Growing up in a town that was once podunk, there were very few restaurant choices. We had the Warhorse Inn, which served pretty much only fajitas, if memory serves me correctly (it doesn’t). We had something called Sweaty Betty’s, which I think was a deli, but from where I never ate, because EW. The name just calls to mind some stringy haired smoker lady with armpit fuzz that would fall into your sandwich if she held her arms up to reach for more mustard or whatever. We had a McDonalds, which was either my first or second job. I can’t remember, because at a certain point, all of my firings kind of melded together into one ball of poor employee behavior. There was a Chinese food restaurant, but you had to drive all the way to Aurora. At the time, Aurora was basically Compton.
We also had a Mexican restaurant called Las Delicias. In my memory, they only served chips and salsa. This is because by the time any additional courses were served, I was already crawling around under the table with my little brother, poking one another in the eye with bits of oldey-timey restaurant filth. My parents, however, were fond of the other items of food offered in said restaurant.
At a certain point in life–let’s call it the entirety of my teens–my parents spent the better part of a decade (it felt that way, at least) hopping off and on the Atkins bandwagon. Before my teens, I actually remember a long stretch of time where my mom was fond of the cabbage soup diet, which mostly made her cranky from starvation, and made the kitchen smell like someone had released a major invisible bodily emission within. But later in life, they discovered that Atkins meant lots of delicious fried meat, and very little vegetable matter. Easy peasy!
Our bathroom was decorated in strips of paper that you could pee on and they would tell you if your body was digesting your kidneys in an attempt to regain some usable non-bacon fuel. These left such an impression on me that when I later tried the Atkins diet in college, and called my mother to tell her I had been successful because the strip had turned pink, she cried because she thought I was saying I was pregnant. I’d like to note that less than 2 years later she was telling me that I could skip culinary school, and would better spend my time at home nursing babies. If you ever want to see your mother make a dramatic 180 turn on the subject of reproduction, just marry a doctor.
So when they discovered that the Mexican restaurant served giant wads of what was essentially deep-fried pork, they were ON BOARD. Even if it was 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. BRING ON THE FRIED PORK.
Of course, I am speaking of carnitas. Delicious hunks of pork, slowly simmered in a vat of lard and/or oil, then shredded and placed lovingly into tacos, or at least into the bacon-scented mouths of Atkins devotees.
Fast forward to culinary school, where I was taught how to make carnitas by a German chef. He taught me to make them by cutting up meat, dousing it with tequila and spices, and then cooking it in the oven until they caramelized and got soft enough to eat.
This is NOT the method to make carnitas. It’s not even vaguely carnitesque. But it IS delicious, and possibly lower calorie than traditional carnitas. Plus, it makes a coating of meat caramel in the bottom of the cast iron, and I can’t tell you how much that stirs my loins. You should try them.
1 lb pork butt, cubed into large bite-sized hunks
3 T tequila (I used Sauza gold)
2 T brown sugar
1 t cayenne pepper
1.5 T kosher salt
1 t garlic granules (fresh garlic would get too burnt to be delicious in this recipe)
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Toss the pork butt with the rest of the ingredients. Put them in a large cast iron skillet. Cook (stirring occasionally) until the outside looks caramelized, and the pork cuts easily with a fork. Place them into homemade lard tortillas (OMG). Serve with fresh pico de gallo. Cry tears of ecstasy.
You’re welcome, Atkins. You’re welcome.