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Cole Cooks: Pork Carnitas Recipe

Pork Carnitas Recipe

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Pork carnitas is one of my all-time favorite dishes.  I first had it when I moved to California from North Carolina in 1991.  It has always struck me as the Mexican version of Carolina pulled pork, another favorite.  I have been experimenting with making carnitas for 25 years and I think between myself and Erin we have finally perfected our pork carnitas recipe.  This is an inexpensive and easy dish to make and it is a true crowd pleaser.  So Cole Cooking is happy to present our pork carnitas recipe.

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The first thing to note about carnitas is it is not health food.  Traditionally it is fatty pork that is cooked in lard.  We are not afraid of using lard, as long as it is pure, with no hydrogenated oils.  However, we have learned to make a delicious carnitas without using lard.  Nevertheless, this is still not health food, but instead a weekend party treat.

My first experience with carnitas was at the tourist favorite Old Town Mexican Café.   I haven’t tried their carnitas in years so I can’t vouch for its current quality.  I can say that carnitas in restaurants can be extremely inconsistent.  This is a dish I can almost always do better at home.  It should also be noted that some restaurants serve carnitas as large cubes of pork.  I much prefer the shredded carnitas which is very similar to Carolina pulled pork.

My first recipe for carnitas came from one of our favorite Sunset Mexican Cookbooks.  This was a great recipe, but we have evolved beyond it.  Erin start using a recipe from Bruce Aidells Pork cookbook and that has become the basis for our current recipe.  We have also adopted a technique we got from Serious Eats back in 2010 in an article entitled “The Best Way to Make Carnitas (Without a Bucket of Lard).”

This technique involves cramming the pork chunks in a casserole dish, so they cook in their own fat.  Once it is cooked in the oven for about 4 hours you take it out, let it cool and shred it.  Right before serving you place the meat under the broiler to get it nice and browned.  We should note that we tried using the recipe Serious Eats provided with the technique.  It was a no go.  The addition of cinnamon ruined the dish.

Pork Carnitas Recipe
This picnic pork shoulder will provide about 8 lbs. We used the extra to make our chorizo.

So we have adapted our traditional recipe for carnitas to the technique from Serious Eats and it comes out great.  You can do this recipe with pork shoulder or a picnic pork shoulder.  A boneless pork shoulder is easier to use but costs about twice as much as a bone-in picnic shoulder.  Butchering a bone-in pork shoulder is a pain in the neck but we have done it many times.  Either one makes great carnitas.

A large picnic shoulder will provide more meat than needed.  In this case, we used the extra pork to grind and make our chorizo sausage. 

Pork Carnitas RecipePork Carnitas Recipe

Once you cut up the pork into chunks everything else is easy.  Basically, you marinade the pork overnight in a rub. The next day you brown the meat, throw it back in the casserole dish with some liquids and let it cook for at least 4 hours.  It can be made ahead, refrigerated and simply browned ten minutes before serving.  Thus, it is one of our favorite party dishes.

Pork Carnitas RecipePork Carnitas Recipe

Pork Carnitas RecipePork Carnitas Recipe

We like to serve this with our refried beans and Erin’s Mexican rice.  We use small corn tortillas that are what you find in Mexican street tacos.  Traditional condiments on the side include lime wedges, diced onions, salsa and cilantro.  Some people like to sprinkle the tacos with Queso Fresco cheese but we have never done that.    

Unless you have a really large party you will likely have leftovers.  These are great for burritos, nachos or one of our favorites, taquitos.  Taquitos are simply tacos with the meat rolled up like tobacco in a cigar.  Erin has a great recipe for them that can also be done using shredded beef or chicken. See her pork taquitos recipe here.

Pork Carnitas

Pork carnitas is a delicious staple of Southern California Mexican restaurants. This is an inexpensive, easy-to-make at home version that is great for parties.
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 16 hours
Total Time 17 hours
Servings 15
Author David Cole

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 5 pounds pork shoulder or pork picnic shoulder outside fat and bone removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons oil butter or lard
  • 1 medium orange
  • 6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Instructions

  1. Place pork chunks in large metal baking pan (12 x 17). Mix salt, coriander, cumin and chili powder into a rub. Season pork chunks with rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 275. Heat oil, butter or lard in skillet. Add pork chunks and brown on all sides. Transfer pork back to casserole. Split orange into quarters and squeeze juice over pork. Nestle squeezed orange pieces into casserole. Quarter onion. Add onion quarters, garlic, and bay leaves, to casserole. Pour red wine vinegar and chicken stock over surface. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
  3. Remove orange peel, onion, garlic, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer
  4. pork and liquid to strainer. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer pork back
  5. to casserole. Remove fat from surface of liquid and add back to pork.
  6. Shred pork into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Refrigerate until
  7. ready to serve. Transfer remaining liquid to medium saucepot.
  8. When ready to serve turn on broiler. Broil casserole dish with pork until crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir and broil for another 5 minutes until all pieces are crisp. Add remaining liquid.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork

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