Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michoacanas Carnitas and the Rise of the Taco Truck

The taco truck is alive and well in Los Angeles. Despite a recent campaign by jealous restaurant owners to shut them down, the taco trucks prevailed. And now, one can find a truck serving tacos at almost any hour in one part of the city or another; if not all parts.

But why do you care about the taco truck? Unless you live in L.A. you probably don’t. So I guess the question is better off phrased, why do I care about the taco truck? I care for two reasons:

1) I like tacos.
2) I want to start my own taco truck…which won’t necessarily serve tacos.

As I am learning, taco trucks take lots of planning and preparation. Not to mention a nice chunk of change to get one up and running. So that friends is why I have taken so long to post another blog; I have been researching taco trucks.

And just the other day I actually did my first ride along on a real-life taco truck. The gentleman I rode along with is named Tito. Tito is a wonderful man who was very open and friendly. He answered all my questions and didn’t hesitate to give me advice. The folks on Tito’s route seem to really love Tito. As they poured out of factories and plants in the greater Glendale area, they all greeted Tito by name and seemed generally glad to see him. Tito would chat with them about their families and their weekend, in both Spanish and English, as if they were old friends.

But while Tito is the face and personality of the truck, Alisia is the heart of it. Alisia is Tito’s cook. And what a cook she is!
Starting at 4am Alisia arrives at the truck and begins cooking beef tongue, tacquitos, al pastor, “grilled” chicken (which may well be the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had…and the most fattening.) soup, oatmeal and a whole host of other things. And it is all delicious. Not just kinda good, but deeeeee-lish-us!

While drooling over all of Alisia’s dishes in the warming box of the taco truck, I was taken back when I saw carnitas! For those of you not knowing better, carnitas is kinda like Mexican BBQ (pulled pork for all of those non-southerners out there). I wasn’t taken aback because carnitas is a hard to find delicacy; in fact, about any taco place worth its weight in Tapatio, has carnitas. But rather b/c I was under the assumption that carnitas needed to be slow cooked in an oven, and taco trucks don’t have ovens. This is when Alisia explained in brokenesque English that she fried the pork.

In case you missed that, SHE FRIED THE PORK! Being that fried and pork are my two favorite flavors I was eager to learn more.

Alisia went on to tell me that the carnitas she cooked was Michoacanas style carnitas. What this means is that this is essentially a pig confit. The pork cooks in its own fat giving it all the piggy flavor one could ever desire.

Should you ever find yourself in the industrialized section of Gelendale, might I recommend trying to search out Tito and his truck. The search for the pig will be well worth your time.
In the future I will develop a southern version of this pig and if it is delicious as I think it can be, well, you can come buy it on at my truck!

Should you wish to try this on your own, here’s a recipe I put together from several recipes I found online.

WARNING: There is very little safe about this process.

Michoacanas Carnitas

3 pounds pork shoulder chopped into 3” pieces.
1 lb of lard
12-16 oz of coke, orange juice or water

Melt the lard in a large pot. When lard is nearly smoking, pour the liquid into the oil. Yeah. The oil will then pop like an erupting volcano. This is no exaggeration. Explosions leapt out of the pot about 4 feet into the air. Take caution because you are going to get burned. The severity of your burns depends one your safety measures. I put a screen in front of my face and wrapped a towel around my arm and thus minimized the blisters on my skin the next day. Give the oil and liquid time to re-heat and then add the pork. Let pork cook in oil that remains at about 250 degrees for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally. When the meat reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees, remove from oil, drain, shred and eat.

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