Last week at some point, we stumbled on a Mexican restaurant that was actually good, and in the most unexpected place. We’d been shopping in Middletown, and I keep meaning to try the little place tucked in an odd corner of strip malls, almost out of sight. Veracruz Mexican Restaurant is unassuming, very nice on the inside, and has a handy Mexican Grocery right next door. Best of all, the food was inexpensive and really good. We’ve tried a few other places for Mexican since I’d come to Ohio, including La Cazadores which is in out hometown. But Cazadores was horrible, the salsa was made with tinned tomato sauce, with a tiny bit of chopped cilantro and onion that hadn’t been in there long enough to impart flavor… the less said, the better. Veracruz, on the other hand, was yummy.
I had the Speedy Gonsalez (sic), one of their lunch specials, which got me the usual spanish rice, along with two beef enchiladas and a crispy taco. The enchilada sauce was just right, with the hints of spice and not-too-tomatoey that I usually only get if I make it myself. The portion was large enough I wound up taking enough home for lunch the next day. My First Reader got the carnitas, which if you didn’t already know, means crispy bits of meat. Usually made from a lesser cut of meat and long, slow braising before a fry-up to add the crispy, Veracruz does theirs the way I do, with citrus in the pot while cooking. It adds a really nice flavor.
Rather than making this just about the restaurant, I thought I’d share the recipe I used to use for carnitas. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to let Veracruz do the cooking and cleaning, as this is good, SLOW, food. I don’t have the time, sadly. Maybe in a few years when things settle down.
Notes: I used to use my deep cast iron chicken fryer to make this in. You do need a wider, shallower pan, I don’t think a standard saucepan would do it justice. Recipe is converted from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico which was my bible when learning to cook Mexican food.
- Pork shoulder or butt, about 3 lbs unless you are feeding a large family, in which case, 5-6 lbs. Also, it freezes well for leftovers.
- An orange and a lime, unpeeled, cut into slices and de-seeded.
- 2 tsp of salt (double if using more meat)
- water to barely cover meat in pot.
Cut the meat, fat and all (you want the fat. Don’t go all diet-conscious here, the fat will render out and keep the meat from sticking in the final phase) into roughly 2″ cubes. Cover the meat with water in the pan, add the salt, and bring it to a boil without a cover. Add the citrus. Once it’s boiling, lower the heat to keep from boiling over, but keep at a brisk simmer until all the water has evaporated (yes, this does take a while, and you will want to stay in the kitchen watching it. I used this time to make tortillas, usually, and salsa cruda). Once the water has evaporated lower the heat a bit more, and keep cooking until all the fat has rendered out. If you used a low-fat cut, you may need to add lard to keep the meat from sticking. At this point you need to be keeping a close eye on the pan, turning the meat, and watching for when it is browned well, with lots of lovely crispy bits. This is a good time to be heating refried beans and cooking the tortillas on a flat griddle. The tortillas should be going in a foil package in the oven to keep them warm while the kids set the table…
Serve with guacamole, Salsa cruda (or salsa fresca, or pico de gallo), warm fresh tortillas, refried beans, Spanish rice (which was in the rice cooker about the time the water was cooking off the meat…) Enjoy!