Tortillas and Carnitas

When you live walking distance from some of your best friends and write a blog about cooking weird foods, you occasionally get random edible gifts.  Like this item that I found in my mailbox one day when I got home from work.

If I hadn't been warned that something would be in my mailbox, this probably wouldn't have made it inside the front door. Sketchy tub of white stuff doesn't exactly scream "bring me into your home where your infant is waiting"

After opening, carefully, I could tell it was rendered fat of some sort.  My first guess was leftover fat from my friend Nate’s Thanksgiving turkey (because it smelled roasted), but it turned out to be lard from Nate’s wife Emily’s favorite sandwich shop Cutty’s.  Well then.

Cutty's might have pulled the old hollow-center TCBY trick with their pork fat. Spoofin', this stuff smelled slightly smoky and deliciously porky, way better than the stale candle smell I associate with lard

So, whaddya do with a big old tub of pork fat?  Ask Kristi, she has been married to me for two and a half years.  Wokka Wokka!  Be sure to tip your bartenders folks.

Anyway, I had seen a couple flour tortilla recipes a few months ago (when I was trying to work through my original purchase of 25 pounds of flour) that used lard.  They looked freaking delicious, so I ended up going with a Ree Drummond recipe that had the highest lard to flour ratio.  There was a lot of lard to go through after all.  And what better compliment to a pork flavored tortilla than some delicious carnitas as a filling?  Let’s get started.

The tortillas are pretty simple to make, but you need to prep them a few hours in advance.  2 and a half cups of flour go into a bowl with baking powder, salt, and about a half cup of lard.

Most other recipes use a lot less lard, but those recipes are for p*ssies

A few minutes with the pastry cutter later, and it looks kind of like wet sand.

Actually, less like wet sand and more like Kraft parmesan cheese. Mmmmm, Kraft parmesan cheese

Slowly stir in one cup of hot water and you end up with a wet looking dough, similar in moisture/stickiness to homemade pizza dough.  From there I tipped it out onto a lightly floured surface and kneaded in a little additional flour until the dough wasn’t sticking to the counter nearly as much.

Identical looking to my breads and pizza doughs, but smelled completely different. Replaced the smell of yeast with pork

I covered the dough ball with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for a couple hours.

While that sat, I got started on the carnitas.  Rick Bayless, whose tweet of the link to my first post a year and a half ago got me hooked on writing this blog, had an easy to follow recipe for oven roasted carnitas.  Bake thick slices of pork shoulder covered for an hour at 375F, then cook uncovered at 450F for another 40-50 minutes to brown and crisp.  The exact opposite of the times and temperatures I usually use with pork shoulder, but you gotta trust the man.

5 pounds of picnic shoulder on sale for $5.85. Now, THAT is the best deal at the grocery store. I wish I'd bought ten of them

I only wanted to cook half of the shoulder and freeze the other half.  Meant there was some deboning and skinning to be done.

Haven't talked about my ridiculous t-shirts in a while, but this is a new one. The correct way to wear it is tucked into some light blue jeans featuring an insanely long zipper and held on with a braided leather belt. Best complimented with a pair of running sneakers and tube socks

Bone out, skin off, I was ready to cut this into two slabs.

I couldn't throw away the skin, I just couldn't, there's too much fat on there to throw away!

The slab of shoulder that I planned to cook I coated heavily with a homemade rub of salt, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and onion powder.  The skin got a sprinkle of the leftover rub as well.

Food Savers are so awesome. Ever since picking up a ton of bags at Costco I food saver stuff at a borderline-compulsive level

The skin went into a separate greased baking dish, fat side up.  I poured about a quarter inch worth of beer into the pork shoulder dish and covered with foil.  Both headed into a 375F oven for an hour.

I regret not covering the skin too. Have yet to successfully make good cracklins in my oven. Speaking of my oven, the bottom is starting to look a little like Tim's oven, which is essentially the frat house basement of the oven world. Need to clean that soon

While that cooked, Kristi and I went to work on the tortilla dough.  After a couple hours of resting, the dough was ready to be separated and shaped into individual ping pong-sized balls which would eventually be rolled out into individual tortillas.  Basically, you pull a hunk off the dough ball and roll it between your hands into a ball shape.

Role reversal!!!! Kristi and I switched places so you could actually see nice looking hands handling food for once. Plus, it proves that taking a picture of food with a person in it is way harder than Kristi makes it seem. Awful work by me

After about 5 minutes of tense teamwork (specifically, me pointing out the inconsistencies in the size of the dough balls Kristi was making while making everything from a softball to a marble myself), we had our tortilla-sized doughballs ready.

Good teamwork! Actually, they ended up being too small and we had to remake them all once I started rolling them out

While those rested for an additional hour, the cover came off the carnitas and the oven temp went up to 450F.  For the next 30 minutes, I let the liquid in the base of the shoulder pan cook off while flipping the skins often to avoid burning them too badly.  Couldn’t avoid it though.

I think that upping to the 400s was a great call for the pork, terrible call for the skins

After thirty minutes, with the skins out of the oven, and the carnitas being flipped every 5-7 minutes to get nicely browned, I started rolling out and cooking the tortillas.  Pretty easy really, just roll them out as thin as possible, peel off your counter, and throw in an un-greased nonstick pan over medium/high heat.  Well, actually, it sounds easier than it is since it definitely takes a few botched rounds before they start coming out well.

Not m'best, but the great thing about tortillas is how much can you complain about something that you can pile meat into and eat? Still did the trick, just had a couple holes and was poorly shaped

Gettin' better. I get a lot of good use out of this crappy $10 griddle I got 8 years ago, but every time I make pancakes on the weekend I wish I made them more often. You don't care about anything I just said


After some continued trial and error, I eventually got into a good groove and came out with a decent looking stack of tortillas.

Similar to pancakes, but with a lot more rendered pork fat. You know, for your health

After 4-5 turns, the carnitas came out of the oven and was easily pulled apart into chunks with a knife and tongs.  Along with the tortillas, we served some of our go-to toppings (grated Monterey Jack, salsa, and caramelized onions) and a homemade corn salsa of corn, cilantro, chopped onion, crushed red pepper, and lime juice.

The lettuce was, and always is, a total bust when presenting a taco bar like this. Lettuce is out of the Old El Paso taco night commercials from the 80s; it has no place in most decent tacos

Well, I don’t want to over-sell homemade tortillas, but these are in a completely different world than the crap I buy at the grocery store.  They have their own delicious flavor (vs being just a floury vessel), are a little thicker in a good way, and have a fresh cooked taste that is completely unmatchable.  Just awesome.

This was my fourth taco. I was breathing heavily and sweating at this point, which means I was either eating, exercising, or sitting stationary

The pork had a good texture for tacos; big chunks that were tender but also a little chewy due to the size.  The cheese and caramelized onions made the meat even more rich, but the flavors from the corn salsa was essential since it helped cut the richness of the other flavors.  Very, very good tacos.

Next week will cover some goat related cooking (for reals this time, it is the super bowl after all).