My love affair with carnitas began in the fall of 2008. Prior to that, my idea of a "good" taco involved ground beef with seasoning from a packet. Ugh, embarrassing, amirite? Well, thank goodness for having friends from SoCal with good taste.
Carnitas adorably means "little meats" and is usually braised or roasted pork. Though some argue that it is best when cooked in seasoned lard, a vat of seasoned lard I have not. However, a generous heaping of spices ensures that this meat is well seasoned, flavorful, and spicy, through and through. I loved pairing this fatty, tender meat with the tangy pickled red onions I previously posted, and a nice squeeze of lime. Of course, fresh guacamole is also a requirement, but I shouldn't have to tell you that.
For the Carnitas:
- 3-4 lb. Pork Shoulder
- 3 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 1 tbsp ancho chili or regular chili powder
- 1 tbsp chipotle
- 2 tbsp cayenne
- 1-2 tbsp red pepper flakes, to your preference
- vegetable or canola oil
- White corn tortillas
- Guacamole, cilantro, jalapeno, pickled red onions, red cabbage, sliced radishes, etc. The world is your oyster!
First, measure out your spices and blend well. Take your pork shoulder and remove any bone and skin, if necessary. Cut into manageable chunks, about the size of your fist.
Lay the meat down in the bottom of a dutch oven. Rub it down with the vegetable/canola oil. Then rub it down with the spice mixture, taking care to coat the top and bottom, like so:
Place the lid on the dutch oven and stick this in the middle of your oven. Then, turn the heat up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it cook for about an hour.
For another 3 hours, you're going to braise this in cooking liquid. Some people use fat or stock, but I used water and everything tasted great. Carefully slide the dutch oven out and fill the pot with liquid until the meat is all covered. Recover and let this braise in the oven for another 3 hours, checking on it every hour. If a lot of the liquid has boiled off, refill it. If it is boiling aggressively, turn the oven down closer to 275. When the meat is done, it should pull into shreds easily.
Using tongs, remove the meat and place in a different dish. Shred using two forks. Reserve some of the braising liquid to store the meat in so that it doesn't completely dry out.
If serving the next day, like I did, reheat in a warm (300 degrees) oven for about 20 minutes while preparing the rest of your ingredients. This is also nice since it will slightly crisp the edges of the meat.
When ready to serve, heat up corn tortillas. I prefer to warm them up on a warm, but not hot, cast iron skillet, about 30 seconds on each side.Spoon the carnitas meat on top of the tortillas, garnish with pickled red onions, cilantro, jalapeno, and guacamole.