Carnitas are a popular street food originally from Michoacán, a Mexican State to the west of Mexico City, but are now found all over Mexico and the Southern states of the US. The name carnitas translates as ‘little meats and are usually served as tacos de carnitas. An authentic carnitas recipe uses nothing more than a whole pig, salt, lard, water and a little lime juice, cooked in a large copper pot called a Cazo for hours until the meat becomes crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. There is a similar dish found in the Yucatan, Mexico called Cochinita pibil, a Mayan dish, but it uses roasted baby pig and isn’t fried.
Making carnitas at oven doesn’t have to involve the whole pig but it is best to try and get a cut of meat from the shoulder of the pig such as Boston Butt, picnic ham or neck as these have enough fat to fry the meat without adding any-more and also are suitable for long slow braising. Though you could make carnitas in a slow cooker or in the oven, these will still take a bit more effort than this simpler method of braising and then frying in a large stove-top pan such as a cast iron Dutch oven.
- 3 lbs (1.4kg) of boneless pork shoulder
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 cup (120ml) of freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp of salt
- Cut the pork into chunks about 1.5” (40cm) in size and cut the garlic in half.
- Mix together the orange and lime juice, the cumin and salt in the Dutch oven. Place the meat and the garlic into the mixture and then cover the meat with enough water to just cover it.
- Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Leave uncovered for 2 hours and do not stir or touch in any way. The meat will initially swell up, but during the braise it will shrink and the water will evaporate.
- After 2 hours, increase the heat to medium high and occasionally stir the meat. The rest of the liquid will now evaporate and the meat will now fry in its own fat creating crispy edges. Depending on whether you want the carnitas to completely break down like pulled pork or to stay as larger chunks this process will take between 30 and 45 minutes.
- Serve in warm corn tortillas with thinly sliced onions, cilantro (fresh coriander), guacamole or whatever you prefer such as a topping for salad with sour cream or on a dish with refried beans, salsa or pico de gallo.
Once you try this really simple way of making pulled pork you’ll find it hard to go back to the old way of making it again. Also though pork is the traditional meat of choice when making carnitas Duck, chicken and beef could also be used to make tasty alternatives.