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Cinco De Mayo : Carnitas: The Guiltiest Pleasure

May 02, 1991|JOAN DRAKE | TIMES FOOD MANAGING EDITOR

The carnitas of Michoacan are reputed to be the best in Mexico. Slow-fried in wide copper caldrons, the chunks of pork have a crisp exterior but are moist and tender inside.

The trick is adding salted water to the fat and keeping the temperature at a rolling boil, so that the meat stews rather than fries. Only when the water evaporates does the fat gradually get hot enough to brown the meat.

Making carnitas takes time but requires minimal attention from the cook. The following recipe may be doubled or tripled if you have a large-enough cooking vessel.

Purchase pork fat in slabs (available at Latino markets) and cut it into about two-inch squares (Step 1). Place several pieces of fat in a large copper caldron or stockpot and heat slowly to render the lard.

Buy an equal amount of pork butt, cut in large chunks. Add the meat (Step 2), one piece at a time if necessary, and brown on all sides in the fat (Step 3).

Layer the browned meat and remaining pieces of fat in the pan (Step 4), then add the salted water (Step 5). Cook over low heat about three hours. As the water evaporates, size of the bubbles in the fat will diminish and the meat will begin to brown. At this stage any pieces of fat that have not melted should be removed and the amount of liquid fat should be reduced to just cover the meat.

Continue cooking until the outside of the meat is crisp. Test doneness by removing a piece of meat and cutting it to see whether the interior is cooked but still moist and tender.

Drain the cooked meat on paper towels, then cut into fine pieces and wrap in warm tortillas along with salsa and guacamole.

Not a dish for those watching their cholesterol intake, but incredibly good.

CARNITAS

3 pounds pork fat

3 pounds boneless pork butt, in large chunks

1 to 2 tablespoons salt

1 cup water

Cut pork fat into 2-inch squares. Place several pieces in large stockpot over medium-low heat. As fat begins to render, add pork butt pieces, 1 at time if necessary, and brown on all sides.

Layer browned meat and remaining pork fat in cooking vessel. Dissolve salt in water and pour over meat and fat. Cook over low heat about 3 hours.

When water evaporates and meat begins to brown, remove any pieces of pork fat that have not melted. Reduce fat to just cover meat. Continue to cook until meat is crisp on outside.

Test meat by removing piece and cutting to see if inside is cooked but still moist. Remove meat and drain on paper towels. Makes about 2 pounds.

Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.

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