A couple people asked me for this. I’m not sure it’s a great recipe, but it’s easy. This is pretty close to the Serious Eats recipe, which is better. But mine is less fussy. In any case, if you ate carnitas at my house and liked them, here’s what I did.
A mess of pork shoulder. I get mine from Rob’s shop, skin-on, bone in. 4# barely feeds our family of four. This is one of the things I make that my teenaged kids actually eat.
Citrus. I usually use oranges. Everything works.
Garlic is non-negotiable.
Random aromatics. Onions, tomatillos, and chiles are typical. Bay, oregano, and cilantro too. I am pretty Swedish-Chef about this stuff and usually make do with whatever I have on hand; I don’t shop a lot for a batch of carnitas. The last batch I made, which prompted this post, had nothing but dried herbs; I was too lazy even to add onions. Still worked fine.
Here We Go
This is a very basic and simple braise. If you braise a lot of meat, you can just skim this. Cube, sear, braise in slow oven with no added fat or liquid other than citrus juice, defat, chop and broil hard twice.
With a sharp knife, take the skin and fat cap off the shoulder and the fat cap off the skin. Put the fat in the freezer to render for lard next week.
Bone out the muscle as best you can, but don’t waste a lot of time doing it, because you can throw the meaty bones into the braise and pull the meat off later. Cube up the meat. Don’t waste time being precise. Evenly and aggressively salt it.
In a rocket-hot pan or cast-iron dutch oven, sear the meat in batches. Don’t overcrowd. You will be tempted to; this step is tedious. Don’t cook it through! Adjust the heat once the pan gets used to the meat so you’re getting a quick brown but not burning the fond. Don’t add a lot of oil.
Prep aromatics while meat rests in braising pot. Peel a head of garlic. Quarter enough citrus to cover the top of the meat-filled pot. Squeeze it over the meat, then add the citrus itself and aromatics to the pot with the meat.
I also add the de-fatted skin to the pot for its gelatin. Truth be told, carnitas is a little like a Mexican pork confit, and you probably can’t add too much solid fat anyways, so you don’t need to be fussy about de-fatting the skin.
Cook in a very low oven for about 4 hours. It’s done when the meat comes apart when probed with a metal spoon.
You need the cooking liquid but it will be mixed with entirely too much melted pork fat, so you’ll have to be a little fussy about de-fatting the liquid. At the same time, you want to rest a braise in its braising liquid, so you want to do that first or de-fat quickly so you can add the liquid back to the pork. I usually err on the side of leaving too much fat in the liquid. Any way you do it, you’re going to pull the meat from the liquid for a bit and strain the liquid. When you do, remove the aromatics; they’re spent.
Add some of the liquid and some of the melted fat back to the pork.
Reduce the rest of the de-fatted liquid in a pan. Add more aromatics here if you like. This is where Serious Eats adds tomatillo, but they’re making a salsa verde, which is fussy.
This is the big Serious Eats trick: hit the meat twice with a hot broiler. Chop it (I go Swedish-Chef here with a cleaver), spread it evenly on a pan, taste for seasoning (it will want more salt), then blast it until it’s deep brown, pull it, toss it around with a spatula until the brown bits are hidden, and repeat.
Mix in reduced braising liquid.
Serve with tortillas, crema, cilantro, minced raw onions, all that jazz.