholula sauce rounded out the meal.