I have a soft spot in my heart for Mexican food. To me, Mexican food can be sort of the perfect comfort food. Once you get past really Americanized Mexican food and Tex-Mex (all of which have their place, and I dig on all of them), you find authentic Mexican food is an amazing mix of savory and sweet, tender and crunchy, creamy, spicy, and deliciously fresh. A great example of this is one of my favorite Mexican dishes — carnitas!
Carnitas are made from the pork shoulder (same meat we use for pulled pork BBQ) and it is first seasoned and slow-cooked, then browned and crisped up before being used in tacos, with eggs, scooped up into tortillas and devoured, or any number of interesting and easy ways. We had ours with warmed flour tortillas the day I made it, but the leftovers made it into breakfasts, on nachos, and just warmed and shoveled into our mouths with a fork.
As part of our Double R Farms pork share, we got a bone-in pork shoulder roast. Patrice and I were discussing different things to do with it, and she suggested carnitas. We were all so excited at the prospect that I just HAD to do it! Good thing it is super easy! When you make these carnitas, no one will believe you haven’t slaved all day over them. The truth is they basically cook themselves.
This is how the pork roast started out. If you look along the “bottom” there, you will see some skin. SKIN! That means we get to have some chicharrones (cracklins!) with our carnitas. Excellent! Those cook themselves too, so it will all go together.
I separated the skin and part of the fat from the roast, and then cut it into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks. You can cut yours into any size pieces you want really, but I chose a smaller size so they would cook a little faster.
From here, I seasoned the chunks in a big bowl with salt, pepper, chili powder, some extra cumin, and two packets of Sazon seasoning. Get in there with your hands and get all the pork chunks coated with the seasoning. Then, dump it into a Dutch oven or heavy oven-safe pan, wash those porky hands, and turn your oven on 300 degrees.
Here’s where the methods start to vary. You can be semi-health-conscious here and just roast/bake your pork shoulder in its own fat and juices in your oven until it is fall-apart tender, or you can go the super-splurge, authentic way and cook them IN FAT. That’s what I did this time, because I was feeling splurgy and feeding John and his son, so I wanted to do it up right. Don’t misunderstand, they’re delicious any way you do this step. Cooking them in fat, sort of like confit, adds a real richness to them. At the end of the day I’d be happy with them either way.
TO BAKE THEM: 300 degree oven, covered, for 2-2.5 hours or until they are fork tender.
TO CROCKPOT THEM: On high until they are fork-tender, which will probably be at least 3 hours.
TO BREAK THE RULES AND GO ALL TRADITIONAL: Add vegetable oil or LARD to your cooking vessel until the meat is submerged in the liquid fat. Cover and put in the 300 degree oven for 3 hours and the pork should be fork-tender.
Remove the pork from the oil, the roasting pan or the crock pot and let it drain its fat or juices. Save the liquids so you can mix some in later if you want to. You can set the meat aside for now because we will sizzle it in a pan before serving, so this is a good make-ahead. Feel free to use this time to make salsa, warm tortillas, make some charro beans, or just have a cold beer. This is YOUR TIME!
When your crowd is gathering, sizzle the pork in batches in a hot skillet, with a little oil or some of the fat from the cooking process. The carnitas will start to fall apart a little in the pan and start to get roasty-toasty with some crispy edges and pieces.
Since the pork is already thoroughly cooked, the degree of crispness is 100% up to you. We like ours deep brown and toasty crispy. The frying adds another layer of flavor. This is also the time to add salt or more spices if you would prefer.
Put it in a big old container and serve family-style, let everyone make their own tacos, burritos, or plates. Serve it up with any condiments you like. It’s even great on a bun as a sandwich (torta)! Here’s how I like mine:
Leftovers refrigerate great and reheat perfectly in the microwave or in a dry skillet. They might even be better the second day. Hard for me to say because we don’t have them around for long after making them!