Inspiration: Is there anything better than carnitas when it comes to Mexican food (or, I have to be a little more accurate here….any kind of food)? I certainly can’t think of a much better meal than tender, succulent, slow-cooked, crispy, fall-apart pork with all sorts of lovely fresh vegetable sides. It’s often the meal that I end up ordering at Mexican restaurants, and I’ve been trying for about a year now to find a truly fabulous at-home version. Up until this point, none of the recipes that I’ve tried have ever worked out exactly as I had hoped, but as this one was cooking, I had a feeling that it was finally going to be the one.
What We Loved: Everything about this recipe was outstanding. Brandon remarked several times while we were eating and over the next few days that these were the best carnitas that he has ever had, anywhere (and we’ve had a lot of carnitas over the years). In my book, that’s pretty much the highest praise that a recipe can get. The meat was just fall apart tender, which is exactly what you want with carnitas. I had intended to leave the meat completely in large chunks, but as you can see in the pictures, it just shredded apart in the pan on its own as I was browning it. The result was crispy browned shreds of meat and chunks of meat that were crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. Perfect. And the flavor was spectacular, too. I don’ think that I’ve ever had a meat dish that is more rich in flavor than carnitas (except possibly duck confit – that’s really up there in richness, too). It’s hard to eat too much of the carnitas because they are just so sublimely rich from being cooked and seared in the pork fat. Plus, these particular carnitas had a lovely, slightly sweet background flavor with hints of cumin and garlic. Absolutely fantastic.
Tips: I think that the best advice for this recipe is to be patient. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to cook the meat for two hours, then boil down the liquid for about 45 minutes, then sear the meat for about 15 to 20 minutes so that it gets nice and brown. The patience is certainly worth it in the end. Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve tried out several different recipes for carnitas, and I think that it’s very important to use the orange juice and lime juice as directed in this recipe, rather than just using water. The acids in the citrus juices really tenderize the meat beautifully, whereas cooking with plain water always left me with tougher meat in the past.
1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1. Place the pork pieces into a dutch oven, and add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and salt. Add enough water to just barely cover the meat.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours without disturbing.
3. Remove the lid, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has evaporated and only the fat that has been rendered from the pork remains.
4. Sear the meat in the fat, browning it as much as you’d like.
5. Shred the meat or leave it in chunks. Serve with cilantro, avocado slices, pico de gallo, lime wedges, or any of your favorite sides.