Sunday, March 29, 2015

SEMANA SANTA IN SAYULITA: Stocking Up for the Holiday with a Batch of Healthy Carnitas

Semana Santa in Sayulita 

One of the Busiest Holidays of the Year

Sayulita Beaches are Crowded with Tourists Enjoying Sunshine & Waves

     This week is Semana Santa, Holy Week in Mexico, the last big holiday before the rainy season begins. Sayulita, where we are living in our motorhome during the winter, will be crowded with Mexicans on holiday and international tourists visiting this surfing town. The restaurants and beaches will be packed and the rumor is that the groceries stores sometimes run out of food or simply close to allow the employees to enjoy the holiday. So, we stocked up on supplies last week in preparation for eating at home most of the time. 
     I decided to make a batch of carnitas knowing that we would get four healthy meals out of it. That way, if downtown Sayulita was too busy for us or the stores ran out of supplies this week, we would have plenty of food right here at home at Sayulita Trailer Park and Bungalows.

     Carnitas is a delicious Mexican pulled pork dish, originating in the state of 
Michoacán. The word carnitas means "little meats". Traditionally, carnitas are prepared by simmering pork butt roasts in lard and seasonings for several hours until tender. In the past we have purchased prepared carnitas in Mexico and from Costco in the United States and enjoy the flavor but find the fat content higher than we like. So, I have developed a leaner, healthier pork carnitas recipe that retains the wonderful traditional flavor.


     Living in a motorhome in Mexico changes how we cook. We usually cook outdoors to keep the steam and cooking oils out of the motorhome, helping to keep our tiny home clean and dry inside. The crock-pot full of broth and seasonings, set up on our outdoor table, bubbling away through-out the day, has become my favorite way to tenderize the tough beef and pork available in Mexican meat markets (carnicerías). So, I start my carnitas by slow-cooking in the crock-pot to tenderize the pork roast. This step also boils away some of the excess fat, making the carnitas more lean and healthy. Finishing the browning step in a cast iron pan set on top of a cast iron griddle on the barbecue gives the carnitas a crisp outer layer. The pork is then juicy and tender, ready to be pulled apart and shredded for use in tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. The aroma surrounding our motorhome while we prepared this delicious dish had our mouths watering for hours, and probably our neighbors', too.

           Jon and Bella, Our Dachshund, Watch the Barbecue: 

                                  ARE THEY READY YET?

     When the carnitas were finished baking inside the barbecue, we attacked the brown, juicy meat, shredding it with our forks and loading our corn tortillas. We enjoyed our tacos immensely! Plus, we put three additional portions into the freezer, ready for quick lunches later in the week. Yum!

Pork Carnitas are Finished in a Cast Iron Pan on the Barbecue Grill

     Below is my recipe, which usually takes me two days to cook. I complete the crock-pot stage the first day and then store the strained broth and pork in separate bowls in the refrigerator overnight. The second day, about two hours before dinner time, I fire up the gas barbecue and complete the browning process while I chop vegetables to add to the tacos. The aroma during browning is even better than during the crock-pot step, making Jon and I hungrily anticipate that first bite of our carnitas tacos. Semana Santa in Sayulita means to me it's time to make carnitas!
Another Beautiful Day in Sayulita Ends with a Perfect Sunset

Pork Carnitas, From Crock-pot to Barbecue Grill

Prep and Cook Time: 8 hours
Servings: 8
  • 1 boned pork butt or shoulder, about 3 pounds
  • 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and cut in eighths 
  • 2 stalks celery, including leaves
  • 3  tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bottle of beer, 12 ounces
  • 3 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 6 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup milk
Day One: Crock-pot Step
  1. Disinfect celery by washing and then soak in a Microdyn®-water solution for 10 minutes. Cut into chunks.
  2. Rinse pork and put in crock-pot. Add onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, beer, and orange juice. 
  3. Add more beer if needed to just cover pork with liquids. Cover crock-pot with lid.
  4. Turn crock-pot to high heat setting and cook for 2 hours.
  5. Turn crock-pot to low setting and cook for 4 hours until meat is tender.
  6. Transfer pork with a slotted spoon from crock-pot to a glass bowl, reserving cooking juices. Use two forks to pull pork into large chunks. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  7. Pour reserved cooking juices through a strainer into a separate bowl; discard residue. Cover juices and refrigerate overnight.
Day Two: Barbecue Grill Step, Beginning Two Hours Before Serving Time
  1. Place cast iron griddle on barbecue grill and close lid on grill. Turn grill on high heat for 10 minutes to heat griddle.
  2. Divide chunks of pork between two medium-size cast iron skillets. Pour milk over meat. Place both skillets on hot griddle and close barbecue lid (even if the lid does not close completely, this is okay). Turn barbecue grill heat to low with the goal of creating an oven at about 325 degrees. 
  3. Bake the pork for about one hour, stirring and scraping the pan occasionally. If the meat appears too dry, add 1/8 cup of reserved cooking juices to each pan.
  4. Meanwhile, skim fat from reserved cooking juices and discard fat. Pour juices into a saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced to one cup, about one hour.
  5. When pork drippings are browned, add 1/4 cup of reduced juices to each skillet of pork. Scrape drippings free and stir meat, breaking into smaller pieces. Bake until juices are evaporated and drippings are browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Repeat step, using remaining juices, and cook until edges are crisp and browned, 15 to 20 minutes longer. 
  6. Remove skillets from griddle to cool. Season with salt if desired.
Serving Carnitas Tacos
  1. Warm corn tortillas on griddle over barbecue grill.
  2. Using forks, shred pork and pile on tortillas
  3. Serve with toppings as desired. Options include chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, grated cheese, avocado slices, sour cream, and salsa.
  4. Enjoy with a cold beer or other beverage!

I invite you to "Look inside" my new eBook  on at: "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" on

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