Carnitas is definitely not a weeknight meal. It's very simple but requires a low and slow cooking method. Which was perfect for a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon!
Traditionally, carnitas are chunks of pork that have been cooked in their own fat for a fairly long period of time until the meat is super tender and the exterior is ultra-cripsy. This requires meat from the shoulder of the pig, usually called pork butt. It's got a lot of fat and connective tissue, but when cooked properly will yield deliciously succulent meat.
I would love to try the traditional method of cooking the pork in lard but it's just not practical. One of these days, I'll try it but today was not the day. Now, I've seen various ways of making carnitas at home and a lot of those recipes are just recipes for a braised pork. The texture of braised pork is definitely what you want but without that crispy exterior, well, it's just not carnitas for me. So I tried a technique that I saw Rick Bayless do on his show, Mexico - One Plate at a Time. I couldn't find the recipe online for this but it came from this episode.
For this version of carnitas, a pork shoulder roast is seasoned and placed in a pan with a little bit of water in the bottom of the pan. The whole thing is covered with foil and cooked in the oven at a low temperature for a couple of hours until tender. Then you crank the oven up really high, take the foil off and let the exterior get nice and crispy. I'm paraphrasing his recipe since it's been a while since I watched that episode, but that is how I remembered it.
There are some really good-quality jarred salsas out there. The ones made by the aforementioned Mr. Bayless are some of the best. So, why should you make your own? You don't really have to. Especially on a weeknight. But it's Sunday. I have the time. It will actually taste more fresh and you can control the level of heat and texture. And it's cool to make your own salsa! I really like the jarred Fronterra tomatillo salsa, but this version is pretty easy to make and it has a bright, fresh flavor that just does not come out of a jar.
I made the salsa knowing the kids would not eat it. Let's face it, it's green and goopy. No chance. So I made sure it has some nice heat to it. That's the beauty of making your own, you can control the amount of heat as well as the type. Different chiles has different flavors and types of heat. I used jalapeños but feel free to use serrano or even habenero chiles. The kids got cheese on their tacos. But they loved it! A total winner.
Ingredients: 4 lb bone-in pork shoulder roast (pork butt), corn tortillas, salt
- Preheat your oven to 325°.
- Season the pork liberally with salt.
- Place the roast in a pan and add water to the bottom of the pan. Add enough to cover the bottom. You can check periodically to see if it has all evaporated. In which case, add more. I used a 13x9 Pyrex pan so I could easily.
- Cover with foil and cook it in the oven for approximately 3 hours.
- After about 3 hours, remove the foil and raise the temperature of the oven to 450°.
- The liquid at the bottom of the pan will evaporate and you will be left with a good amount of the rendered fat. Feel free to baste the meat with these juices.
- Cook for another 30 minutes or so until the exterior is nicely browned and crispy.
- Remove and let rest for 15-20 minutes or so.
- Then you can pull the meat apart into chunks with 2 forks or tongs, or you can chop the meat up with a knife.
- Place a little pile of carnitas in a toasted tortilla and top with some tomatillo salsa (recipe below) or whatever toppings you like. The cilantro and onion combo is a good option too.
Ingredients: 1 lb
, 1 large
, 4 peeled cloves of
, 1 bunch
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse the sticky residue off.
- Chop the onion into large chunks.
- Add the tomatillos, onion, jalapeños, garlic to a sheet pan and coat with olive oil.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Roast in the oven until the ingredients are soft and a little bit brown.
- Place all of the roasted vegetables in a food processor or blender.
- You may want to hold back 2 of the chiles to adjust the heat. You can taste and add more jalapeño as you go.
- Blend or process the ingredients until they are fairly smooth. If you like it chunkier, process it less. You may need to add a bit of water if it's too thick.
- Taste it to see if it's spicy enough. You never know how spicy a jalapeño will be so it's best to keep adding them, one at a time as you go instead of chucking them all in there right away.
- Then add a handful of cilantro and the juice of 2 limes. Process again until smooth.
- Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.
- Apply to tacos or dip your chip into it and enjoy.