Cooking Carnitas: An Undefeated Season

My Nittany Lions are having quite the season. Ranked #3 nationally, Penn State is leading its Big Ten Conference and may be well on its way to playing for the National Championship. As a new Pasadena resident, I would personally prefer Penn State to play in the Rose Bowl this year, but Coach Paterno definitely deserves a chance at a national title.

Go Penn State!

Go Penn State!

Penn State football is a huge part of my life. As a student, there was nothing better than football Saturdays in State College, PA, and I will never forget how magical Beaver Stadium became with 100,000 cheering fans in it. But game days were not always just about a big win. The day was about spending time with friends, tailgating in the stadium’s parking lot and grilling hot-dogs and hamburgers – or in my case – schlepping a pot of baked beans across campus to a friend’s tailgate! Over the course of four years, I developed a few fall football Saturday traditions and today, no one can come between me, my television and my kitchen when Penn State is playing!

So much about a college football game is the game-day food! From wings and pizza to chips and beer, I think every college football fan gets a pass from eating healthy when there is a football game to watch! When living in New York City, it was easy to find a neighborhood bar sponsoring a Penn State party during the game, or find a restaurant that would deliver wings and pizza to our doorsteps in time for kick-off. But now that we are living across the country in California – in USC and UCLA territory – we haven’t yet found a Penn State presence in Pasadena or a restaurant that delivers greasy bar food.

But we are not letting this stop us from celebrating football traditions. Instead, we are putting West coast twists on our game-day menus and watching Penn State beat Ohio State from the comfort of our own apartment. For the past several football Saturdays, George and I have slow-cooked carnitas, and in the spirit of the football season, my carnitas are undefeated! We got the inspiration for making carnitas after having them for the first time at a party this past summer. The host slow-cooked her carnitas in a crockpot overnight, which turned the pork into shreds of tender juicy goodness. Thinking that the recipe could easily be duplicated and believing that carnitas were appropriate for a California football menu, I set out to master carnitas.

Before heading out to the local market, I did a quick online recipe search for carnitas so I had a sense of the ingredients I would need to buy at the market. Knowing I needed onions, celery, garlic and a few key spices like cumin and bay leaves, I was not clear on the cut of pork I needed. Fortunately, I found that my local butcher not only knew a lot about chopping chuck, but also knew a thing or two about cooking carnitas! The butcher – a professionally trained chef – advised that I buy two pounds of pork butt over other cuts of pork as the pork butt tenderizes well in a slow cooker and provides a lot of rich flavor as it has a higher content of fat.

Carnitas In The Making!

Carnitas In The Making!

On Friday night, we began preparing our carnitas. Cubing the pork and chopping the garlic, onions and celery, we covered all the ingredients with a liberal amount of chicken broth in our slow cooker. We added some salt and pepper, cumin and two bay leaves and let the carnitas simmer on low all night. By Saturday morning, the slow-cooked pork was tender, easily shreddable and looking like a sure win for our game-day snack! A few minutes before we were ready to eat our carnitas, we transferred the carnitas into a large skillet to cook off some of the excess liquid. I also found that by sauteing the carnitas, the seasonings were really able to absorb into each other. We served the carnitas in corn tortillas with a little dollop of sour cream. They were so delicious, and for me, a big win on a new West coast football tradition. Go Penn State!

Until next time…

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