Ben’s Carnitas con Ottolengi’s Slaw
I decided to make, it turned out, a rather large pot of carnitas the other day from a rather motley crew of random pork shoulder pieces suspended in the condensed ice in my fairly antiquated ice-box. Eating mountainous portions of tender, caramelized and crispy carnitas is great, and all, but what really heightens the experience for me is having a vibrant, fresh foil to play off of the rich lusciousness of the heavily seasoned meat. I turned to Plenty, a cookbook comprised of articles collected from Yotam Ottolengi’s weekly article ‘The New Vegetarian’ published in the Guardian newspaper. Leafing through the pages, I came to the recipe titled Sweet Winter Slaw, and saw in it the perfect match for my particular craving. It pairs and abundance of cabbage with plethora of tropical fruit, and things get even more intense with the addition of sweet & salty & spicy nuts!
The most difficult part of this recipe was squeezing almost have a cup of lime juice out of these limes that I bought that turned out to be a touch mealy. Everything else was a breeze; just chopping, slicing and measuring. To make the dressing combine: 6 1/2 Tbls lime juice, 1 chopped-up lemongrass stalk, 3 Tbls Maple syrup (or, agave nectar), 2 Tbls toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp soy sauce, an 1/4 tsp red chile flakes in a small sauce pan and boil to reduce to a syrupy consistency, 5-10 minutes. Strain, set aside and allow to cool, then wisk in 4 Tbls light olive oil. You can obviously play around with the sweet/salty components of this dressing. I would argue that the only truly essential components are the limes and lemongrass.
The recipe calls for macadamias, but suggests peanuts as an alternative, and that’s what I used since I had some on hand. This was the truly eye-opening component of the recipe, because I had never caramelized nuts before, and was struck by the ease with which a rather pedestrian snack staple could be elevated into something so extraordinary that constant snacking becomes lost in a crunchy fog of peanuty sugar-dust. These are unstoppable!
Place 1 cup of peanuts in in a frying pan and dry roast over medium heat for a few minutes. If you are already using dry-roasted peanuts, you won’t have to spend too much time dry-roasting (but it’s probably a good idea to get the heat up on em’ for the rest of steps.) Next, add about a tablespoon over butter to the pan, and allow it to melt completely, stirring the nuts with a wooden spoon to coat evenly. Then, add 2 Tbls Sugar, I/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp chile flakes, all at once, to the pan and stir constantly for just a few minutes until the sugar begins to caramelize, and it all looks irresistible, then turn them out onto a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cool.
Just a note of personal safety: if a nut jumps out of the pan, DO NOT attempt to retrieve it and throw it back into the pan. Hot sugar is mean. I’ve learned this from experience (too many times.)
From here on out, it’s all slicin’ and dicin’ baby! With a BIG bowl at the ready: finely shredd about half a Savoy cabbage, and half a red cabbage; cut 1 mango into thin strips; cut 1 papaya into thin strips; seed and slice 1 red chile; roughly chop about a 1/4 cups (1/2 a bunch) worth of mint leaves, and 1 1/2 cups (basically a full bunch) of cilantro. Toss all of these ingredients together, then add the dressing and toss again.
My only deviation from the recipe is to reserve the caramelized peanuts and to add just before you are ready to serve the slaw. This is another lesson that I have learned in regards peanuts, but it never seems to stick: peanuts get very soggy, even super crunchy and sugary ones. I had to make a second batch of them for the leftover slaw the next day.
Look at the vibrancy of this salad! It really is a terrific combination of ingredients, and yields quite massive amount of food. I’m not sure why it is named a winter salad aside from the cabbage. I’m looking forward to whipping up a big bowl of this for a picnic now the spring is creeping up on us.
As for the carnitas, at first I went with the traditional food cart-style with a simple dressing of chopped onion and cilantro:
But the next day, I went for it and topped the heaping mounds of carnitas with the slaw. Truly a revelation: Best Taco Ever!?
Link: to original Sweet Winter’s Slaw recipe
Ben’s Carnitas template:
“5-6 lbs pork shoulder, cubed (1 in deep by 3-4 in long)
2 cups h20
325 covered 2, 2.5 hrs
Pull meat, reduce sauce
Mix meat with sauce
Place on trays in oven, broil till crispy (5-6 min)
This is pretty basic explanation but you should be able to figure it out. Typically put one orange and one lime skin/husk in while cooking. oregano/cumin measurements are a liberal cover. Oh, I’ve also gotten to replacing about a cup of the liquid with booze. have tried bourbon and dark beer, both have been fine, former probably better if you’ve got it to spare”