Try Something New: Spicy Carnitas with Corn Masa Cakes

I might not be back to school quite yet, but I am definitely getting into the fall mood. There is nothing more comforting than roasted meat once the weather starts to chill off a bit.

You heard me, M-E-A-T.

So naturally I wanted to try something different, something I have never attempted before. Carnitas it was.

You start with a huge hunk of boneless pork shoulder or pork butt. Seems intimidating at first, seems like too much, but it cooks down and is easy to cut into chunks yourself. This is something you will have to ask the butcher for, but they know what they are doing and can even cut down the meat for you if it seems like too much work.

The meat sizzles on its own, so there is no need to stir at all until all of the liquid completely evaporates. It’s that easy. And you should end up with meat that is crispy, but tender. This would be great on it’s own, but I just could not help myself and added some spicy BBQ sauce. Either way–this is good stuff.

I would have no problem if you stopped here and just ate this straight out of the pot in your pajamas.

But I wanted to take this a step further. All of this meat was begging to be put into a corn cake. So corn cakes it was. While I’m at school I flip over the pulled pork arepas made at a local restaurant, but I’m going to be away this semester, so improvise I must. Instead of arepas made from cornmeal, I tried my hand at corn cakes made with Masa flour, a corn flour. These went well with the pork, and are so simple to mix up. You have to fry them like a pancake, but be careful of the heat. You want corn cakes, not popcorn cakes.

The dough comes together quite easily, I was surprised how smooth the masa harina is. For this batch I used some scallion and corn, but feel free to add jalapenos or even beans to the mixture. The more flavors and textures, the better.

My computer is being quite silly, and won’t let me upload more pictures. But I think you get the idea. Using an ice cream scoop, portion the dough into golfball shapes, and squish into a disk with the palm of your (clean!) hand. Fry and enjoy.

My only mistake? Not making some virgin margaritas to wash it all down. But I bet you can make it happen.

Spicy Carnitas with Corn Masa Cakes

BBQ Carnitas [Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, cooking times adjusted]

  • 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 a jar of your favorite spicy BBQ sauce, my choice was Stubb’s!

Corn Masa Cakes [Adapted from Mark Bittman]

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 corn cob worth of kernels, cut from the cob
  • 1/4 cup scallion, chopped
  • Oil for frying

Extras

  • 1/4 cup crumbled Queso Fresco
  • Quick Apple Slaw (2 apples cut into strips, 1/2 of a shredded carrot, 1/2 of a lemon worth of juice, and 1 tablespoon olive oil–toss together to combine, easy!)
  1. Place the pork in a large heavy pot. Add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and salt. Add enough water to the pot to just cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until you hear the meat start to sizzle, and the liquid is cooked off. Do not touch the meat until all of the liquid is cooked off.
  2. Meanwhile work on the corn masa cake dough. Combine the masa harina and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a small saucepan heat the milk until steam rises on medium-low, add the butter and stir until it is melted.
  4. Remove from heat and stir the milk and butter mixture into the masa harina and salt until a thick batter is formed. Fold in the corn kernels, scallion, and anything else you are using for flavor and texture. Let this batter sit for at least fifteen minutes.
  5. To form the cakes, scoop golfball sized portions onto a baking tray. With the palm of your hand, squish the balls into 1/2-inch-thick disks.
  6. Heat oil in a large skillet, making sure that the pan is not screaming hot. Work in batches frying the cakes so they are a golden brown on either side, around five minutes on one side and another three on the other. Keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.
  7. Check your meat, once all of the liquid has cooked off, keep a close eye on it, stirring to prevent burning. At this point keep turning the meat until each piece is golden brown on all sides. At this point use a fork or the back of a spoon to break the meat into smaller pieces, resembling pulled pork. You can eat it as is, or add your BBQ to warm it up and stir to combine.
  8. Prepare any extras for assembly, I used queso fresco and made a quick apple slaw, but any kind of slaw would be great, or avocado slices, salsa, and different kinds of cheese.
  9. To assemble, cut on corn cake in half. Place some meat on the bottom half, top with any extras you have on hand, and finish it off by placing the second half on top of everything. Repeat with all of the corn cakes, and enjoy!
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