As a somewhat-snobby foodie person with my roots in the American Southwest, I can be a little (read: ridiculously) picky about my Mexican food. It is my comfort food in many ways, and I like it exactly the way that I like it. I don’t like Tex-Mex, chiles rellenos should never be battered (good gravy!), beans should be refried with lard, and the soupier the better.
As my path in life has taken me away from the pockets of Mexican culture that have nourished me as a child and an adult, I’ve figured out that the best way to get good, real Mexican food is usually by finding a food truck, preferably with pictures on the menu (yes, that sounds totally racist. sorry). But even then, there are some dishes that never quite live up to my standards, and so I just don’t eat them. (Actually, this isn’t only true of Mexican food, not by a long shot, but this post is.)
After a house party last year, we were left with a bunch of half-finished jars of home-made pickled – Carlos’s killer carrots & jalapeños, and juniper-berry scented onions, most notably. And of course, not a bit of the delicious carne machaca that had originally been served with them. But I did have some pork shoulder chunks, and a pregnancy-driven desire for carnitas.
Now, I don’t generally like carnitas, and before this moment, I had never had any desire to make them. But they are high on my list on Mexican foods that never live up to my hopes, so it was make them or go without, and by this point I had learned that “go without” didn’t usually cut it for baby-driven cravings. A housemate of mine in Olympia made a great batch, once, but I remembered it being labor-intensive. But there I was, all grumpy and pregnant, and needing carnitas. So, like we do in this modern age, I went to the internet. And like 90% of my successful recipe searches, this one lead me to David Lebivitz. Now, at first glance, a former pastry chef living in Paris is not an obvious choice for a carnitas recipe, but he’s basically the best at everything.
I used his recipe, but I don’t think I had cinnamon sticks, so I used star anise instead. Mmm, star anise. Absolutely the best thing about this recipe is that it used the pressure cooker instead of taking all day. Pressure cooking for the win! This recipe is frankly kind of amazing: brown up your meat, pressure cook it with spices, shred it up, and like magic, there’s just the right amount of sweet liquid to coat the craggy pieces and create all those perfectly browned crunchy points that make these carnitas stand out.