I have discovered homemade carnitas, and I am in love.
Not sure why it took me so long to make carnitas on my own, I mean I've loved them in great Mexican take-out joints for years, but for some reason never thought to make them myself. As you all know, I am a big fan of braising, and my favorite dish of all time is duck confit (another dish I've never made….doh!), so it should come as no surprise that carnitas and I are made for each other.
You see, in the end carnitas are nothing more than braised, then confited chunks of pork shoulder. I know, you're drooling at just the thought….me too. This dish is dead easy to make, requiring little hands on time save a little chopping, seasoning and skimming of the pot once the pork is on the braise. After that there is about 2 hours of uninterrupted cooking with an occasional stir, then a final browning of the meat in its rendered fat inside a very hot oven. Cue the singing angels!
When finished, the meat emerges fork tender, and unbelievably flavorful thanks to its time bathing in aromatics such as orange, bay, cumin, garlic and fennel. Give this recipe a try and I guarantee that it will become your favorite way to cook Mexican at home.
Arthas had to work overtime to butcher our pork shoulder roast (usually called a Boston Butt, or just plain Butt), first cutting it from the bone, then cubing it. He was tempted to cut away most of that fat, which is normally a great instinct, but for this dish I had him leave all but the thickest chunks of fat intact. Most of it breaks-down and renders from the meat over the course of braising and it adds a great deal of flavor to the dish. Any egregious, flabby pieces left after braising can be pulled from the cubes prior to roasting the meat.
You're gonna want to kiss me for this one, I promise!
Cheers – Steve
- 5 pounds fatty pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 5 cups water
- 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 1 orange, cut into quarters
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 10 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
- 3 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- 2 teaspoons cumin seed
- 5 teaspoons kosher salt
- Using some cheesecloth, make a sachet enclosing the fennel and cumin seeds. Put the sachet, along with all the other ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot (we used one of our Le Creuset dutch ovens) and bring the mix to a boil. A sludgy foam will appear on the surface as the liquid approaches a boil, when it does, skim it off, and continue skimming until the foam subsides. Once a rolling boil has been achieved, lower the heat and simmer modestly, stirring occasionally, until the pork is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Pull the meat from the pan and reserve. Discard the orange pieces, bay leaves and sachet.
- At this point you will likely be left with a mix of water, meat juices and pork fat in the bottom of the pan, and what you're really looking for at this point is just to be left with pork fat. So, if the water and juices haven’t completely evaporated after 2 hours, let the liquid continue to bubble away, stirring often, until all you are left with is the amber looking pork fat.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Transfer the pork and fat to an ovenproof dish or a rimmed sheet tray, and brown the pork, uncovered, in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Pull the carnitas from the oven and spoon onto warm corn tortillas, top with some Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa (or some other salsa of your choice), fresh cilantro, and any other toppings you typically enjoy on your tacos.