For those who know me, you’ve heard somewhere along the way, that my family lived in Mexico City for just shy of four years. I was little, learning to speak Spanish as well as English as an infant. One of my biggest life’s regrets is that I have not maintained my Spanish. I can read, and my accent is good, but my grammar and vocabulary are not strong. It is on my bucket list to relearn the language.
But, Mexico has had a very strong influence on my life. My mother loved to cook and learned her recipes from the maids we had, who cooked meals from their own kitchens for our home. This recipe is based on my mother’s notes to which I’ve added my own touches. It may or may not be authentic, but it is delicious.
The ingredients are pretty common, and like most of my recipes, there will be options along the way.
So what are Carnitas? Literally, it translates to “Little Meats,” and that’s essentially what it turns out to be, small pieces of, in this case, pork, spread on a tortilla, with or without slaw, and with guacamole and/or salsa.
The finished product will serve about 12 people, or, you can take 1/2 the meat and freeze it until I put my chilaquiles rojos recipe up on the site.
- 8# of pork shoulder, without bone, or 10# with the bone, cut into 2″ pieces
- 1 onion rough cut
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with side of the knife
- 3 tbsp. dried oregano
- 2 tbsp. dried thyme
- 1 tbsp. dried ground cumin
- 1 tbsp. paprika
- 5 dried bay leaves
- 2 serrano chiles, sliced, seeds left in
- 3/4C orange juice
- 3/4C beer, lager or dark beer preferred
- 1 orange, peel on, cut into chunks OR 1 mango, peeled, cut into chunks and toss the pit in as well.
- 1-2 tbsp. olive oil for finishing in a skillet
Now comes the easy part. Take the cut meat, onion, garlic, spices, chiles, orange or mango, orange juice and beer, and put it in an oven safe pot. Make sure the pot is only about 1/2 full. As the meat stews it will release a lot of moisture and you don’t want it overflowing all over your oven. If you do have a bone-in pork shoulder, toss the bone in too. It will just add to the flavors.
Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil, sealing it all the way around, to ensure a tight seal that will keep the steam in. Put the pot into a pre-heated 325 degree oven and go find something else to do for about 5 hours.
Now we disassemble the pot. Remove the meat from the pot. If the pieces are still huge, you can just tear them easily apart with two forks. The fruit will probably have disintegrated, but if it hasn’t, feel free to pull it out with the meat. Carefully dispose of all the liquid. Do not pour it down your drain. It will have a lot of fat which might clog your sink or septic. Pouring it into an old jar and trashing it is safer.
This can be made and served immediately, or, like many dishes that are stewed, the flavors will develop and meld by the next day. Either way, before serving, add a tbsp. or two of olive oil to a heavy skillet. Heat the oil until if you place your hand over the pan, a couple of inches away, you’ll feel the heat. Add the meat to the pan and heat quickly. This will create a nice crust on the outside of the meat, while heating it through. Put it on a serving plate. You just want a crust – please do not overcook it. It will be very tender and flavorful. The crust is just a nice texture variation to enjoy.
Heat a good quality CORN tortilla, serve with a nice cabbage slaw (without mayo) preferably, guacamole and/or salsa. A black bean and corn salad is also a delicious side with these. Unlike Tex-Mex tacos, made with ground beef, Carnitas are much more authentic to Mexico City than Tijuana, or Arizona for that matter.
Once on your plate, using a fork, tear the meat apart and spread it out down the middle of the tortilla. Add slaw if desired, or eat the slaw separately on the side. Roll the tortilla with the meat inside as tightly as you can without breaking the tortilla and add guacamole bite by bite.
You might never eat a ground beef taco again!
Heating tortillas: I have found a new brand of tortillas, Guerrero, that have the best flavor and texture next to home made. They can be heated in a number of ways. You can wrap about 6 in foil and heat them in the oven for a few minutes at 350, or, if you have a tortilla microwave cover, follow the directions. However, the more authentic way, and the way I find gives the best flavor and texture, is to use a pancake griddle. Using a paper towel, spread a very thin coat of oil and heat it until it is very hot. Place the tortilla on the griddle, cook for about 20-30 seconds, flip and cook the 2nd side. Pile them up in foil and close tightly. They will stay warm for you to enjoy through your meal.