It’s infrequent that I wax poetic about meat. Save for Mr. GL’s dad’s BBQ Teriyaki t-bones and every so often, a good braised piece of meat, I eat a mostly vegetarian diet. It’s not by choice, but more out of convenience, I find.
Today, however, I come here with one thing on my mind. Carnitas. Meltingly tender, slightly tangy, stuff-into-your-face-until-your-pants-don’t-fit Carnitas. I can, with every ounce of certainty, tell you that I love them more than anything. At least as far as edibles go. Maybe even more than some people. But I won’t mention who - no feelings will be hurt in the making of these delectable “little meats”, as carnitas translates to. I’ve had my share of tacos, and pulled pork, and low-and-slow braised meats, but none compare to the perfection of these Michoacan-style Carnitas.
They are simple. Very, very simple. So much so that I was skeptical of them, but as this is my second time making them and they are just as good as the 1st time around, I’ve concluded that I have found my taco-soul mate. Something magical happens to that lowly pork-shoulder while it simmers away in a modest combination of orange juice, lime juice and water (that’s it! Can you believe it?!). Because the pieces of meat aren’t trimmed of their fat, once the simmering liquid evaporates, they are left to bubble in the rendered pork-fat which gives them a luxurious crispy crunch on the outside. Once nestled into a corn tortilla with a little queso fresco or Manchego, pickled red onion and tomatillo salsa, you have the perfectly balanced bite of crispy, chewy, tangy, sweet, and sour. Have I sold you yet? I sure hope so. Your life won’t be complete without these Carnitas - I know that sounds super dramatic, guys, but I’m not kidding. Your life will suffer without them!
They beg to be made in advance, making them the perfect dinner party companion when you’re not really sure how much everyone will eat (they make incredible leftovers) and you want to be able to be, at least in appearance, calm and collected once your guests arrive. In addition to being convenient, they are just so freaking fun to eat. You know me, I love eating with my hands, and these are at the top of my 'eat with your hands' list.
Michoacan-style Carnitas with Pickled Red Onions & Tomatillo Salsa
adapted from Homesick Texan
3 pounds of pork butt (shoulder), nice and fatty (untrimmed)
1 cup of orange juice
juice from 2 limes
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 tsp cumin seeds (optional)
Slice the pork butt into strips or cubes, whichever you prefer in your carnitas, about 3 inches by 1 inch. Place them in a large dutch oven or other large, heavy pot. Pour the juices, salt and cumin, if using, into the pot with the meat and give it a good stir. Add just enough water to barely cover the meat.
Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2.5 hours, no stirring or bothering the meat! After the 2 1/2 hours has passed, turn the heat to medium-high and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered. This is where things get delicious. Turn meat carefully every so often until it’s browned on all sides. There will be liquid fat in the bottom of the pot. Remove and serve immediately on warmed corn or flour tortillas or set cool completely, refrigerate and re-crisp (350 degrees - 20 minutes) in the oven before you serve.
Extras to serve with Carnitas:
queso fresco or Manchego
1/2lb Tomatillo, hulled, rinsed and cut into quarters
small handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
Generous squeeze lime juice
Puree in blender or food processor until smooth. Chill until ready to eat.
Sweet Pickled Red Onions
I’ve used both brown and white sugar in this recipe. Both taste wonderful, but white sugar keeps the onions a beautiful bright pink.
1 large red onion
3/4 cup of sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 whole star anise
pinch cinnamon (optional)
Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the onions as thin as possible (either in rounds or strips). Toss them and the rest of the ingredients into a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let them cool. Place in the fridge until ready to eat.