Thursday, February 03, 2011

Scott's Gulch Carnitas Wraps

By Scott Connery

Scott's Gulch Paleo Carnitas
Serves 4-8 with leftovers to spare

I recently had some friends over that wanted a home-cooked paleo meal. I wanted to show off and give them something they hadn't seen before. So, I invented Paleo Carnitas in lettuce wraps. This recipe is going to be more of a process instead of an exact recipe when it comes to seasoning. I never write anything down, and that way everything comes out a little bit different each time. Just make sure you add the seasoning slowly, it's much easier to add more than it is to take some out.

There are two main areas for this dish, so I'm going to split them up

For the meat:
4lbs pork loin or pork shoulder
Several tablespoons of chili powder
Several tablespoons of cumin (you'll probably want more than you think)
1 table spoon of salt
black pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste (I used Yucatan Sunshine Habanero)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup tomato sauce

Carnitas is a Mexican style of serving slow cooked pork. I used Pork loin for this, though I suspect a pork shoulder would work great too.

I took about 4 lbs of pork loin, and put it in a big iron pot. If you don't have a dutch oven, don't fret. The secret to having this come out right is plenty of time. The goal is to get the pork so tender it falls apart into mush, and there isn't a shortcut to get it there. Cook your pork for 5 hours at 225 or until it is easily stirred apart with a fork.

When it's ready, add your tomato sauce, vinegar, and about half of the spices you will ultimately want. Stir it, let it simmer for 15 minutes and check again. Repeat this process until you get the flavor you want. Don't make it ultra spicy unless you know everyone attending is a pepper head. It's better to shoot for a moderate level of heat, and then let people add hot sauce if they want it hotter. Since you are cooking it at such a low temperature there is no real chance of over-cooking the dish.

For everything else:
2 or 3 heads iceberg lettuce (other types don't seem to make wraps as effectively)
4 large onions
1 package mushrooms (seasoned salt and amaretto to taste)
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese (queso fresco works great too, and is a more authentic mexican cheese)
1 red or orange bell pepper

The onions are going to take the most time, so I will start with them. This process is going to make it seem a little like someone sprayed tear gas in your kitchen, so open some windows first.

First julienne the onions (cut them into long thin strips), then throw them in a skillet. I'm really a fan of cast iron for this process, but it's not mandatory. Throw a few large spoonfuls of butter or lard in for lubrication and cook on high for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes is up stir them and turn down the heat about halfway. Letting them cook this long without stirring will help sear them and create more intense flavor.

They should take another 30 minutes or so to finish. You are looking for a rich brown color. Don't worry if they stick and blacken in a few spots. Do worry if they are actually burned. You want slightly oily and brown. Charcoal isn't good.

The mushrooms are the next longest step
I separated the caps from the stalks and then slice everything. Throw them in a skillet (cast iron isn't nearly as helpful here) and simmer on fairly low heat with two tablespoons of butter, a shake of seasoned salt and about a shot worth of amaretto. They come out great without the amaretto, but I think it adds a great flavor. When they are done, the mushrooms should be very tender and reduced in size. It usually takes around 30 minutes of simmer time.

Next, the bell pepper
This is fine raw. Just cut off the top and bottom, and cut the wall into strips. Try to cut away the thicker white parts of the membrane. If you want to up the flavor profile a bit you can also grill these. Just throw them in a skillet with a little bit of lard or butter and cook on medium until they are soft. This is usually quick, 5 minutes or less.

Grate your cheese and place it in a serving bowl.

Lastly, prepare your lettuce wrappers. The concept here is simple, but it does take a little patience. You want to carefully peel each leaf of lettuce off without breaking or tearing it. Once the size of the head is reduced by about half, it's time to move on to the next one. The small middle leaves don't work out well.

When it comes to dinner time, I like to let people build their own. Everyone will have favorite ingredients they want more of and stuff they want to avoid. Just place all your ingredients in a separate bowl and bring to the table.

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