Thursday, July 31, 2008

Making the Most of It - Pickled Carrots, Candied Grapefruit Peel and Roast Pork Tacos

Remember when I told you about my sticky, greasy kitchen a week or so ago? Well, this is what I was up to...

Somehow, I'm always more inspired to DO something with produce given to me by people who actually grew it than I ever have been with the stuff from the store. The same goes for the produce I grow myself (which is pretty much limited to lemons right now - but we're hoping to change that soon!) I don't know if it will work on the students we're trying to train with our school garden program, but I do know that I grew it or know where it came from, I'm much more likely to use it than throw it away or let it rot in the crisper drawer.
pickled carrots
A few weeks ago, Jora gave me some freshly dug carrots and a few grapefruits. Normally I'd probably just slice up the carrots and juice the grapefruits - but this time I decided to be a little more creative. I pulled Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food off the shelf, and found a simple recipe recommended for pickling just about any fresh vegetable. Then, while flipping through the book, I coincidentally came across an intriguingly easy-sounding recipe for candied citrus peel. I was already going to be at the stove with the pickling brine, so I figured why not?

Jora also gave me a jar of gorgeous red onion pickles which in turn inspired a dinner of delicious roast pork tacos - we'll get to that in a minute.
carrot pickling brine
The brine went on first. I didn't have white WINE vinegar, only white vinegar -which seemed awfully harsh - so I went thirds with 1/2 cup each of cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, and rice vinegar - along with 1 3/4 cup of water and 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. I added some thyme sprigs, 2 cracked garlic cloves, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, 6 or 7 peppercorns, a few coriander seeds, a pinch of sea salt and little pinch of turmeric for color, and set that to heat. When it simmered, I added the vegetables and let them cook until tender but still crisp - as suggested. The only problem was it didn't make enough brine to fill the two pint jars I was using - when I do it again, I will definitely up the quantities. Overall though, I was pretty happy with how they came out. They're sweet, tart and well seasoned and I like the touch of color the turmeric adds. These are refrigerator pickles - and will keep for a few weeks well chilled.
candied grapefruit peel
The candied grapefruit peel took a bit longer, but I was really happy about the ease of the method. When we did this in my culinary school class, we blanched the rind (orange in that case) in several changes of water, and then cooked it with sugar. The repeat blanching takes a while, because it requires you to let the water come to a boil multiple times. (I believe we also cleaned the pith off before blanching it, which is kind of difficult if you don't have great paring knife skills.)

This recipe simply asks you to place your juiced citrus halves in enough water to cover (I had to use a glass plate on top to keep them submerged) and simmer them until tender. Let them cool - then slice off the pith with a sharp paring knife (cut the pieces in half and lay them flat, then slide the knife almost horizontally away from you - getting all the white stuff off. They may fall apart a little bit, it's ok since you're going to cut them up.) Slice the pared rind into thin strips, and put them in a saucepan with four cups of sugar (which seems like a lot, I probably don't have to tell you) and 2 cups of water. Cook that mixture over medium heat simmering until the liquid turns thick and bubbly - it will look like corn syrup and the peels will be completely transparent - the book suggests it should be at 230 degrees (the thread stage of candymaking) on a candy thermometer - but I didn't let mine go quite that long. Let the syrup and rind cool for a few minutes, then pluck out the strips with tongs and lay them on a rack set over some parchment paper. Let them dry overnight, then toss them with sugar and store in an airtight container.
candied grapefruit peel
Even though the end result is probably 90% sugar by weight, the grapefruit peels are still quite bitter - though certainly edible. Orange would probably make a better candy, but I plan to use these to garnish summer cocktails - they'd be great with anything using Aperol or Campari, and I like them in Champagne Cocktails, Palomas and Greyhounds.

Last but not least, here's the recipe for the pork shoulder tacos inspired by Jora's pickled red onions. This idea actually lodged in my head back when I read Molly's article for NPR about pickling. Molly's husband Brandon came up with the pickles to go with - you guessed it - pork tacos.

This recipe is essentially an easier and less greasy version of carnitas - with many of the same flavors, and a nice salty tang from the beer. The edges are crispy from the browning, but the meat is moist from the long cooking. Shredding the meat with the strained cooking juices helps keep everything moist, and best of all, it's simple. No long marinating, no multiple pots or cooking methods. Just the way I like it!
pork shoulder roast ready for the oven
Beer Braised Roast Pork Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, Cotija Cheese and Avocado
Serves 4-6

a dozen fresh homemade or good store-bought flour tortillas, warmed individually in a skillet.
2-3 avocados, very thinly sliced
fresh salsa verde or green hot sauce
crumbled cotija or feta cheese
pickled red onions

4-6 pound pork blade roast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 12 oz bottles Mexican ale style beer, such as Negro Modelo
1/2 medium onion - sliced into wedges or thick slices
3 garlic cloves, smashed flat
4-5 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (I used Rancho Gordo)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons of large flake sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper corns and ground pepper for the roast
one orange - juiced and the rind cut into quarters

Preheat the oven to 350. Brown the pork well on all sides in about 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy dutch oven. Leaving the meat in the pan, pour in the beer and surround the pork with the remaining ingredients. (Add the orange juice to the liquid and place the juiced quarters around the meat.) Sprinkle the roast with some of the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano. Bring the liquid to a boil, simmer for ten minutes, then cover and place in the oven to roast for about 1 1/2 hours - until the meat separates easily with a fork.

Remove the roast to a plate. Strain the liquid into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve, and add both the liquid and the roast back to the pot. Shred the meat with two forks in the juices, and use tongs to pile the meat onto a serving platter.

Pass the meat with the warm tortillas, avocado, salsa verde, cotija cheese and red onions, and serve pinto beans on the side.


  1. Oh good! I was hoping you'd post the pork taco recipe. I could've probably winged it- but I'd rather not, at least for the first go around. :)

  2. the art of simple food is quite possibly my favorite cookbook ever. i made my own pickles last week after finding kirby cucumbers at the farmer's market -- and liked them so much i am making another batch soon!

  3. Lovely. I'm with you on all that.
    But I wonder why it didn't occur to you to pickle your carrots in grapefruit juice? There must be a way.
    And you'd still have the rinds for candying.

  4. Hot damn that meat looks so good I swear I can smell it through my monitor.

  5. We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email if interested. Thanks :)

  6. Girl...I am dyyyyyyying here! First the Farmer's Market in Little Italy. Then the brownies. Now the fresh carrots? And the pork? (Licks monitor.)

    Sigh. I have a repertoire of three recipes and they take everything I got to make 'em come out right. I'm in awe of your talent. Seriously. If you were a personal chef and I were a millionaire, would you come live with me???