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Carnitas!

I taught a Mexican cooking class yesterday and carnitas was one of the menu items on the cooking agenda. I've got several recipes I like, but I've been eyeing the recipe in Roberto Santibañez's book Truly Mexican for a while and I wasn't sure a cooking class would be the best place to test it out for the first time. BUT...I've eaten enough of Roberto's food and cooked enough from this cookbook to take that leap of faith unveil it on some unsuspecting students.

Ever so glad I did! These were some of the best carnitas I think I've had in a good long time and that includes the ones I had in Michoacan, Mexico this past March. I can heartily recommend this recipe from Truly Mexican. Not only is it truly Mexican, it's truly good.

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  1. Your enthusiasm is infectious. What's his approach?

    Congrats on your success!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Soul Vole

      I happen to have this book checked out from the library. Mostly I've used it for sauces.

      He does the usual braise followed by browning:

      'simmer vigorously' till fork tender and liquid gone

      browning, though, is done in a hot oven (450, 20-30 min) without stirring.

      My version today was - pressure cook the meat (20-30 min). This requires less water to start with, though you are likely to have more left over than you start with. Then I browned some of the chunks in a skillet. I didn't put a lot of effort into this browning step because it was spattering quite a bit.

    2. We want more! Please tell...

      1. Carnitas from a small taqueria in Poulsbo, WA is what inspired both my brother and I to begin cooking Mexican and other Latin American foods at home.

        My approach to carnitas goes like this:

        Get the fattiest country style ribs you can find. Cut them into one to two inch pieces. Put them in a heavy pot and cover them with water by an inch. Throw some garlic, onions, and peppercorns in the pot to season th water. Simmer the pork with the lid on for a couple of hours until it is tender. Then take the lid off and turn up the heat to a boil. Boil off all the water until the pork is frying in it's own fat. Break up the pork into small pieces and fry until the edges are crispy. Serve it in tacos.

        1. I've seen carnitas recipes using oranges, OJ, Coca Cola, orange soda or milk. The recipe in Truly Mexican has an ingredient I'd never seen in a carnitas recipe, leche condensada azucarada...sweetened condensed milk

          Since I live on the border I have access to Mexican butchers so I bought 2 lbs. of trocitos, or pork chunks, most likely from the shoulder and 2 lbs. costillas which were a combinaton of country style and rack of ribs, both cuts had a decent portion of fat still attached which I did not trim.

          Put the meat in a heavy pan and add...3 cups water, 1/2 an orange that is also cut in half, 3-4 bay leaves depeding upon the size, 1 medium white onion thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon each salt and Mex. oregano, 8 cloves of garlic peeled and 1 Tablespoon of sweetend condensed milk. You can also add 1/4 cup of lard or veg oil if the meat is not particulalrly fatty. Bring it all to a boil stirring fairly often, then reduce heat to a brisk simmer, stir every so often, and let it go for 1 1/2 - 2 hrs, uncovered, or until the meat is very tender and the liquid has boiled away.

          Preheat the oven to 450*. Remove the meat from the pan, discard the orange and bay leaves, and then transfer the meat to an ovenable baking dish (I used an 11"x17" Pyrex dish) and bake about 20 mintues, we went a little over as I was busy talking about a recipe when the timer went off.

          Remove from the oven, shred any big chunks of meat if desired and serve.

          The onions and garlic essentially dissolve into the meat and are truly not identifiable. The sweetened condensed milk doesn't add a lot of flavor or sweetness, but what it does do is help the meat crisp up during the oven stage. I think we were all floored at how well the flavors all came together and at how moist the meat was. These disappeared in a heartbeat. I had 2 Mexicans in the class and even they had to admit these were pretty fine. One of them even said the carnitas were the best he's had in the U.S. I'm not sure I would go that far, but they were exceptionally good.

          Another recipe from Truly Mexican that is also truly good is the Guacamole Chamacuero, guacamole with chicharrón. The success of this version depends on being able to get good chicharrón, bagged pork rinds don't count ;-) and I wouldn't serve it with carnitas, but it does make a mightly fine appetizer before a lighter meal.

          17 Replies
          1. re: DiningDiva

            Its not real carnitas without the orange.

            1. re: Joebob

              Is it real carnitas without having been simmered in lard? Adding the juice of an orange maybe a lime helps regulate the temperature for the beginning of the cook, as the water lowers the temp while it boils off. If you use very low heat for 5 or 6 hours, and then step it up to get the crispies ... mmmmm.

              1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                PBS, yes, they are real carnitas without having been simmered in lard. And, yes, you can do it without the copper pot.

                Thanks for the technical info on the use of citrus juice in the cooking process. Learned something new.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I'm sorry; I should have learned long ago that text alone doesn't convey light-hearted meaning very well. They are carnitas when simmered for hours in Coke and finished on the barbecue; they are carnitas when slow-roasted in the oven smeared with adobe, they are carnitas when braised in broth heightened with cumin and oregano. But the lard way is also a fun way and a tasty way. And as you reuse the lard, the flavor becomes more intense.

                  1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                    No worries. On these boards people like to split hairs over minute food details, not the least of which is the topic of "authenticity". Thought perhaps you might be one of those. That's why I tend to use emoticons on these boards.

                    Carnitas can be made many different ways and as long as you get that unctous, porky goodness they're successful ;-)

                    A number of years ago I flew into Guadalajara on a red-eye flight from LAX. A friend who lived there picked me up at the airport and we headed towards Michoacan. I was in dire need of coffee, which in those days wasn't quite a prevalent there as it is now (hello, Starbucks). My friend promised me that if I could hold on for about an hour and half we'd stop for "the best breakfast ever". Sure enough about half way to Micho. we pulled in to have breakfast, only to find it closed. So my friend said if I could hold out another hour she promised me "the best carnitas ever". Sure enough an hour later we hit Zamora and pulled into Carnitas Aeropuerto and open air joint just off the libre. It was 8:30ish in the morning and a batch of carnitas was just coming out of the copper pots. We polished off a half kilo of fresh, hot and incredibly delicious carnitas in no time and were back on the road. Even the Nescafe tasted good with them :-). They always been one of my favorite things, but that breakfast sure cemented them on my list of favorite things in the world...lol

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      Great story. Mine is much more plebeian, involving, as it does, Santa Monica, North of the border, so not nearly as exotic. But the late, lamented Johnny's knew how to make meltingly tender, but yet somehow crispy-around-the-edges cumin, lime and orange scented lard-simmered carnitas, and it took me years to duplicate it. I am so proud of me. :) Now I think Johnny's is a sneakers, I mean athletic footwear, store.

                      1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                        In a previous lifetime I lived in Santa Monica. I don't recall eating at Johnny's, but it was a very long time ago now.

              2. re: Joebob

                Joebob, lots of placed in Mexico where orange is not used. Depends upon the cooks preference

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  True, but IMO, the orange takes it up a notch, as does cooking in lard.

              3. re: DiningDiva

                One tablespoon of SCM for 4 lbs. of pork doesn't seem like it would do much.

                1. re: sandylc

                  You don't need much sugar to carmelize something, which is what I think its' function is in this recipe

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    That could be; if so, I would just add a teaspoon of some other type of sugar rather than opening a can of SCM.

                2. re: DiningDiva

                  So, I made the carnitas with wild pig and sadly, it was still tough. I even used extra vegetable oil. But, my main issue was with the recipe itself. The orange made it pretty bitter. I tried adding more sugar to help cut it, but it didn't help much. I assumed it was supposed to be unpeeled?

                  1. re: NanH

                    Sorry to hear you pork turned out tough. That may have been a function of it being wild and having gotten plenty of strenuous exercise while it was out and about.

                    Yes, the orange is unpeeled, but half an orange shouldn't produce a prounouced better flavor at all. So you know what variety of orange you used? And how big was it? To be honest, I've never had a bitterness problem when using orange in carnitas.

                    1. re: NanH

                      You know, in thinking about the problem you encountered, I think I might have been more inclined to have added additional liquid and extended the simmering time rather than adding more veg oil. The wild pig is probably a tougher pig than one raised for meat and it may simply need a longer cooking time in order to break down the meat so that it's more tender.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        I did both. I am sure it was a function of it being wild. It was on the simmer closer to three hours. The orange was just a grocery store navel. I did halve the recipe and still used half an orange.

                      2. re: NanH

                        M husband is the ones that makes it, we use lard and he uses fresh squeezed orange juice and zest.

                    2. I just recently started making these. After searching several sites, I came up with the following "marinade" that I put the meat in the night before:

                      Cumin
                      Cayenne
                      Chile powder
                      Mexican oregano
                      Salt & pepper
                      Quartered onion
                      A couple smashed garlic cloves
                      Lime juice
                      Small can of chipotle peppers chopped and adobo sauce included
                      Carnitas meat (pork shoulder chunks)

                      Next day, I dump all that into a big, heavy bottomed pot, add one can of chicken stock and enough water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer for two hours covered. I then remove the lid, raise the temp to high, and cook until the liquid has evaporated. I usually cook a little longer in the remaining fat just to crisp it up some.

                      When I make it this weekend, I may try to crisp it in the oven a little.