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Mar 18, 2011 03:41 PM

Carnitas question

Do you prefer chunks or shredded meat?
Should the meat be seasoned with chiles or more subtle flavors that emphasize the pork?
What are the traditional toppings? Crema or queso fresco included?
How crispy should the pork be?

It seems like there are endless variations, which I understand, but I am interested to hear your favorite ways.

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  1. i go for:
    a cinammon stick
    some orange peel
    some coca cola
    bay leaf
    mexican oregano
    some lard
    sometimes ill throw in a chile.. nothing crazy.
    and then throw in some cogniac at teh end.

    The ratios depend on how rish you want it.

    I go minimal but just to make the taste a lil more interesting.

    serve with a peanut salsa and some pickled red onion and you are good.

    oh and i dont like chunks.. they tend to be alil dry .. Ill break em down in the liquid and toss under the broil and let it crisp and still be juicy.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lestblight

      I wonder about the lard. The shoulder seems to render enough fat that the extra lard I see in many recipes seems like overkill.

      1. re: AdamD

        i dont use alot sometimes a cup or 1/2.

        i use coca cola for the rest of the liquid.

        Traditional carntias is cooked in lard.. i cant eat all that. so i reduce it. but add a lil.

        1. re: lestblight

          I have only made it once, and I skipped the extra lard. I did more of a traditional braise. Browning it first, adding water and slow cooking it.

          It was delicious, but very soft and fatty (not necessarily a bad thing). And while it was tender and full of pork flavor, it was a little bland. Lacked kick in the meat itself. So I was thinking of being a bit more aggressive with the seasoning and perhaps crisping the meat up with higher heat-while being careful not to dry it out. But thats why I am asking, if I was serving it at a party to foodies that know traditional carnitas, would the guests expect those mild fatty chunks and would they frown upon a crisp highly seasoned version.

    2. A mixed texture is very nice. The best bites have both crispy charred browning flavors and melting gelatinous goodness. Don't recommend entirely skipping the lard any more than I would recommend making duck confit without any duck fat.

      Regarding toppings, traditional is hard to top----nothing more than a little minced onion, lots of cilantro, a lime wedge, and a smooth salsa verde with some kick. That said, the near unctuousness of good carnitas lends itself very well to contrasting elements like lightly dressed shredded cabbage or thinly sliced radishes.

      3 Replies
      1. re: eight_inch_pestle

        Thanks. I am starting to feel that I would prefer a texture that is similar to good pulled pork BBQ, only with very different seasoning.
        Good point on the confit, although I seem to be able to get a very nice tenderness along with a very fatty mouth feel without adding more. I guess that just comes down to personal preference but I am understanding that there has to be a fatty texture and taste.

        And I have had carnitas at very good (supposedly) taquerias and thought that they lacked some acid even though they were served with limes, cilantro, fresh onion and a nice sauce. I agree they are calling out for some bright acid and some crunchy texture. Thanks for your suggestions.

        1. re: AdamD

          No problem. If you want more acid I don't think there's anything wrong with stirring a little lime juice into the meat a couple minutes before pulling it off the heat. Myself, I can't recall the last time I ordered a taco with asking for extra lime wedges, so I know where you're coming from. A brief (maybe 30 minute?) lime juice or white vinegar pickle for the radish or cabbage could be really nice.

          1. re: AdamD

            I took the brisket flap of meat from a slab of spare ribs and after it came off the smoker, I pulled it apart and made carnitas with it. The seasonings used were definitely of Mexico and the smoky crispy nuggets of pork turned out delicious. Some good fresh made corn tortillas to hold it all together. Just darn good.

        2. I am a great fan of the recipes from The Homesick Texan and I think her Carnitas are really good, the four times (so far) that I've made them.

          I did find that our favorite local restaurant that has carnitas uses a dark Mexican beer as part of their juices. We just don't often have un-drunk beer at home.