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Jun 20, 2008 09:23 AM

Lard simmered pork carnitas help for a vegetarian cook

It’s my better half’s birthday and I want to make him delectable carnitas this Sunday (6/22). But since I don’t eat meat, I really don’t know how to cook it. Carnitas somehow seemed easy since I can just stick it in a dutch oven and simmer for a couple hours… until I discovered the key to the best is to stew it in freshly rendered lard. Aack! This is starting to feel like advanced meat cooking…

Am I crazy? I am not necessarily averse to meat handling (well, at least for special occasions! I am admittedly a little squeamish normally), but the biggest problem is how clueless I am about meat cooking (I am pretty darn good for all non-meat cooking, or, uh, most, IMHO). I am up for a challenge though!

Many questions:
1. Should I just forget about simmering in freshly rendered lard, and go the healthier route of simmered in water (with orange rind and spices)?

2. How much pork shoulder do I need? Do I need to direct the butcher to do anything with the pork shoulder (e.g., trim it or cut it up or something)? Remember, I am clueless. I figure I should do the minimum sized recipe, since it is just his one dinner and his leftovers (maybe enough for 3+ servings). Am I supposed to rinse and dry pork before cooking? Even if it’s happy feel good pork?

3. If I do go the lardo route, where the heck do I get a nice hunk of pork fat to render? I would prefer to use some sort of local/organic/feel good pork shoulder and fat too, but maybe that is ridiculous for fat rendering. And how much fat is enough to simmer the shoulder in? How do I dispose of the fat (just pour into a can and put in the trash)?

4. I was hoping to find the Rick Bayless recipe, but could only find one that feeds 20 people: ( Other recipe suggestions? Is Bayless the way to go?

5. How the heck do I know when it’s done without tasting it?! (Poses a problem for seasoning too…). Is there some sort of time per pound formula that I can hope works out for me? Or do I just wait until it looks a certain way? How should it look?

6. Any other tips? I could go on and on with questions.

Here is my tentative menu, unless the advice is to scrap-it-stupid, and do something easier!
-Carnitas (recipe tbd
)-Rancho Gordo pinto beans (maybe attempting some of them lard-refried)
-Homemade tortillas (
)-Homemade guacamole and salsa
-Queso fresco (suggestions for other nice Mexican cheese for this?)
-Veg fajitas (I need to eat something!)
-dessert of either/both roasted banana ice cream ( with chocolate shavings/syrup and/or burnt caramel ice cream ( or


Thanks for any and all advice!

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  1. I frequently make the water-simmered version, but have tried the lard simmered version. The idea of collecting or buying enough lard to cover the meat seems daunting, even for one who likes meat.

    Have you considered buying carnitas from a Mexican meat market? You'd probably end up with a better product. for a lot less work. Around the weekend you may also find 'barbacoa'. Both are easy to warm at home, and go well with home made tortillas. Or how about buying one of the thin cuts of meat from the market, and grilling that at the last minute. I like the chile marinated adobado.


    3 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      Thanks paulj! I would like to try something homemade, but perhaps I should go for the water simmered version to make things a little more manageable. What recipe do you use?

      1. re: paulj

        I've made carnitas using a braised recipe from Cooks Illustrated - after braising and pulling the pork, I reduced the sauce until it was thick, laid the pork onto a broiler pan, basted the meat, and broiler it for a few minutes (mixing it once), to get a bit of crispiness. I had 6 lbs of pork for a party of 20-25 and it got devoured - that was from 2x3lb Boston Butts, with most, but not all, of the fat cap removed.

        If you want to do it with lard, you can buy pork fat, often at a local grocery - since you are using it to cook pork, you don't have to trim every bit of meat off of the fat, nor do you need "leaf" lard (the cleaner tasting stuff from around the kidneys). Put it in the oven at low temp and drain off the liquid fat through a cheesecloth as it accumulates. Be careful with the lard you see in grocery stores - manteca - often it contains hydrogenated lard. Sometimes local meat markets might sell lard, but its not as common. Rendering your lard is a big step, though..

        1. re: grant.cook

          Most Mexican grocery stores around here carry their own lard in bulk - it's quite cheap, and much better than the shelf-stable packaged stuff, though a good bit stronger in flavor. As your carnitas recipe is very much like the classic recipes for confit in that you're cooking the meat at a low temperature, what you can do afterwards is to pour the melted lard through a strainer, make sure it's free of moisture, then pour it into an airtight plastic container and either refrigerate or freeze it. Even just in the refrigerator it will last indefinitely, as long as the lid fits securely. So even if you do this sort of thing only once a year or even less, that lard is using only as much space as, say, a jar of mayonnaise, and it's always ready when you are.

      2. Carnitas
        Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
        Serves 4

        1 (3 - 3.5 lb.) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1.8 thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
        Black Pepper
        1 tsp. ground cumin
        1 small onion, peeled and quartered
        2 bay leaves
        1 tsp. dried oregano
        2 Tbsp. lime juice
        2 cups water
        1 medium orange

        Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice and water in a large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange, removing seeds. Add 1/3 cup orange juice. Cut spent orange halves in half and add to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours.

        Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove oranges, onion and bay leaves from cooking liquid. Place pot over high heat and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (a heatproof spatula should leave a wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. Defat the liquid - there should be about 1 cup reduced, defatted liquid.

        Using two forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Season with salt and pepper to taste; fold in reduced liquid. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet, or on a broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until well-browned (but not charred) and edges of meat are slightly crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas and garnishes.

        1. Hello,

          I can't give you advice about simmering in lard because I have never done it. However here is an alternative recipe for your consideration. Please keep in mind it is not an authentic Mexican recipe, but it does taste good!

          1. Trim the skin and fat layer off a 3-lb pork shoulder, as well as any excess fat on the surface. Rinse and dry, taking care to get the surface of the meat as dry as possible. Generously dry rub the pork shoulder with salt, cumin and lots of black pepper. If you have the time let the seasoned pork sit in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to cook let sit out for 60 minutes so it reaches room temperature.

          2. Fry every surface of the pork shoulder in an oiled skillet on med-high heat until the entire outside is a rich darkish brown color. Tongs are helpful here. It should look like it is done and ready to eat although obviously it is not.

          3. Set aside the shoulder, pour off excess oil and deglaze the skillet. I usually use water or whatever stock I have on hand. Pour the deglazed liquid into a high-sided roasting pan or dutch oven, where you have already placed a layer of chopped serrano chiles, onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers. I have not used orange rind but I suppose you could put it into the braising liquid at this point

          4. Place shoulder into the pan and roast, covered, for 275 degrees for 3 hours. It is done when you can shred it easily with a fork. Pull apart the shoulder with two forks and combine with the flavorful onion-serrano-chipotle-garlic "mush" at the bottom of the pan. At this point you can choose how much of the rendered liquid to add back into the pulled pork.

          5. Toss with chopped cilantro and plenty of lime juice - or you could serve with cilantro and lime wedges and let your boyfriend season to taste. A 3-lb shoulder yields about 2 lbs of carnitas.

          Take it from a meat eater... carnitas of any kind is worth the trouble!

          1 Reply
          1. re: RealMenJulienne

            I follow a similar recipe to Real Men's, but I simmer in beer along with the veg base.

          2. Just as a bit of advice - that menu is a LOT of work. I did somethig very similar for Cinco de Mayo, and had a very reliable girlfriend sous chef helping me out.

            1) Guac - you had better have bought your avocados already, so they can ripen.. and you need to make the guac very close in time to the party - like same afternoon, covered in plastic with NO air gaps - to keep it looking fresh. Even salsa is best the same day, with a few hours for the flavors to blend..
            2) Queso is tougher - the asadero cheese is hard to find; I ended up using fontina.. Keep it warm, in a double boiler, it may clump over time. I mixed in some peppers and other stuff...
            3) I never made tortillas, but I have fried corn tortillas up as hard shells.. takes a decent amount of work. Find a decent mexican market and just buy some..

            1. Since you are in the bay area and want to buy happy pork, I would go chat up the guys at Prather in the Ferry Building about sourcing your lard if you decide to go that route. They should be able to hook you up. They will also have your pork shoulder and you never know, maybe a recipe up their sleeves!