When last we left our heroes our intrepid pork had been slow-cooked all day and pulled. Suddenly, a nefarious power separated pork from pork, leaving some to be brutally barbecued while the rest was thrown mercilessly into the dark and cold. That is...the fridge, to be later made into Carnitas.
This is Part 2 of a two-part slow-cooker porkfest: Carnitas! I never make these by themselves - they always follow after a day or two worth of BBQ sandwiches. You're welcome to make just the Carnitas, though, and I'll include the pre-separation steps in this post as well as the original BBQ post for completeness' sake.
For those who followed the BBQ post and so are starting with cooked-and-shredded pork reserved from there, skip down til the next cutting-board-full-of-ingredients picture. If you're starting fresh, you're in for the long haul.
Whether you're making both preparations or just the Carnitas, you'll need a good sized chunk of pork shoulder, about a liter of pop, a large sweet onion, a large red bell pepper, and a can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, as well as - of course - salt and pepper.
Chop the onion into large chunks and arrange on the bottom of your slow cooker.
Give the red bell pepper a similar chop and toss it down there on top of the onion.
Now the pork. Unwrap and unceremoniously plunk down on top of all those veggies.
Our cooking liquid is a terrifying mixture of pop and adobo sauce. Pour your pop over the pork until it's covered or you reach the top of your slow cooker, whichever comes first. Then, open up the Chipotles and pour out the adobo sauce into the slow cooker, as well. You can add a couple of peppers as well, if you like, but we'll find plenty of use for them later.
Cook on low 6-8 hours. Drain off the liquid.
Shred with two forks until you have a pot full of goodness like this. Make sure to discard any bones that came with your pork, as well as any extra fat.
Folks who used half of their pork for BBQ sandwiches reserved the other half - covered in Chipotle peppers - at this point. If you did so, it's time - pull out that reserved pork and let's put it to use.
To get from shredded, peppery pork to Carnitas, you'll need honey, cinnamon, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, and perhaps a dash of hot sauce, in addition to your pork and Chipotle peppers. Quantities are all quite variable, depending on how much pork you've reserved and how spicy you like it. If the pork spent a day or two in the fridge covered in Chipotles, you can probably skip the hot sauce.
Carnitas is characterized by pork that's first slow-roasted or braised for a long duration, then cooked again over high heat with additional seasonings and flavorings. The end result is a crispy-but-tender, flavorful pork extravaganza.
The second round of cooking Carnitas often happens in a hot oven, but I prefer to do it in a pan, where I have more ability to flavor as I go. I'm a control freak like that.
Set a large skillet - I prefer Cast Iron for this kind of thing - over medium-high to high heat. You want the pan hot enough to crisp up the pork, but not so hot that you'll burn it in the process. Individual stove-and-pan combinations will lend themselves to different temperature settings for this, so be careful.
Once your pan is nice and hot, dump the pork and the chipotles in there and go to work. Break up the chipotles with a spatula so you don't end up with mouthfuls of nothing but peppers.
As you cook, add plenty of cumin.
And garlic powder.
Keep things moving in the pan, lest your pork scorch. It's also important to keep tasting for balance of flavors.
Now is the time to add the sweeter flavors. I like to add honey and cinnamon to take some of the savory-spicy edge off. Especially if you've included the whole can of Chipotles, this could just be too spicy without some sweet relief.
Add honey and/or cinnamon according to your preference, and keep tasting. You'll know when it's ready. It'll go from "Yeah, no bad" to "Ooooh." Then, and only then, is it time.
You can serve this in any number of ways, but I prefer taco-style on a flour tortilla with some salsa (preferably home-made!) and cheese. Some fresh fruit is a handy accompaniment to cool your mouth down. Beer works, too.
Recipe: Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes | Cook Time: 6-10 hours | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 10-12.
Chop onion and bell pepper and arrange on bottom of slow cooker. Place pork shoulder on top of chopped vegetables. Pour adobo sauce and cherry cola over pork to just cover. Reserve chipotle peppers.
Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low.
Shred pork with two forks. If pork is not tender enough to shred easily, cook on low an additional 1-2 hours.
Add shredded pork and chipotle peppers to a heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Break up peppers with a spatula.
Mix and stir pork mixture constantly, adding cumin, oregano, and garlic powder.
Add honey (suggested 2-3 tbsp) and cinnamon (suggested 1 tsp) to taste.
After 10-15 minutes on heat, pork should be crispy on the exterior but still tender.
Serve immediately on flour tortillas with salsa and cheese.