Melt-in-the-mouth, no-lard pork carnitas
Difficulty Rating: 6/10
Time Taken: 4 hours
Serves: 3-5, depending on how hungry you are!
Carnitas are a regular feature of classic Mexican cuisine, and you’ll likely see them on every restaurant menu from the Chipotles in London to the family-owned places in California that lie a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. Literally translated as “little meats,” carnitas are typically pieces of pork shoulder that have been simmered and submerged in lard or oil for several hours, until they’re mouthwateringly tender and fall apart on the end of your fork.
With carnitas, fat means flavor, so it’s important to use this particular cut of pork, as this section of the pig contains a higher rate of intramuscular fat and fibers (marbling), which all renders down to make juicier, tastier meat when cooked low and slow.
The only problem is, most of us have neither the means nor the health-related desire to cook with such an amount of lard at home, so I set about finding a way to replicate that lovely taste while also making use of healthier, more traditional ingredients you’ll find around your kitchen. Read on for more...
- 1.5kg/3.5lbs of pork shoulder (also known as pork butt, Boston butt, picnic ham), bone out
- 1 onion, cut into eighths
- 1 orange, cut into eighths
- 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
- 3 bay leaves, whole
- 1 stick cinnamon, whole
- 60ml olive oil
- 3 tsp salt
- 5 tsp cracked black pepper
- 4 tsp smoked paprika
Using a sharp knife, cut up your pork into small chunks, about 1 inch by 1 each (2.5cm x 2.5cm).
Cover the pork with your garlic, salt, pepper and paprika, making sure to massage the spices right into the meat. Don’t be afraid here, it should turn a deep, dark red and be lovely and fragrant.
Add the pork, along with the onion, bay leaves, cinnamon, and oranges into a small casserole dish, packing it all in tightly together so it’s got little room to breathe.
Cover the food with your 60ml of oil, wrap the dish tightly with foil, stick onto a baking tray and place in the oven at 125C/260F.
Cook until fork tender, about 3 hours total. There’s no harm in peeking, and it’s done when the meat starts to flake away at the press of a fork.
Carefully remove the pork from the dish, using a fork and taking care not to break it apart (it will be tender!); set aside.
Separate the remaining liquid from the aromatics (bay leaves, cinnamon, orange, etc), and leave it for ten minutes or so, allowing the fat to rise to the top and separate.
Meanwhile, “pull” your carnitas by lightly pressing on the chunks of meat with a fork, shredding into smaller pieces.
Spoon off the fat that has risen to the top of the liquid and return it back into your now pulled pork meat. You can use the remaining liquid as the base for a delicious salsa verde.
Mix the pork and fat together, lay it onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil for 5-10 minutes on a high heat, allowing the pork to sizzle and crisp up under the heat.
Serve with tacos, tortillas, beans, rice, or whatever other Mexican food you feel like eating with it!