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Mar 14, 2010 08:24 PM

Turkey "Carnitas" - possible?

Has anybody eaten and/or made turkey carnitas? I realize carnitas are supposed to be pork, but I'm having a taco party and I already have a great pork recipe. I have a few people coming that don't eat pork, so I want an alternate meat taco option. I was thinking chicken, and started a chowhound thread where I have received some good ideas, but I'd like to investigate this turkey carnitas line of inquiry too.

I haven't even made real carnitas before. Somebody, please give me guidance. Are turkey legs fatty enough for it to work? Do you think they'd be good?


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  1. Well, "Carnitas" translates simply to "little meats" so I don't see why a turkey carnitas would be out of order. In fact, seems to me it'd be a very nice variation on the traditional (and almost universally produced) pork variety. As long as there plenty of moisture in the meat I think you ought to go for it.
    I made some tamales using lamb a month or so back. Worked out quite well.

    1. For sure it could work, I do it with chicken for similar reasons as yours. To avoid dry meat I suggest covering the turkey pieces with water and simmering for an hour or so until tender, include some salt and roughly chopped onion and garlic. The meat will then 'shred' which is like enough to pulled pork, mix it with your sauce of choice.
      Throw the bones etc back into the cooking liquid and boil vigorously for a while longer. Strain through a fine sieve and you have some turkey stock as well.

      5 Replies
      1. re: andrewtree

        Carnitas is fried pork.

        Boiled turkey tacos are just, well, boiled turkey tacos. Not sure why they have to be labeled "Turkey Carnitas." They're just tacos de pavo.

        1. re: gordeaux

          I guess frying the turkey in lard would defeat the purpose of using turkey, but is there another way I could crisp up the edges? Maybe by following Andrew's suggestion, and then at after pulling the thighs off the bone (and leaving the skin on), drizzling with chicken fat or some other non-pork grease and broiling?

          1. re: megmosa

            Or could I do it in a crockpot and then after it is done and shredded pan fry some of it in some kind of fat? Is it worth the trouble, and what fat would be best?

            1. re: megmosa

              of both your scenarios, if you simply want the meat to have some crispiness to it, Id throw it into a high temp oven after the initial cook. - just seems far easier than pan frying, imo. How you cook it at first wouldn't matter that much (to me, anyway.)

              1. re: gordeaux

                Do you think I should slather it with rendered chicken fat before I put it in the oven to crisp?

      2. You might want to stick with dark meat to make sure it's moist enough. Thighs would be easiest to get off the bone.

        1. I had to Wikipedia "carnitas" and realized I made turkey carnitas in my slow cooker last week--SO awesome, I can't even. (@gordeaux Wiki mentions that it's braised meat that is crisped up afterwards--is this a mistake?).

          Ersatz Mexican alert: used two skinless turkey thighs, one bottle of Negro Modello, and 1/2c. of Herdez salsa, a pinch each of cinnamon, cumin, and coriander seed. Cooked for 8h on low, removed meat, and shredded. Reduced liquid on stove for ~30 mins, then added shredded turkey back in for another 15 minutes. The beer lent a great colour to the turkey, and the bones gave the sauce great body. I really enjoyed the result with soft corn tortillas.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Olivia

            So you didn't have any trouble with it drying out then?

            1. re: Olivia

              I used to buy an inexpensive pack of turkey leg/thighs, simmer them till tender, then shred, and cook some more in a chile flavored broth. But I wouldn't call that carnitas.

              For me carnitas are pork that has been slow simmered in lard, and served in chunks. At home it is more common to cook it in water (lightly flavored), and when tender, finish by frying to produce some of the outside crispness and browning you get from the traditional method.

              This meat could be shredded and mixed with broth, but that takes in the direction of pulled pork.

              Turkey or chicken dark meat could be cooked in a similar way, but I wonder whether it would take the finishing frying as well.

              1. re: paulj

                I have made Bolivian chicharron, which is very similar to carnitas but bigger chunks of pork. You simmer them in some flavored broth but let it evaporate, and then you fry it a little in the fat from the pork which came out in the simmering. You could do the same with chunks of turkey thigh meat by adding some oil to the simmering liquid. Not a lot, just a tablespoon or two. I recall having done this a few years ago and it worked well.

              2. re: Olivia

                No, didn't dry out, as the 8h initial cooking was done in a slow cooker.

                With apologies to gordeaux, I think I'm getting this now: what I made was in no way crispy or gorgeously fat-laden. It was more akin to pulled pork, albeit much less fatty.

              3. I often make turkey or chicken boneless thigh meat by cutting it up and just putting everything in a 12 inch cast iron frypan, not too much liquid, see how much comes out of the meat first--- by the time the meat is cooked, the liquid boils off and the fat is rendered out, so if you just keep on cooking the meat starts to brown in its own fat, I don't have to add any more.

                5 Replies
                1. re: wearybashful

                  1) Remove skin from two turkey thighs, brown each side.
                  2) Stuff into pressure cooker, add 6 cloves garlic, 6 bay leaves, 2 TB salt
                  3) Add fresh orange juice to cover + juice of one lime
                  4) Pressure cook 40 minutes
                  5) Remove thighs, reserve liquid, shred meat and spread into baking dish
                  6) Reduce reserved liquid to 3/4 cup oily syrup, remove solids, pour over meat
                  7) Run meat under broiler for 5 min, turning a couple of times to crisp evenly.
                  8) Stuff into tortillas w/pickled onions, cilantro, don't tell people it's not pork.

                  1. re: steve_hoge

                    Wow, that sounds good! I may have to try that this weekend... or maybe once everyone is in the mood for turkey again. They're not too salty with 2 Tbsp of salt?

                    1. re: steve_hoge

                      I finally got around to making these turkey carnitas in the pressure cooker tonight. Delicious! I only used 1 Tbsp of salt, and kosher salt at that, but it was still a bit salty for me. I'll use 2 tsp next time. But I'll definitely be making these again.

                      1. re: steve_hoge

                        Thank you! Just made this today and it's delicious. I scraped out any remaining syrup from the pan and licked the spatula while the turkey was under the broiler. All parts of this are wonderful!

                        1. re: steve_hoge

                          I adapted this recipe for a slow cooker. It was fantastic.