Sometimes I conflate things in my kitchen and on my plate and they work well. For example, last week’s conversation about western ways to use Asian foods and ingredients and the heartbreaking disaster in Japan resulted in my making Mexican carnitas with Japanese dashi. I had Japan on my mind and lots of dashi stock leftover from recipe developing. Additionally, I hankered for pork carnitas tacos -- the fatty, rich, savory kind that I recently had in downtown Los Angeles at Carnitas Michoacan in the Grand Central Market. Those two preoccupation melded into this recipe.
Carnitas is traditionally cooked in large copper kettles of fat like confit. But I wanted something that wasn’t too lean but didn’t require huge amounts of lard either. I also wanted a deep flavor. The key was finding pork shoulder with a nice balance of fat and lean. At our local Whole Foods, I found it handily in the form of a 1-inch-thick pork shoulder steak that sported a nice layer of fat.
For the flavor, I rummaged through the fridge for stock and the solution was a container of dashi. The Japanese stock, which I brew from dried kelp, shaved bonito flakes, and water, is a stealth ingredient for adding umami goodness to food. I seasoned it with soy sauce and mirin for a salty-sweetness.
Then I braised the pork in the dashi until it was tender and finished the meat in a skillet to allow it to fry and brown. The fat that rendered from the meat did the trick to inject a lovely amount of richness. The dashi helped to amplify the pork’s natural flavors. What started out as hybrid cooking turned into one of the best carnitas that I’d ever made.