Cookbook #6: Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork

Adapted from Cookbook #6:  Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork (2004)

Recipe: Carnitas

Carnitas:  Spanish for "little meats."  And Bruce Aidells--Bay Area king of meat--would be one to trust with the "little meats."  Aidells founded Aidells Sausage Company in 1983 to supply restaurants and the layperson in the Bay Area with quality sausages (seriously, the Chicken Apple Sausage is a staple for our summertime grill).  My husband almost drooled when he found this cookbook, as he is not only a fan of Aidells, but he is a fan of all things meat related.  So much so, he's known by name and by choice of cut at our local butcher.  This is a cookbook that pleases the palate as well as the husband.

Here's what pleases the wife, however.  Bear with me; this may seem a digression, but I promise to bring it back to the pig.  I am reading Ulysses this year for the first time.  I challenged my students to read it with me, and two students and one parent have intrepidly taken me up on my offer:  we read about 30 pages a week, meet for 45 minutes to ponder all that we do not understand, and then tuck in for another 30 pages.  Every week, I spend hours reading (last week it took me five hours to decipher the alotted hebdomadal quota), and I have two guide books, leading me with annotations and allusions.  But I am taken aback time and again by the genius of this book.  There's something satisfying that goes beyond understanding all the allusions:  it's something reverential.  Currently, and quite serendipitously, we are on the Circe chapter.  Circe, of course, is the enchantress in The Odyssey who turned all of Odysseus' men to swine.   Oh, Odysseus, who must take the holy moly to protect himself from porcine transformation himself, who worries about his manhood being stripped from him, who remains on the island and in Circe's bed for a year while his men root and eat acorns, little pigs that they are, little pig that Odysseus is.  Only to be replicated in Joyce's Bloom, wallowing in the mire of whorehouses and the ever-so-dangerous female sexuality, poor Bloom the innocent victim--so he would claim--of women's sexual appetites as he indulges his own.  What a pig.  And truly, what a pleasure to read.  Hog heaven, indeed.

There's hardly any overt connection between Ulysses and this recipe, but I am curious about the indulgences we satisfy.   Now we have our own shredded pig to eat as we prepare for another marker in American culinary excess:  The Super Bowl.  And you better believe that this Sunday we'll be planted in front of our television, nachos in hand, watching the game.  Our nachos will have that little bit of carnitas flair.  That is assuming that we still have some left this weekend.  It's difficult to keep four cups of shredded meat around our house.

Finally, I learned something important in this recipe: I learned to trust Bruce Aidells, our guide and meat mentor.  I upped the cumin, coriander, and chili powder (I used 3 teaspoons of cumin and ancho chili powder and 1.5 of coriander) because the rub didn't seem adequate to cover three pounds of meat, and our version is, well, a little spicy.  Thankfully we like spicy.  But you should just trust Aidells on this one, because I imagine his version is a little more subtle.

I served this with heated corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa fresca and queso cotija.  And let's face it--this is going to be all gone by Friday, let alone Sunday, little pigs that we are.

About 4 cups

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons pasilla chili powder (or any other whole chili powder, such as ancho chili)
3 pounds boneless Boston butt, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces, trimmed of visible fat
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 large onion, diced

1.  To make the rub:  In a medium bowl, combine the cumin to chili powder.

2.  Add the pork to the rub and toss well to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 48 hours.

3.  In a large, deep covered skillet or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Working in small batches to prevent overcrowding the pan, cook the pork until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the pork with a slotted spoon as it is cooked to a plate and continue cooking the remaining pieces.  When all the pork is browned, set the pot aside, leaving the fat and juices in it.  Do not drain.

4.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir the vinegar with the honey until the honey dissolves.  Stir in the chicken stock and add the mixture to the pot, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom.  Add the onion and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, return the pork to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pork is fork-tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

5.  Remove the cover and increase the heat slightly to maintain a lively simmer.  Continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the fat from the pork is bubbling, about 30 minutes.  As soon as the pork begins to brown, stir regularly to prevent burning.  The pork is done when it has become golden to dark brown and is nicely crisped.  Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.  Transfer the pork with a slotted spoon to a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels.

6.  At this point, the cooled pork can be shredded by hand, chopped with a knife, or left as is, with a mixture of large and small pieces.  Usually the meat is seasoned with nothing more than salt, then cut up or shredded and eaten either wrapped in tortillas as tacos or burritos, or used as a filling for a Mexican sandwich called a torta.  The meat can be eaten as is, shredded, or chapped and topped with fresh tomato salsa, some marinated onions, and a scoop of guacamole.


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