Monday, March 31, 2014


My good friend Sarah makes the most incredible carnitas I have ever had. Her carnitas are better than any carnitas you will get in a restaurant. No joke. Every time I've ordered carnitas at a restaurant I've been horribly disappointed. I think there's a few reasons for this - (1) Sarah always used Skagit Valley Ranch pork, which, is the best pork you will ever eat. (2) Sarah always used Skagit River Valley Ranch bacon grease, or even sometimes lined the pan with bacon, and (3) Sarah always pan-fried the carnitas just before eating them, to give them even more flavor and delightfully crispy little edges.

Here is a quote from Sarah's blog post about carnitas:
"In Spanish, carnitas translates to "little meats". Little tiny meats dancing upon your corn tortilla. Little tiny meats dancing on your tongue. Carnitas, second only to bacon, are a great blessing from the cloven hoofed pig."

And now, here is how to make the best carnitas you will ever eat:

1) Buy a really excellent pork shoulder and bacon.
(if you're in the Bay Area, I recommend Prather Ranch or Marin Sun Farms ....side note: Marin Sun Farms sometimes has "mystery boxes" containing 15 pounds of high quality meat for $20!!)

2) Line a cast iron pan with bacon, cut the pork shoulder into chunks and put them on top of the bacon

3) Add a couple cups of water to the pan so the pork is mostly covered.

4) Cook it in the oven at 350F for 5-6 hours till the meat falls apart.

That's it. The only ingredients are pork, bacon, and water. If you don't want to use bacon for some reason, you'll want to season the meat with at least salt and probably pepper. In fact, if you're not going to use bacon, I'd encourage you to get creative with spices! (curry carnitas? cuban carnitas? BBQ carnitas?)

During the cooking process, keep an eye on it to make sure the water doesn't evaporate. About half way through cooking, I turned all the meat pieces over and added some more water.

After 5 hours, the meat seems to fall apart at the shear thought of touching it. Take it out of the oven and shred all the meat, pulling it apart into "little meats". Don't worry about the liquid, it will keep everything moist and delicious.

This is when I realized another brilliant thing about Sarah's carnitas. I have no idea what exactly happened to the bacon. It was gone. It liquified into pork-flavored pork seasoning. I chose the fattiest pieces of bacon on purpose for these carnitas, so it's not too surprising if all that fat really did just liquify into delicious pork juice. Mmmmm. Remember folks -- fat is flavor.

So now you have carnitas. What do you do with carnitas? First you should pan fry them, and then the rest is up to you. Though, it's wise to exercise a reasonable amount moderation with these. A little bit goes a long way, and a lot might actually give you a heart attack. A delicious, delicious heart attack.

Carnitas can be eaten alone, in a taco, or a burrito. Carnitas scrambled eggs or panfried with potatoes for breakfast. Carnitas nachos. Carnitas quesadillas. Carnitas everything.

P.S. Sarah just mentioned that she sometimes adds beans to the carnitas water while its cooking to make porky beans.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Scallion Pancakes

I fell in love with scallion pancakes in high school, when me and my black-clad anarchist buddies would frequently pile into a quaint little vegan Chinese restaurant in the middle of a small strip mall. If you ever find yourself at the heart of Silicon Valley, I highly recommend you stop by Garden Fresh for some scallion pancakes and lettuce cups.

My quest to make scallion pancakes began with a revelation about dough, thanks to The Food Lab. Scallion pancake dough is a type of laminated dough, like croissant dough. It's characterized by alternating layers of fat and flour. However scallion pancake dough is an order of magnitude easier to make than croissant dough!

Scallion Pancakes
2 cups Flour
1 cup Hot Water
1 bunch Scallions (or your favorite herb)
Vegetable Oil
Extra flour for dusting

Heat up some water to just below boiling and add it to the flour. Hot water breaks most of the gluten chains, resulting in a soft, supple dough. Mix the flour and water together, knead it a little bit till it's smooth. If it's sticky, add some more flour, a little bit at a time. 

Form the dough into a ball, and then cut it into quarters. 

Set three of the quarters aside and roll out one quarter into a thin rectangle.

Brush some vegetable oil on the dough. The first time I did this I used canola oil, and the second time I used grape seed oil. Both worked great, but I'm starting to fall in love with the subtly sweet flavor of grape seed oil. Sesame or peanut oil would also be great.

Sprinkle salt and chopped herbs on top of the oiled dough. Scallions have been absent from the farmers market lately, so I used cilantro the first time and chives the second time. I think you really can't go wrong here. I'm excited to try adding some edible flower petals in addition to herbs!

Once you've made your filling, roll up the dough.

Then roll up the rolled dough.

Pinch it closed and roll it out with a rolling pin into a circle that is few millimeters thick. It helps to begin by sort of folding the loose end under the dough with one hand, while the other hand squishes the dough flat. Then use the rolling pin to finish it off. This way you wont have that loose end dangling around messing up the symmetry of your perfect circle! Move the pancake to a pan lined with parchment paper or dusted with flour while you work on the remaining three pancakes. (This recipe makes four pancakes)

To cook the pancakes, heat up some oil in frying pan on medium to low heat (my stove runs hot, so I use the lowest possible setting). Use just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan!! The first time I made these they cooked a little unevenly, so I figured the second time I should use more oil to allow for more even cooking. This creates a potentially dangerous situation as you're trying to flip pancakes in a pool of hot oil... Especially if you're really foggy from a head-cold and rushed to get the pancakes done before a potluck that you're already running late to. Needless to say, I splashed frying oil in my face the second time I made these. Luckily, my reflexes were quick, my eyeballs are fine, and I've had sunburns worse than this. My first thought was "jeez, in all my years of cooking, professionally or not, I've never done something this stupid!" Though, that's not true. Cooking is dangerous, folks! Be conscious of what you are doing!! In all my years of cooking, I've cut and burned myself more times than I can count. Every time I've hurt myself in the kitchen, it's been because either I was in too much of a hurry, or my knives needed sharpening. So keep your knives sharp, and take the time to get your mise en place in order so that even if you do have to move faster than you can think, you're set up for success. 

Anyway, fry the pancakes on both sides until they're golden brown, and just barely beginning to blacken in a few spots. They're best eaten immediately, but they're still just as delicious reheated later.