Getting a taco fix with pork carnitas
Mexican is the one food I can’t stop myself from over-eating. Gluttony takes over and my full button goes temporarily out-of-order. Perhaps its the smoky rich meat, sweat-inducing spicy salsa or the crunch of the corn tortillas. I’m not sure, but I become very piggy.
Before moving to London, I lived in Chicago for eight years. Their Mexican population is big and taco shacks are abound. Not only cheap, it’s authentic and made with true love by families. Fast forward to London 19 years ago when I moved here, the only Mexican available was the Chi-Chi’s version(one of the first Tex-mex American chains not dissimilar to TGIF’s). Unpalatable, heaving plates of beans, rice, and ketchup-like salsa was the only option available.
Dodie Miller, who runs the Cool Chili Company and owns the Taqueria in Nottting Hill, was one of the first people to try to bring the ‘real’ thing to town. She started selling Mexican dried chilis and other ingredients at a Portobello Road stall, along with her potato and chorizo tacos with habanero salsa. You could squeeze onto a little bench to eat and chat to other heartsick ex-pats who were missing their taco fix.
Things have improved considerably since and there are some very tasty places to go now. Yes, there is Wahaca, but there are many others. Tom Conran’s, Crazy Homies, on Westbourne Park Road is my favorite for margaritas, home-made salsas and crisp taquitos. For a quick lunch on the go, try Donkey Daddies. It’s a food truck on Leather Lane which serves burritos, tacos and rice bowls with shredded meats and home-made salsas and guacamoles. There is a long queue, so get there early.
139-143 Westbourne Grove Notting Hill or stall at Borough Market
At home, I make all sorts of tacos and tostadas. I keep a supply of Cool Chili Company’s corn tortillas in my freezer and pull them out when I need them. Heat them for soft tacos or if you’re a crunch-a-holic like me then bake them crisp. You don’t have to fry them, simply brush them with vegetable oil on both sides and bake in a preheated 200c/400f oven for 7-8. Pork carnitas is a classic Mexican dish that isn’t difficult but does take time to slowly braise. My version cooks it in liquid, shreds it and then bakes it for a crisp finish. Alternatively, you could put the spice-rubbed meat (covered in a heavy pot with a little liquid) in a low oven (100c/200f) for 6 hours and just let it fall apart by itself. Serve it with lots of toppings and the carrot escabeche. The pickled taste cuts through the rich meat and has a good kick.
prep time 15 minutes cooking time 3 hours 25 minutes
1.5 kg/3 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder or leg, cut into 6 cm (2 1/2 inch) chunks
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsps smoked sweet paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
75 ml/2 1/4 fl oz/1/4 cup lime juice
1 litre (35 fl oz) chicken stock
1 large onion, cut into chunks
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 long strip orange peel, white pith removed
Serve with: tortillas, crème fraîche, grated cheese, chopped red onion, good quality tomato salsa, coriander, spicy pickled carrot (see following recipe) and Tabasco sauce, to serve
Rub the pork all over with the oregano and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Cook the pork for 1–2 minutes or until browned all over. Add the lime juice and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the onion, garlic and orange peel, reduce the heat to as low as possible and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours or until the pork is fork tender and falling apart.
Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF. Drain the pork, reserving the braising liquid. Transfer the pork to a large roasting tray and, using 2 forks, pull the meat into bite-sized chunks. Pour 250 ml/9 fl oz/1 cup) reserved braising liquid over the pork and roast for 15 minutes or until the juices have evaporated and the meat is browned.
Carrot escabeche (Mexican pickled carrots and chilis)
makes about 2 cups
300 ml/10 1/2 fl oz cider vinegar
1 tbsp sea salt flakes
1 tbsp caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp dried oregano
4 carrots, finely diced
1 jalapeño or small green chilli, thickly sliced
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, halved
Place the vinegar, salt, sugar, oregano and 75 ml/2 fl oz/1/4 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and bring to the boil. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve cold or at room temperature.