I have a love/hate relationship with TV dinners and frozen meals. I will eat them because they are relatively inexpensive and well-proportioned for one person, but since my mom always cooked our meals (and now that I love to cook from scratch), I view them with a jaundiced eye. To many, Stouffer’s lasagna takes a quick 55-65 minutes to heat up in the oven, but to me, those 55-65 minutes can be easily spent making lasagna from scratch, and it will taste better–hence my jaundiced eye. Nevertheless, I like to give these frozen meals the benefit of the doubt, and when I caught sight of Safeway’s Carnitas Bake, I bought it in order to see if my skepticism could be proven wrong. It was tasty but lacked the kick of the carnitas I’ve made at home, and I decided to recreate the dish using various recipes collected from food blogs.
The box describes the Carnitas bake thus: “Seasoned shredded pork is nestled between layers of corn tortillas and seasoned fiesta rice, topped with a creamy poblano sauce and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.”
Sounds simple to me!
Prep and Cook Time: Carnitas, 4-5 hours; Poblano Cream Sauce, 15-20 minutes; Spanish rice, box time (apprx 15-25 mins). Note: I made the Carnitas the day before.
Pre-Heat the oven to 350 degrees
6 inch Corn Tortillas
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Spanish/fiesta rice (from a box)
1 1/2-2 lbs pork carnitas
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 lime, divided
2/3 cup buttermilk
Heat the vegetable oil in a dutch oven or similar sized pot over a medium-hot flame. Season the pork with kosher salt, and when the oil is hot, throw this into the pot and sear the meat until it’s a little brown on the outside. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate. Turn the flame down to medium and cook the onion in the pot until translucent, then add the garlic–cook until pungent (about fifteen seconds). Add the dry seasonings and cook for about ten seconds. Put the pork back in the pot and let the flavors meld together. Slice two limes into quarters and squeeze as much juice out of 4-5 of those pieces over the pork. Slice the orange into quarters and squeeze two pieces over the pork. Next, pour the buttermilk over pork, and then pour enough water to cover the meat. Turn the flame back up to medium-high and let the water/buttermilk come to a boil. Turn it down to medium again and let everything simmer for about 4-5 hours, or until the liquid has cooked down and the meat is tender enough to shred with forks.
Poblano Cream Sauce
1 paper bag (grocery or lunch-size)
1 fresh poblano pepper roasted and finely chopped
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
3 cups hot chicken stock
2 cups Sour Cream
3/4 tsp salt
black or white pepper
Roast the poblano pepper in the oven on the Broil setting until it’s nice and charred on all sides. Place the roasted poblano into the paper bag, fold it closed, and let the pepper steam for about 3-5 minutes. Take it out of the bag and slice it open to scrape the seeds out, then dice the entire pepper into small pieces. Set aside.
Now you’re going to make a roux with the butter and flour: melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in the flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the mixture is white and bubbly. Don’t overcook or allow it to brown!
Whisk in the chicken stock until all ingredients as smoothly combined.
Pour your sour cream into a bowl and spoon in a few spoonfuls of the roux/chicken broth. Stir. This will keep the cold sour cream from curdling in the hot saucepan.
Whisk the sour cream into the saucepan until smoothly combined. Now it’s time to add the diced poblano peppers. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 2-3 minutes and then turn off the stove and set the poblano cream sauce aside.
Buy two boxes of your favorite brand and instead of using diced tomatoes, add salsa.
Pour a little poblano cream sauce in the bottom of your 13×9 pan for “bottom.” Layer the ingredients in this order: six corn tortillas, shredded Monterey jack cheese, shredded carnitas, Spanish rice, a few spoonfuls of poblano cream sauce. Repeat. Make sure you save enough cheese and cream sauce to top the final layer of tortillas. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Serve with leftover Spanish rice, perhaps a dollop of guacamole, or some tortilla chips. Enjoy!