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Little Meats

Carnitas—literally “little meats”—also refers in Mexican cookery to meat that is cooked in a braising liquid until the liquid reduces to the point where only the fat remains and the meat lightly fries in the resulting fat drippings. A meat that has a relatively high fat content is better for a method like this, so pork is the usual choice. The meat should weigh about three pounds, but the addition to the pot of pork bones will enhance the flavor.

This is a case where planning ahead will pay off. Much of the work can be done a day or more in advance.


Norman Van Aken, ‘FEAST OF SUNLIGHT’, 1988

Yield: Serves 8 to 12

3 pounds pork (butt, country ribs, or loin ends)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped

4 stalks celery, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 jalapeño, stemmed but not seeded

1 head garlic, cut in half laterally

12 to 16 black peppercorns, bruised

2 bay leaves

Water to cover

Cut the meat into 1- by 2-inch strips. Leave all the fat on the meat.

Put a large pan on top of the stove on medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the chopped carrots, onions, and celery, jalapeño and the halved garlic head, and stir 5 to 8 minutes. Now add the peppercorns and bay leaves. Add the pork and thyme and stir once. Top this mixture with just enough water to cover the meat.

Bring the liquid to a high simmer and skim off any residue that comes to the top. Reduce heat and allow the liquid to cook down, stirring from time to time. When the liquid is gone (in approximately 2 1/2 hours), remove the meat to a bowl and allow to cool. (Any braising liquid that remains can be strained off, reduced, and reserved for flavoring the meat.). Discard the vegetables.

Shred the cooked pork into small, bite-size pieces, season to taste, and put in a bowl.

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Norman Van Aken has been described as legendary, visionary and a trailblazer. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world.