Carnitas with Creamy Poblano Sauce and Avocado Salsa

I’ve been using poblano peppers a lot lately, and wanted to make something that featured them more prominently.  I looked around online and several recipes for creamy poblano sauce caught my eye. I really liked one recipe for pork enchiladas with creamy poblano sauce, however like many of the recipes that I found it called for heavy cream (it also called for frying tortillas, which I knew right away I’d skip). It seemed easy enough to substitute nonfat evaporated milk (in a can – not nonfat dry milk) for the heavy cream, so I used this recipe as a base for dinner. As the sauce cooked I wound up adding a few more ingredients (a little goat cheese, some tomatillo sauce and lime juice) according to my own taste.

One of my favorite Latin meals is pork carnitas – done well, the pork is fork-tender and yet slightly crispy on the outside. Instead of shredding pork for enchiladas as called for in this recipe, I decided to prepare it as I would for carnitas: I cut the pork into large cubes, browned them, then simmered them until they were tender. I finished them by baking them in a very hot oven (425-degrees) until they were crispy, but not yet dry. While the pork baked, I finished off the sauce, then added the pork back into the sauce just before serving.

Served over cooked quinoa with avocado salsa on the side this made for a nice easy meal. You shouldn’t be put off by the various steps – although I’m not great at timing meals, a lot could be done at the same time (the quinoa takes little attention, parts of the sauce can be blended while the quinoa cooks and the pork browns and simmers, etc.).  With a little planning, the meal came together in under an hour, which is a miracle for me. I’m those who are more efficient in the kitchen could do it in even less time.

Quinoa

Place in a small saucepan:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil

Heat the oil until it shimmers, then add:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Sautee, stirring frequently to be sure the onions and garlic don’t brown, about 5 minutes.  Add to the pan:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa

Stir the quinoa and let cook for another minute or two – this increases the nutty taste of the quinoa. Add to the pan:

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat about 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Carnitas

Pre-heat your oven to 425-degrees.  While the quinoa cooks, cut into large (about 1-inch or so) chunks:

  • 3 pounds pork butt, cutting away any large pieces of fat.

Working in batches so that you don’t over-crowd the pan, brown the pork in a very hot dutch oven.  When you place the pork in the pan, don’t touch it for a minute or two so that it sears – this will help to brown the meat and prevent it from sticking.  When all of the pork is browned, return it to the pan (along with any juices that have accumulated), then add:

  • 1 14-ounce can chicken broth
  • enough water just to cover the meat.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minute until the pork is just starting to get tender. You can check the temperature at this point – it should be fully cooked (with an internal temperature between 140 and 150 degrees). Even if it’s a little below this level, don’t worry about it – you’ll be finishing the pork in the oven. Transfer pork pieces to a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid.

Toss the pork with:

  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin

Place the pork pieces on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet (the foil makes cleanup easier), coated with cooking spray.  Place in the oven and cook for about 10-minutes (turning the pieces half-way through) until it is crisp.  Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and set aside.

Creamy Poblano Sauced

While the pork cooks, combine in a food processor or blender (or use an immersion blender):

  • 2 poblano peppers, cored seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup of reserved liquid from cooking the pork

Blend until smooth.  Discard any remaining reserved cooking liquid, wipe the pan you used to cook the pork, then place the poblano mixture into the pan.  Cook for about 10 minutes, then add:

  • 1/4 cup nonfat evaporated milk
  • 1 ounce goat cheese
  • juice of 1 lemon or lime

At this point, I wanted a slightly more tart sauce, and I remembered that I had frozen leftover tomatillo-poblano sauce (which was just a blend of roasted poblanos, tomatillos, and jalapeno). This is optional, but if you’ve made the sauce and have some on-hand, I think it complemented the other flavors nicely. So, I added:

  • 1/4 cup frozen tomatillo-poblano sauce.

I simmered this mixture for about 5 minutes, then returned the roasted pork to the pan, and let cook for several more minutes until the pork was warmed up. I served this over the cooked quinoa, along with a simple avocado salsa. I also sprinkled it with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Avocado Salsa

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • juice of two limes (toss the avocados with the lime juice right away to prevent them from browning)
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
  • 2 tomatoes, diced (I like campari tomatoes when I can’t buy them fresh and local in the summer)
  • 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • chopped fresh cilantro to taste (I probably used 1/2 cup, but I love cilantro).
  • 1 jalepeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced (0ptional)
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