Growing up in Southern California means my love for Mexican food is a given.
We lived in an area near groves of avocado trees, with stands by the side of the road selling them cheap. My mom would make simple, delish guacamole (that we kids wouldn’t eat- it was green and weird!). Chips and salsa graced every happy hour display, and remains one of my favorite snacks. Our babysitter and dear friend made tamales from scratch in big batches that filled our freezer. We drove across town to a restaurant called Dario’s fairly often for dinner, where I was a tamale or enchilada kind of girl. As I got older and braver, I started exploring new flavors on Mexican menus. Rich mole sauces. Cheesy stuffed rellenos. Chile verde. And a true favorite: pork carnitas.
In Spanish, “carne” means meat, and adding the “-ita” makes it little. LITTLE MEATS. How cute is that? Carnitas are a juicy, tender hunk of fall-apart pork. At a restaurant, it’s generally served on a plate with tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, maybe some rice and beans on the side. It shreds easily, and part of the fun is scooping your preferred accompaniments into a tortilla and constructing the perfect carnitas taco. It’s pretty likely that when John and I go out for Mexican food, ONE of us is going to order carnitas. Positively scrumptious.
I came across a recipe for carnitas right before I left for my weeklong California Adventure. Yum! I’d make a big batch of carnitas, make tasty tacos for our dinner, and pop the leftovers in the fridge for my temporary bachelor. (I didn’t realize at the time that it would be ALL he ate for a week, but whatever.) I was surprised at how few ingredients were needed- just the meat, some citrus, some seasonings, and onion.
I’d asked the butcher to cut the pork butt into chunks for me- the hard part was done for me! I heated up the oven and quartered the onion. The meat and the onion went into an oven-safe pot on the stove.
Next, I squeezed in the juice from an orange into the pot and tossed the peels right in, too. Some fresh lime juice followed, and then some water- enough to just about cover the meat. This was TOO EASY.
I tossed in a couple of bay leaves, and then some generous spoonfuls of cumin and oregano. I added a few shakes of crushed red pepper for heat, and some salt and black pepper. Guys, THAT’S IT.
Once all of the ingredients were in the pot, I turned on the heat to medium-high brought it to a simmer. Then I put the lid on the pot and transferred the whole shebang to the oven, where some magic happened for about two hours.
While the pot was in the oven, I started working on a spicy slaw to go in the tacos. I kept it pretty simple, using bagged coleslaw.
Equal parts mayo and sour cream, lots of spicy seasonings like chili powder, a little bit of lime juice, and plenty of Cholula. You know how we feel about Cholula around here!
After a couple of hours, it was time for the next step in the carnitas process. I brought the pot out of the oven and removed all of the meat with a slotted spoon, placing it on a baking sheet lined with tin foil.
Next, I removed the onion, oranges, and bay leaves from the pot. They’d done their duty. Only the juices remained. I boiled the juices on high heat while I took a fork and knife and gently pulled the chunks of carnitas apart- not fully shredding them, but creating smaller chunks. According to Cholula’s face, so far, so good.
The semi-shredded meat went back into the pot of juices, which had reduced into a thicker sauce. I stirred it all together into a juicy, meaty mess, then poured it all back onto the baking sheet. It went into the oven and broiled for a few minutes, getting crispy and browned. Cue drool.
While the carnitas were browning, I added the spicy sauce to the slaw and prepped some taco toppings- fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and big slices of creamy avocado.
When the carnitas were crispy-ish, I took them out of the oven. We made our tacos nice and fat, and served them alongside some tasty rice from the local Mexican market. Gorgeous!
The carnitas were beyond tender, and very juicy- but the little crunch from the crispy parts were the best. This recipe would be ideal to make for a big get together- a summertime carnitas party (margaritas required)! I’m not sure how John ate his carnitas leftovers, but it couldn’t have been better than in these tacos. I left for my trip the next morning, and I’m jealous that he got to eat them more than once.
I wonder how soon is too soon to make them again…
Pulled Pork Carnitas (from Barefeet in the Kitchen)
- 4 lbs boneless pork shoulder or butt, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 onion, ends cut off, peeled and halved
- Juice of one orange (save the halves)
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 generous teaspoon cumin (I probably used closer to a tablespoon)
- 1 generous teaspoon dried oregano
- Crushed red pepper to taste
Adjust rack to the lower middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients (including orange halves) in an oven-safe pot with a lid. Bring the pot to a simmer over medium high heat, then move the pot to the oven and cook for two or more hours.
Remove the pot from the oven and switch the oven to broil. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the meat from the pot and set on a baking sheet lined with foil. Remove and discard everything else in the pot, leaving only the liquid. Place the pot over high heat for 10-20 minutes. Boil until the liquid reduces and becomes syrupy, leaving about a cup of liquid in the pot.
While the liquid is reducing, use a pair of forks to gently pull each piece of pork apart into a few pieces. Once the liquid has reduced, place the pork back into the pot and gently mix the pork and juice together.
Transfer the coated pork back onto the baking sheet in one layer. Broil the meat in the oven for 6-8 minutes until it is browned and crispy. Serve immediately.
- 2 cups bagged coleslaw
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- Tablespoon of Cholula
- Teaspoon each of chili powder and cumin
- Juice of one lime
- Garlic salt to taste
Combine all ingredients besides the slaw in a bowl; taste to adjust seasonings. Pour over the coleslaw and mix well. Serve inside the amazing carnitas tacos (or any taco). YUM!
**Check out the FOOD BLISS link above for more of my culinary adventures (and a list of recipes)!**