View Full Version : Carnitas

02-03-2010, 09:26 PM
WARNING: This isn't so much a recipe as it is a description of how to make carnitas. I don't recommend eating this if you're cutting for obvious reasons.

On the other hand, it's perfect for burritos (which are da bomb for bulking).




I am far from fluent in Spanish, but I do know that carne means meat, and literally, carnitas means 'little meats.'

Carnitas are a very traditional Mexican dish. And, traditionally, carnitas are pork, but you can make them with any meat...beef, chicken, lamb, etc., although for leaner cuts, you'll have to add some fat.

And, although I have heard 'carnitas' used in reference to something akin to the 'pulled pork' of the U.S. southeast, most of the time, 'carnitas' are small squares of pork that have been first boiled, then braised or fried, until the insides are moist, tender and flavorful, and the outsides are crispy.... Think 'pork croutons.'

I use pork shoulder, 1-2 lbs worth. Cut into cubes about 1-2" square or so. You can remove large pieces of fat, but remember that you will need some fat to eventually fry your carnitas. Some people even add a little lard if your roast is particularly lean. Place in a Dutch oven. You can use a large saucepan, but remember that you will eventually be frying them, or putting them under the broiler, or doing something else to crisp them, so you need a large surface area. Add water just barely to cover. Simmer, partially covered, till all water is gone and meat starts frying in its own rendered fat. Reduce heat and fry, stirring frequently, till pieces are evenly browned.

That's the basic method.

But of course to make this really flavorful, you need to be creative along the way. So, what are your options?

First, the liquid in which you boil your carnitas: you can use a little or a lot of beer, wine, tequila, chicken or beef broth, vinegar, lemon, lime, or orange juice. Quite a few recipes call for milk - between to 1 cup. I usually use chicken broth, the juice of one orange, about lime, a dash of vinegar, and either tequila, or gin. I really like the sweetness of gin in cooking and use it often, but it's obviously not traditional in carnitas. A friend swears by rum. So, there you go.

Next, you'll probably want to flavor your liquid. The most typical choices for this step are oregano, bay leaves, onions, garlic, epazote, chiles (either chopped or dry or powdered), cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper. One friend puts in some mint; another adds nutmeg and sage. I usually chop up some onions, garlic, chipotles, poblanos, and for seasoning, use a prepared seasoning product called TexJoy (http://www.texjoy.com/) that I like with pork and I dust my cubes with that and let them set in the fridge for several hours beforehand.

So now, you've boiled your carnitas down, and you're frying them in the fat, and you might think, "Boy, it'd probably be good if those suckers were caramelizing even more."

Of course, not everyone likes sweetness in their meat, but plenty do. If you're one of them, add a little sugar to the liquid when you add your spices. Choices here are syrups, like Caro or molasses, or maple, or brown sugar. Even Coca-Cola. And if you've added milk, that has enough natural sugars to do the trick. Sometimes I add 2 T. brown sugar, and 1 T. sorghum (not too much for two pounds of meat, but enough to help brown and caramelize it). Mi amiga, on the other hand, caramelizes a cup of brown sugar in another pan, and then pours it over her browned carnitas, stirring and cooking over high heat for another ten-fifteen minutes or so, until the cubes are well caramelized. Although if you don't like sweetness with your meat, don't bother adding any additional sugars. Your carnitas will still brown up and caramelize nicely.

Rather than browning your carnitas in the fat on top of the stove, many people finish them in an oven on high heat, or under the broiler. Actually, that is my preferred method.

Okay, so now you've got your crispy carnitas. What do you do with them? The answer, of course, is 'anything you want.'

You can just squeeze a little extra lemon or lime over them and serve as is, with some salsa or pico de gallo or escabeche or guacamole and refried beans and tortillas alongside. Or, you can: arrange on top of arroz; garnish a bowl of charro beans; or with chopped onion and cilantro in soft tacos or burritos or quesadillas; or whatever you want.

02-07-2010, 08:30 AM
F*** awesome.

02-09-2010, 08:34 AM
Boom to the power of boom - that sounds good