Recently I’ve been hankering after burritos. Like I mean I’ve been downright craving them. The problem is, when you want a burrito on the run Brighton doesn’t really throw up any viable options. We have El Taco which certainly does a job in a bind, but the microwave is in full force and the resulting burritos leave a lot to be desired if truth be told. If you want a decent taco on the fly in Brighton I’m afraid you are really shit out of luck.
This wouldn’t be such a bitter pill to swallow if I didn’t know that elsewhere excellent Mexican food is readily available to those with neither the time or inclination to go for a sit-down meal. In LA the “taco truck” is a city-wide phenomenon, with mobile catering units serving top-notch Mexican food at constantly changing spots across the city. When I lived in Santa Barbara, instead of gorging on kebabs at the end of a night out, we would all trek to freebirds, which (although college-central) served amazing burritos that I still think about 7 years later. But you don’t even have to travel so far to experience a decent over the counter Mexican. Daddy Donkey and Luardos are doing the burrito van thang in markets across London, and they are thriving. So why oh why can’t I get a decent burrito in Brighton?
Fed up of going without my heart’s desire and inspired by a recent braised pork burrito from Tortilla, I decided to whip up my own carnitas burritos. Carnitas is a type of Mexican slow-cooked braised pork using the shoulder. The ingredients may startle you, but bear with me. This recipe is compiled from a number of sources, including David Lebowitz, It’s For Dinner and some collaboration with Carla of Can Be Bribed With Food over twitter.
Mexican carnitas burritos
- 1kg pork shoulder, cut into large chunks of about 5 inches each
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- A large wodge of lard, as much as you can bear (I used about 1/3 of a pack… sssshhh!)
- Coca-cola (honest to God!)
- Orange juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp cumin, freshly toasted and ground if you can be bothered
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
First, if you have time and you’re organised enough, the night before you plan to eat the carnitas generously season the pork with sea salt and massage into the flesh. Set aside in the fridge and leave to sit overnight. If you don’t have time then not to worry, but still make sure to salt the pork liberally before you cook it (this is the gospel of David Lebowitz).
The next day, preheat the oven to 180C. Then melt your lard in a saucepan (I used my Le Cruesset, but you can use a roasting pan or any other heavy bottomed oven-ready pan you like) and brown your pork pieces until they are nice and brown. Don’t move them around too much as you want some caramelised meaty residue to build up on the pan (which you will deglaze later). Flip them over and brown the other side.
When they are browned, remove from the pan and put aside for a moment. Then splash in a little bit of coke to deglaze the brown meaty bits from the bottom of the pan. Pop the meat back in and then pour in equal measures of coca-cola, orange juice and water until your pork pieces are almost completely submerged. Look, don’t fight me on the coke thing. You don’t need to know why it works (apparently replacement for some kind of Mexican rock sugar, but I like to think that the bubbles help destabilise the meat making it more tender), it just works.
Next, toast and grind your cumin if you are going to (otherwise just use already ground) and add to the pan along with the chilli powder, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and the sliced garlic.
Then cover and put in the oven for about 3 hours, turning the pork pieces every now and again. After this time most of the liquid should have evaporated and the meat should be almost falling apart to the touch.
Remove to another oven dish and shred using two forks.
Spoon over some of the liquor from the pan over the shredded pork and return to the oven to crisp up. You can if you’re getting impatient pop on the grill which should speed up the process. The finished carnitas will look a little something like the below porky meaty goodness.
Meanwhile, prepare your other burrito ingredients. I served my burritos with lime and coriander rice…
On the table were some jalapenos and soured cream. The finished article looked a little something like this. And you know what, they were some of the best burritos I’d ever had in my life. OK, so it’s not exactly fast food, but it’s totally worth the wait and it will just have to do until we get a decent alternative in Brighton.