Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DIY Food Adventure: Slow Cooker Carnitas with Confetti Slaw

My CrossFit gym is embarking on a new kind of challenge, simply cooking and preparing your own food called the DIY Food Adventure.

So starting today, I am going to try to cook/prepare all my food--which is certainly going to be a tough one when I am moving this coming weekend.  But trying is an important step--despite that annoying Yoda quote my husband always throws at me: "Do or do not; there is no try."  To me there is a try with the intention of doing--it just doesn't always make it.  And with food, the LAST thing you want to do is beat yourself up over every transgression from your ideal.  Live your life and try your best.  My parents used to never get mad at me if I screwed up a test or grade in school as long as I "tried my best."  And we all know when we have really "tried our best" and when we haven't.  

The Prep

Sunday was the mega grocery shopping trip, spending about $150 at New Leaf, our local, better version of Whole Foods.  That bought us a slew of produce (I missed the farmer's market this weekend) and a 7.43# slab of pork shoulder roast for carnitas.  We also have store-bought eggs that are best for hard-boiling (I've tried the fresh ones and they just aren't as easy to peel or hold together as the shelved varieties with a little more age on them).  Finally, we bought whole chickens to roast for lunches and dinner that night.

Hard-boiling method a la America's Test Kitchen:

  • Place 6 store-bought eggs (omega-enriched and as close to farm as you can get them from the store--but trust me, store-bought is better than fresh for hard boiling) in a sauce pot filled with water to cover the eggs and sprinkled prodigiously with kosher salt. 
  • Allow the water to come to a boil over high heat.
  • When it is rapidly bubbling--meaning large bubbles breaking the surface, rolling-style--turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes (a little longer if you cook more eggs or a little less if you really lagged on catching that boil--we've all been there and heard the water splattering rather than the boiling bubbles).  
  • While the eggs are finishing, get out a big bowl and fill it with ice and water and once your ten minutes are up, add the eggs using tongs (not your hands, silly) and let them cool off in their ice bath like you'd love to do post-WOD.  
Perfect eggs and NO sulfur smell.  Done in less than 30 minutes start to finish.  Store in the fridge.

Here is the Roasted Chicken recipe we used, from Thomas Keller, posted on epicurious: My Favorite Simple Roasted Chicken Recipe.  Although the photo above was taken after an overnight in the fridge, it hopefully still captures a little bit of that brown, crispy goodness from when it was pulled from the oven.  I can't believe how juicy and flavorful the meat is and how that salt really makes it delicious.  It is like a brined bird, but SO much easier.  Better than rotisserie.  And just about as simple as buying pre-made.  Seriously. 

We had some roasted chicken for dinner that night--couldn't resist it fresh and crispy--alongside steamed artichoke hearts dipped them in melted grass-fed butter.  Yum!

I also made a roasted red pepper and baby bok choy stir fry to have more veggies in the house--perhaps for dinner variety or lunches/snacks.  Here is the recipe I used (substituting grapeseed oil for olive oil and yellow bell peppers for red ones): Baby Bok Choy with Yellow Bell Peppers Recipe.

Slow Cooker Carnitas
Don't have time to spend 3-4hrs watching a pot of carnitas?  Here's the answer: slow cook it!  Sweet and as spicy as you want it, this versatile, delicious pulled pork is definitely a staple in this household.

Cooking Time: 6+ hours on Low in the slow cooker, 45 minutes or so on the stovetop to brown
Quantity: Never as much as you would love to have to last forever.

  • pork shoulder/butt--as big as you can handle and as untrimmed of fat as you can get.  I like to get as many meals as possible so 5# is a minimum.
  • orange juice or any juice--we've tried a bunch with success (the small ~15oz bottles do well)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic (cloves or powder)
  • spices to taste (ex. cumin, cayenne, you name it!)
First, pour the orange juice into the slow cooker pot and add your salt, pepper, garlic, and spices.  Swirl to dissolve and distribute.  

Then, cut the pork shoulder into fist-sized hunks. DO NOT trim it of its fat--you need it for frying.  Add the hunks to the pot and then toss them in the OJ mixture to coat each one.  Next, mash them down into the juice and set your pot a-cooking: Low for 6 hours or so--we've done less for smaller batches and more for larger ones.  You just want to make sure it is fall-apart tender, but you are going to still cook it more, so it doesn't have to be a 12-hour affair.  

Once it's done with the slow cookin', it's on to stage 2: the fryin'.  Dump the contents of the slow cooker pot into a huge stove-top pot (like a stock pot--NOT non-stick) and heat on the higher side of medium high--like 8 out of 10.  It'll boil away for about 30 minutes or so depending on the quantity of meat and liquid until it starts to stick and that is when the fun begins.  Start your scrapping as soon as it starts a-stickin'.  A strong spatula (read: metal, NOT plastic) works wonders.  Come back often to re-scrape until the liquid is basically completely gone and you feel like it is just going to burn or dry out if you leave it in there much longer.  

Then, if you have a ton of fat in the pot still (this used to happen to us, but hasn't in a long time--probably because the butcher still partially trims off some fat despite my efforts), you can drain the meat before storing and keep that fat for a butter substitute.  If you don't have much liquid, just dump the meat and juices into a storage container.  It'll last for a week in the fridge, but ours never stays around that long :)  

Serve with Confetti Slaw (below), salsas, guacamole or just avocado, on lettuce leaves as tacos, in eggs, or however you want to enjoy that unbelievably delicious porky goodness.

Confetti Slaw
A beautiful symphony of flavors, texture, and crunch!  Basically a play on the Crunchy Slaw I made for my Hearty Paleo-Zone Chili, this slaw is more finely diced for ease of incorporating with the meat and being picked up by utensils.  It is a great way to add some veg without it overpowering the dish.

Prep Time: 15 minutes or less
Quantity: a truckload

  • head of green cabbage
  • head of red cabbage
  • bunch of cilantro
  • 3 or so limes

Remove damaged outer leaves from the cabbages and any wilted, brown/black cilantro leaves.  Cut the cabbages into hunks and salad spin them to rinse.  Add them back into the salad spinner bowl once you rinse it out (the outer one, not the colander) for storage and assembly of the slaw (yes, it makes that much!).  

In small batches, food process the cabbage into a dice.  This takes patience not to over-stuff the food processor and have to fish out large chunks when you upend it into the bowl.  Not fun.  If you move fast, the multiple batches won't be too annoying.  It beats trying to hand-chop every piece down to a dice.  Believe me, I've tried and made a mess.  

Once the cabbage is done, rinse the cilantro, remove any woodier stem sections, and food process that too.  Add it to the bowl.  

Finally, roll the limes on the counter to release some juices, then cut and juice (it pays to have a citrus juicer).  Add the juice to the bowl and stir it up.  Taste and add more limes if you have them (or lemon juice can substitute).  I would wait to salt it until serving your portion because I have ruined a whole batch with over salting before--I think the citrus can accentuate it.  Add any other flavors you desire.  The Confetti Slaw should add a gorgeous splash of color and a nice lime scented crunch to your dish.  Load it up on the carnitas for a great meal!

Let me know how you like to serve your carnitas and if you've tried my recipe!


  1. thanks for the recipes it sounds delicious and healthy too and if i want to eat your chciken recipes did i 've too remove all the skin first?

    burn the fat build the muscle

  2. Hi Elfer,
    I appreciate the comment! I don't remove the skin before or after cooking. It keeps the chicken moist when cooking and adds essential fat to the dish. If you have a diet high in omega-6, I have read that chicken skin contributes more to that overbalance common amongst those eating the standard american diet, but for me, I have much less omega-6 because I rely mostly on saturated fats. I'm not afraid of fat and the skin is one of my favorite parts :)
    Best wishes,