Adventures with Food: Carnitas
Mexican food is probably my desert island food– I never tire of it. Consequently, we have a number of Tex-Mex sort of recipes in our dinner rotation. This recipe is closer to authentic Mexican flavors, and is one of our all-stars; it’s in heavy rotation during the summer months (despite its long oven time), because it tastes so fresh and makes wonderful leftovers. (Give it up for several days of no cooking!) It’s moist and bursting with flavor, it feeds a crowd, it’s economical, it’s easy, you can make it ahead, you can freeze it… the list goes on! We’ve also thrown the meat into cheese quesadillas, but corn tortillas and fresh toppings are hands-down the best. I serve it to my two year old deconstructed (meat, tortillas, and veggies separate), but my older children eat as many fully dressed tacos as we do and then several more plain tortillas for good measure (Pls. send help… Yay for good eaters and all but we still have a long time before they’re teenagers!).
I used to get slightly concerned by how brown (almost black) the bottom of my dutch oven would get as I seared the pork, worried that it would make the dish taste burned once I deglazed the pan, but it never does. I have scaled the original recipe up slightly and tweaked the spices to better suit our tastes. You can also throw the meat in a crockpot after searing if you’re in a pinch, but I find the flavor and texture better in the oven.
Carnitas (Braised Pork Tacos)
4-5 lb. boneless pork loin roast, cut into large (3-4 inch) pieces (don't trim the fat)
1 Tbsp. salt
5 tsp. ancho chile powder (regular works too)
1 heaping Tbsp. ground cumin
1 heaping Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (plus more as needed to keep the pan coated)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is especially nice)
warmed corn tortillas (You have to thoroughly warm corn tortillas otherwise they don't taste very good! Throw them onto a hot skillet or griddle for a minute or two. Plan on serving 3-4 per person.)
Fresh cilantro, washed thoroughly and chopped roughly
How to cook: Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all the spices on a large plate or shallow dish, and roll the pork in it. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat until it's shiny, then sear the pork on all sides until browned. Set aside pork (preferably back into the pan you rolled it in).
- Pour the chicken stock into the dutch oven and scrape the bottom to loosen any browned bits.Add the orange juice, and bring the liquid to a boil. Place the seared pork into the liquid, cover the dutch oven and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid, turn/adjust the meat as needed, and cook uncovered for another 90 minutes, or until the pork is very tender and no longer swimming in liquid. (I semi-shred and/or stir it at about the one hour mark, and then cook it the rest of the way). Shred the meat with forks while still in the dutch oven, allowing the meat to soak up the remaining juices.
- Serve with warmed tortillas and desired toppings. Repeat. And repeat.