Monday, September 5, 2011

Moving on up

Those who know us will be aware that we’ve had some issues with our current apartment. It’s been decent enough first stop after a cross-country move, but there are a few things about the space and location we're not loving. So for the past few months we’ve been looking around for better digs, a search that, in this city, can be an exercise in total frustration. The horrors that people pass off as living spaces in this town and the prices they are demanding beggar description.

Then: a breakthrough. A co-worker of D’s, aware of our struggle, mentioned she and her boyfriend were moving (also to Europe; what’s up with that?) and would we like to come by and look at their place? We came. We saw. We rented.

So, as of October 1, we’re heading a few blocks west, away from the strip joints and garbage pickers, the gentrifiers and drug users, to a quiet residential neighbourhood, close to a fantastic park, and in proximity to a lively strip of restaurants, pubs, cafes, grocery stores and shops. There’s also outdoor space and a patch of dirt that, we’re told, can be ours to transform into a vegetable patch. The only downside is the kitchen which, to put it charitably, is a bit small. We’ll see how that goes. Overall, though, this is very good news

It hasn’t all been good news. This week, we said goodbye to two very dear friends, people who helped us make our transition to this new city so much easier than it would otherwise have been. For the past year they’ve been our most reliable drinking buddies and frequent (and appreciative) guests at our table. But now they’re leaving Toronto, and heading to Germany for work. We’re equal parts excited, saddened and jealous. And so, we decided to see them off with a meal to remember us by. Delicious tender chunks of pork, braised and fried to crispy perfection and served with a variety of toppings. Nothing stuffy or formal, the kind of relaxed, comforting fare that’s perfect for sharing with good pals as you face some big life changes.

Pork Carnitas (adapted from “The Sweet Life in Paris” by David Lebovitz)

Serves 6

3-4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 5-inch chunks,
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)

Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking pot is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.

Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel. Add about a cup of water to the pan and scrape up the brown bits.

Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd’s submerged in liquid (don’t add too much; you can add more later if you need to). Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chili powder, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.

Braise in the oven uncovered for 2-3 hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a cutting board or platter.

Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces with a fork or chop up with a knife, discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.

Place the pan back on the stove top over medium-high heat and bring remaining liquid to a boil to reduce. Once it’s almost all gone, return the pork pieces and fry, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized.

Serve pork on corn tortillas with guacamole, pickled red onions or cabbage, cojita or feta cheese, salsa or whatever.

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