A few soda-related joys in life: Icy Coke with grilled cheese after a day at the beach; a can of Dr. Pepper to wash down my slice at Sal’s Pizzeria; Orange soda — the nasty, neon kind– with grilled hot dogs at my elementary school end-of-the-year picnics circa 1978.
My kids have no such romantic association with soda. Last weekend, when Andy grabbed a giant bottle of generic cola off the shelf, you would’ve thought we’d tossed a few bricks of cocaine into the shopping cart.
“Dad! What are you doing?” Abby shouted. “That’s SODA!”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “And it’s uh.maze.ing.”
He knows the deal.
It’s not like our kids don’t drink soda or even that we have officially prohibited it in the house. They drink it on vacation or at the beach or with lunch at the hot dog stand or Shake Shack. (Chasing down a burger with water just doesn’t cut it somehow.) Thanks to movies like Fed Up, books like Chew on This, and mayors like Bloomberg, we never had to explain that it wasn’t exactly the healthiest idea to chase down a meal with a 12-ounce drink that contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. You could say the conversation was in the air. (Or in the case of Fed Up, screened in an actual 7th-grade classroom.)
“I’m not going to drink it,” Andy told the girls. (Phoebe was now piling on). “I’m going to cook with it.”
Needless to say, this explanation didn’t do a lot to quell the riot in aisle four. And by the time he glugged almost half the bottle into a hot Dutch Oven over a pork loin in pursuit of candied carnitas, the girls were thoroughly disgusted. With him. With us. With the Coca-Cola Company. With Atlanta. Until, of course, we poured them a tall glass over ice. With the mercury dipping into the single digits, this was decidedly not lunch at the beach, but the girls (like the rest of the world, hence the problem) were powerless against soda’s siren call.
And the tacos, of course. I was tired of the basic tomato-based braise. I was in the mood for a more sweet-and-spicy filling, which is why Andy seized on the Coke plan. Not like he was the first. Coke, with its distinctly caramel-y irreplaceable flavor profile has long been used by chefs and cookbook writers in braises. It’s the key ingredient in my sister’s Hanukkah brisket every year. And when paired with some heat (hot sauce) and salt (soy sauce) for an all-afternoon pork braise, it’s a contender to show up on our dinner table a couple times a year, too. If the kids allow it, of course.
Slow-braised Pork Carnitas
2 to 2 1/2 pounds pork loin
2 tablespoons peanut oil (olive oil is fine if you don’t have peanut)
2-3 cups Coke (or enough to go half-way up the pork; see level in bottle above, that’s how much what was left over)
1 tablespoon hot sauce or Sriracha
2 tablespoons soy sauce
toppings: avocado slices, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, salsa
Preheat oven to 325°F. Over medium-high heat, brown pork in peanut oil in a Dutch Oven on all sides. (Don’t skimp on this part. You want a nice brown crust.) Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and place the pot in the oven with lid slightly askew. Turn every 30 minutes or so, and remove after about three hours. Remove pork from liquid and shred on a cutting board using two forks. Place pork in a bowl or platter as you go. Toss with a little bit of the braising liquid — just a little, it’s very sweet. (See: 10 teaspoons sugar above!)
Heat tortillas directly on burners (or in a cast-iron pan on high heat) for about 20 seconds a side until charred. Keep them warm under foil as you go.
Garnish with desired toppings and serve.
Freeze extra pork for easy weeknight dinners.