Carnitas is a Mexican dish that originates from Michoacan. Translated, Carnitas actually means “little meats.” Traditional Carnitas is prepared by frying pork in lard and spices for many hours, turning up the heat to crisp at the end. I use a slightly different technique, cooking the pork in a slow cooker for several hours, then crisping the meat in the broiler. I find the slow cooker keeps the meat very tender, as long as you use a fattier piece of pork. If you choose to use a leaner cut of meat, I recommend adding some pork fat to keep it moist. Ask your butcher for some pork fat, or many Hispanic grocers will sell lard which works as well. Even if you’re using a fattier piece of meat, a little extra fat won’t hurt!
How We Did It:
While the traditional way of making carnitas is to simmer the meat in lard for hours allowing the meat to become tender and juicy, we chose the “set it and forget it” method. While cooking in lard will bring great results, we don’t all have the option of being at home for 3-5 hours to tend to the stove. And I never recommend turning on the stove and leaving…you don’t want to come home to a burned down house! So I break out my trusty crockpot. Sure, the meat may not be QUITE as juicy as if you cooked it in lard, but it’s pretty damn close. I do recommend using a crockpot with a timer if you plan on being out of the house for more than a few hours. Set it for 3-4 hours, add salt as needed, and turn it back on for another 30 minutes to an hour.
Once the meat is done cooking, it’s time to crisp it up in the broiler. The sugar in the orange juice and mirin drizzled on top will caramelize, giving the carnitas that slightly burned sugar taste. Can you say YUM? You have the option to drizzle some rendered pork fat over the meat, which would aid in crisping it in the broiler. We stuck with the caramelized sugar because, well, it just tastes awesome.
It’s not always convenient, or even an option, to serve fresh made corn tortillas. We do our best to improvise by using store bought tortillas and frying them in the cooking liquid. Any store bought corn tortillas will do, however, we used green chili corn tortillas. Some grocery stores have a pretty neat selection of different tortillas. Try out some different kinds, see what you like best. Frying the tortillas in the juice and fat from the cooking liquid makes them easily pliable (none of those broken, cracked, dry tortillas) and adds a rich flavor.
Serve the carnitas with the tortillas, fresh squeezed orange and lime juice, diced onions, avocado and cilantro. You can even throw some of the cooking liquid on there if you’re brave. If you would like some added spice, add your favorite salsa or some diced chilis.
How do you like to eat your Carnitas? Tacos, plain, tortas, etc? Do you prefer a sweeter or more savory Carnitas? What changes did you make to this recipe? How did it come out?