Emboldened by the inventiveness and eccentricity of my new boyfriend, Kenny Shopsin, I bought a pork shoulder. I really had no idea what to do with it, although I had just seen someone on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” Do some sort of fabulous, authentic Mexican thing with a gigantic hunk of shoulder that looked like it was five times bigger than mine. He rubbed it with all kinds of dried spices, cooked it really slowly, and then made what I believed to be carnitas. They looked fabulous, but I dithered. I had no recipe. I had never cooked a pork shoulder. What if it all went terribly wrong?
That night, after reading my installment of Kenny’s book (is it presumptuous of me to call him Kenny?) I honest-to-God dreamed about how to cook the pork shoulder. The guy on TV poured on garlic powder, cumin, chili powder…all dried things, no diced peppers or onions. Then he cooked it low and slow. Kenny said you could invent ethnic cuisine based on your understanding – I had cumin, five kinds of dried chile powder, and (although I hid it) garlic powder. I envisioned crisp tortillas, tender shreds of spicy pork, a topping of cool, fresh Queso Blanco, and a side of pickled Mexican vegetables. And then I woke up. (Note: this “I was really dreaming” device gets a bad rap when misused by 8th grade boys who have been forced to write essays with themes like “I am a Lost Penny.” If one is an adult woman and really was dreaming, and really did wake up, it’s okay to say so).
That afternoon, I addressed the pork shoulder. Nothing in my dream prepared me for the fact that the meat on my cutting board was fatty, had what appeared to be a thick slab of, well, pig skin on it, and had a huge bone running through it. Undaunted, I cut off the offending hunk of skin (which I probably wasn’t supposed to do) and browned the thing thoroughly. I then poured maybe a half cup each of garlic powder and chipotle chile powder onto it, followed by about a quarter cup of cumin (ground) and a good amount of salt. I massaged the spices in, covered the pan, and put it into a low (300 degree) oven. Hours later, when a fork pierced the meat easily and it smelled like heaven, I ventured out into a blizzard to buy corn tortillas, Queso Blanco, and a can of pickled vegetables.
Even after cooking, the meat of my dreams was not an easy prospect. The “two fork shred” that works with boneless meat was blocked by the juxtaposition of bone and flesh. Rob fried up the tortillas while I gouged out hunks of the fragrant pork, shredded them, and went back for more. When I had a good bowl full of meat, we assembled the sort-of-carnitas, which were amazing. I probably did twenty things wrong, and Rick Bayless may not want the recipe for his next cookbook, but we loved them. The next day I removed the rest of the meat from the bone, added it to spaghetti sauce, and gave the bone to the dogs who are still carrying around the remaining pieces and hiding them from each other.
Follow your dreams. They may lead you to a great dinner.