I forgot yesterday was Chinese New Year, so instead I made carnitas for dinner! (Bad multicultural cook, bad!) The recipe looked like nothing special at all, but it came out awesome! Julie said, "Mom. You have to promise to make this every week!" and Andy just kept nodding while chewing.
I had been digging around in the back of my deep-freeze and found a few packages of country-style pork ribs from last year's CSA! Eek! Luckily they were vacuum-sealed, and the deep-freeze keeps everything rock-solid (unlike our frequently opened little freezer above the fridge), so the color and texture seemed fine, with no hint of ice crystals or freezer burn. Still, I wanted to use them right away, so I went hunting on Epicurious and found this recipe from Bon Appétit a few years ago.
After the meat defrosted, I discovered that the country-style ribs were in fact bone-in, and one of the packages actually contained spare ribs, but I used them all anyhow. The bones just slipped right out after all that time in the pot. Many of the commenters at Epicurious used pork shoulder with fine results too, so it doesn't seem to matter too much what you use. Just make sure not to get a really lean cut of pork (like tenderloin)—you need the fat while it cooks, even if you end up throwing it away at the end.
There's no way to describe how delicious this stuff is, and I was really skeptical. For one thing, I was worried about the orange juice, but in fact you don't taste anything even remotely orange-y in the final product. More worrisome, though, was that while it was cooking, the meat looked so unappealingly gray and blah that I was starting to think I'd need to come up with an alternative dinner in case this was a total bust. But then! I added the brandy, and that's when the magic happened! The meat got all brown and sticky and scrumptious—it was all I could do not to eat the whole pot-full while I was standing over the stove. And to think I came this close to omitting the brandy, because I didn't have any on hand and didn't want to make a special trip out to get it. Trust me, you won't taste the brandy any more than you'll taste the orange juice—the flavors just mingle into pure porky heaven. And those garlic cloves? Just melted away. Magic, I say.
I didn't take any photos, as carnitas just looks like glop, but you will eat it so fast you won't care what it looks like. I served it with rice and tortillas; I had salsa and guac too, but we didn't use them. You could also make some lovely carnitas tacos with all the usual taco fillers.
4 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs (See note above about using other cuts.)
2 cups water
1½ cups fresh orange juice
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon grated orange peel (Oops! I left this out.)
¼ cup brandy
Cut pork pieces crosswise into thirds. Cut off any big chunks of fat and reserve; leave small pieces of fat attached to pork. Combine pork, reserved fat, water, orange juice, garlic, salt, and orange peel in deep 12" skillet. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until pork is tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 45 minutes, adding more water by ¼ cupfuls if necessary to keep pork partially submerged. (I did not need to add more water.)
Uncover; boil pork mixture until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Stir in brandy; boil until liquid evaporates and meat browns and begins to get crisp, stirring often, about 15 minutes. (The meat will start sticking to the bottom of the pot, so just keep scraping at it. And shoving it in your mouth. And licking your fingers.) Cool meat slightly and tear into strips or shreds or chunks, discarding any loose pieces of fat.
Gong Hai Fat Choi! Olé!