Magic revealed

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Carnitas counts as magic trick: Start with a blob of fatty pork shoulder. Add water. Say the magic word.

And voila: an arsenal of crunchy crisp-fried pork bombs.

Magicians are supposed to keep their secrets secret, but I'm happy to tell. I shrug off other rules of the trade, like the cape, hat and wand. I'm more the apron, bobby-pin and wooden-spoon sort.

Here's how to work the trick: Buy 2 pounds of pork shoulder. It might be called pork butt, which means — oddly — shoulder. Go for a fatty piece.

A 2-pound slab resembles a big steak — about two inches thick and eight inches across. You want it low and wide. Adjust as needed. Rub all over with 1 teaspoon salt. Settle the pork in a heavy pan with a snug fit. I use my standard cast-iron caldron: 10-inches across, 3 inches deep, with a lid. But no need to be picky.

Pour in just enough water to barely cover the meat, about 4 cups. Bring to a boil. Lumps of mud-colored foam will bob up here and there. Skim and forget. Magic is a mysterious art form. Lower to a simmer. Cover (leaving the lid just a bit askew). Wait.

Now unfurl the magic word: Patience.

It takes about 11/2 hours for the meat to turn fork-tender. Use two forks to break the meat into chunks, say about 1-inch by 1-inch by 2-inch.

Continue to cook, uncovered. By now most of the water will have disappeared. The meat will render its fat, leaving pork chunks on top, lard below. Say the magic word again. Let the meat cook, meddling as little as possible, so that it fries in its own fat. After about 30 minutes, you should have a heap of brown, hot, crunchy "little meats." Something like bacon-wrapped pork roast.

Scoop out carnitas with a slotted spoon. Heap onto fresh hot corn tortillas. Add a wedge of avocado, some shards of green onion and a squeeze of lime. As they say in the business: Ta-da.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com

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