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Carnitas, a Taco’s Dream

April 29, 2009
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Last weekend, as you might have heard, it reached around 90 degrees F here on the East Coast. Ninety degrees!! Good grief. As much as I am not quite ready for that heat yet, it did get me in the mood for some warm weather food, and one  of the things B and I love to eat as the sun grows warmer on our skin is tacos. I had picked up a pork shoulder from Kingbird Farm last weekend at the farmer’s market, and I knew it was time to make carnitas.

I use a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and method for the carnitas, which really couldn’t be simpler. The pork is cut into chunks, seasoned with salt & pepper, and placed in a heavy Dutch oven with an orange (juice squeezed into the pot first), bay leaves, an onion, dried oregano and cumin. As with any braise, you add enough liquid (in this case, water) to come about halfway up the sides of the meat.




About 2 hours in the oven renders the pork lusciously tender, so tender you can just pull it apart with your fork. The juice left in the pot is reduced down and tossed with the pork chunks to moisten them a bit, and then comes a neat trick: you want to transform the soft chunks of pork into tidbits that are soft on the inside but crispy and brown on the outside, so you spread them out on a wire rack set on a baking sheet and broil them for a few minutes. What emerges is ultra flavorful, with equal parts of deliciously crispy brown bits and soft, tender pork.


We tucked the carnitas into warm corn tortillas along with some red cabbage, cilantro, and local goat’s milk feta. As always, I’d recommend buying good quality, grass-fed pork from a local farm if you can — makes all the difference in flavor! The Bitten Word has the recipe in full posted on their web site, so I’ll send you there since I follow it pretty closely, and stay tuned later this week for the dessert that ended this meal (hint: it’s cold, creamy and dairy-based….and I scream for it!)


12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2009 9:49 am

    Oh, Amy, this looks and sounds delicious! Can’t wait to give it a try (and to hear about the ice cream!).

  2. April 29, 2009 10:29 am

    Looks wonderful to me, of course. We love our Mex food here in SoCal. Carnitas are typically shredded apart around here. I like the looks of how this one is cooked into little bits that get crispy on the outside.

  3. April 29, 2009 5:46 pm

    Yummy! I love the orange idea, I will have to try this. I posted a slow cooker pork taco recipe a while ago that is totally different (lots of chiles and spices) but over the top delicious–I’ll have to try this one and compare! PS please send us the 90 degree weather, it is 50 and raining here in Portland, Oregon!

  4. April 30, 2009 8:38 am

    Mmmmmmm. I’m drooling. Though I love using local products, when I am eating Mexican food my favorite cheese is the squeaky white cheese that you can find at the open markets in Mexico, wrapped in paper. I forget what it is called. Do you know if squeaky cheese is available around Ithaca?

  5. karen permalink
    April 30, 2009 4:38 pm

    MMM. This looks amazing. These look so great all carmelized and soft– yeah I agree with Lori, most carnitas are shredded after cooking but these look so succulent. I love the variation with the crumbly cheese and cilantro.

  6. May 1, 2009 9:58 am

    That does look delicious. I love Mexican.

  7. May 2, 2009 1:06 pm

    Oh my gosh, everything looks so juicy and full of flavor!

  8. May 2, 2009 7:50 pm

    Just made the same thing a couple of weekends ago, very similar spices and crisped at the end, but I did mine in a crock pot and we shredded the meat. Nothing like pork for tacos! I already want to do it again and your charred pieces are making it very tempting.

  9. May 3, 2009 6:48 am

    Kristin – thanks! Ice cream coming soon..

    Lori – thanks; I realized after I made them that I probably could have shredded them more, but…they were still delicious!!

    Chocolate and Toast – your recipe sounds delicious, too! Well, the 90 degree weather is over here and we seem to have reached a happy medium of high 60’s…I’ll take it! 🙂

    Amelia – hi! I actually don’t know the cheese you’re referring to but it sounds intriguing (and delicious on tacos.) Have you ever tried queso fresco?

    karen – thanks! Yes, see comment above about shredding 🙂 – next time!

    Charlotte, Sharon – thanks!

    Melissa – It’s true; the charred pieces are the best part! A crock pot is a great idea for the summer when you don’t want to have the oven going.

  10. May 4, 2009 6:23 am

    Hi Amy – Carnitas were my ultimate fast-food fix when I was living in Berkeley, CA – with the weather warming up I threw together a batch last week – we must be on the same wavelength!!
    I’ll have to try this method out – I like to braise with a bright summer beer and the orange sounds wonderful.

  11. May 9, 2009 4:13 am

    I have a confession to make. I’ve never eaten tacos. You just reminded me that I have to try making them soon because yours look awesome!

  12. January 30, 2011 5:21 pm

    man, that looks delicious. thanks for posting your method and some accompanying photos.

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