Step From the Table When I Start to Chop

I try to eat only pasture-raised meat. It’s easy, for the most part. I buy meat at the farmers market or at grocery stores like BiRite, and when I go out to eat, I aim for restaurants that serve quality (ideally local) meat.

But Mexican food is a real challenge for me because most taquerias aren’t focused on quality ingredients (the few that do aren’t very good) and I simply can’t live without carnitas. So I took matters into my own hands. If the taquerias weren’t going to make carnitas from humanely-treated pigs, I’d learn to make it myself.

Most recipes I found included the one ingredient I didn’t want to see — lard. I could understand lard for baking pies or biscuits. After all, isn’t Crisco just an industrialized version of lard? But for some reason, cooking meat in lard just seemed akin to deep-frying a cheeseburger.

I think it speaks to my love of carnitas that there is currently a tub of lard in my fridge and I used some of this lard to make my first carnitas.

If you’re looking for lard, Prather Ranch keeps theirs in a refrigerated case. (This case has a picture of a happy family on the side of it that says “They’re happy because they eat lard!”). Marin Sun Farms also has lard, although you may need to special order it.

The carnitas was pretty simple to make and while it wasn’t the best carnitas I’ve ever had, it was tasty and well worth the adventures in lard.

I followed the general instructions I found on Chowhound:

  • Put lard in pot or dutch oven and heat until liquid. (I used maybe 1/2 – 3/4 cup lard per 2-3 lbs of meat)
  • Add cut up pork shoulder, a chopped onion, some cilantro, and a sliced orange. (In most areas, oranges are not currently in season. We happen to still have a stand selling oranges at our farmers market).
  • Cover and cook for an hour.
  • Remove cover and cook until carnitas is crispy.

Don’t assume that the carnitas will be crispy once the lard had cooked off. The carnitas is relatively crispy way before this point. If you wait for the lard to cook off — as I nearly did — you’ll have a burned pot and potentially burned carnitas. I was able to salvage most of my precious meat because I am impatient and decided to pull some out “early” — turns out I was almost too late

This picture doesn’t really do the carnitas justice.
You’ll just have to take my word that lard + pork = delicious.

Next up: Despite the bucket o’ lard in my fridge, I’m going to give Diana Kennedy’s no-lard carnitas recipe a try. She cooks her carnitas in water which concerned me initially. As much as I didn’t want to use lard, I understood that good carnitas are somewhat greasy and lard = grease. But water? Who wants watery pork? Then I read that the water heats up the fat of the pork shoulder and creates its own lard-y sauce. Mmmm. Lard sauce.

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One Response to “Step From the Table When I Start to Chop”

  1. sarah Says:

    you’re a brave cook.
    People used to cook with lard all the time but it just has a negative reputation these days. I think it’s the most honest of greasy ingredients.
    About authentic mexican restaurants – sometimes it helps to think of it like you’re dining out in another country. That is to say – not to think about it. At least that’s my philosophy when i’ve eat questionable things south of the border. I find that meals digest much better when they’re just one big tasty question mark.
    I do admire you though for making such an effort at responsible consumerism…

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