“We’re looking at a pretty dire situation here,” I texted Andy. It was about 5:30 on a Thursday and one of his coworkers was coming for dinner an hour and a half later. The situation in question was the dinner itself. Ever since reading about Diana Kennedy’s famous Carnitas in Genius Recipes, I’d been meaning to try out the recipe, which calls for three ingredients — pork + salt + water — and yielded a result, the book claimed, would prod me “belly first, into a state of frenzy.” That promise, plus the minimal ingredient list, made it seem like a no-brainer for a Thursday night dinner guest. I’d let the pork shoulder do its thing, simmering away in water and its own rendered fat, tenderizing and caramelizing into crispy bits, then maybe serve it with burrito bowl ingredients, the way my kids liked it.
Only problem was that there was not a single sign of that crispy caramelizing. “I might have to order pizza,” I texted again, looking at my unappetizingly gray hunks of pork simmering away. It was supposed to take about an hour and 10 minutes (“depending on the shape of the pot”) and I was nearing 1 hour 45. I walked away. That had been another big draw: the hands-off time. Only at this point, it was more like hands-up surrendering. I needed to come up with a Plan B.
It was low at first, interrupted by a pop here and there, and eventually crescendoed into a full-on Wall of Sizzle. All the water had evaporated and the pork had now reached the point of browning in its own fat. This is not exactly breaking news, but it turns out you do not need much more than pork browning in its own fat to induce a state of frenzy.
An hour later, I had carnitas that tasted like the most authentic dish I’d ever served in the four walls of my kitchen. Do I need to repeat here that it called for three ingredients, two of which were water and salt? It was easy to understand how it earned its keep in the pages of that book, flanked by other iconic recipes like Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter, Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Loaf Cake, and Dan Barber’s Cauliflower “Steaks.”
“False alarm,” I texted one more time. “All good.”
Food52 recommends serving the pork simply — with white onions, cilantro, and lime on a tortilla. Head over there for the recipe. Note: I used the Dutch Oven you see in the pic below — I’m guessing a wider, more shallow pan would’ve had the pork crisping on schedule.
It’s not only the humans of the household who are cuckoo for carnitas.
P.S. I don’t expect you to believe me on this, but I started the post you just read about twelve hours before an editor at Food52 alerted me to the fact that our Pork Shoulder Ragu was officially anointed as a Genius Recipe itself. (I feel like I’ve won a Pulitzer.) Read all about it here.