Tuesday, September 29, 2009

South of the Border Goodness

When I found the website of the Homesick Texan, I was enthralled.  Her food photography is amazing, and her recipes are even more so.  However, I can't eat more than half of them!  Here is my take on one of them that has forever changed my relationship with pork.  I thought bacon was the end all, until I met Carnitas.

My Darling Carnitas 
inspired by Carnitas, Houston Style
Feeds two quite well with leftovers but feel free to double or triple the recipe to feed a crowd
Cooking Time: 3 hours start to finish (or four if you double/triple the batch)

1 3lb boneless pork butt or shoulder (same thing, but I prefer butt since I watched too much Beavis and Butthead as a kid)--make sure you DO NOT remove the fat!
1 C acidic fruit juice (I have tried orange juice, apple juice, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice with success, just make sure you get 100% juice)
1 T cumin
1 T garlic powder
1/2 T salt
1/2 T pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper

To prepare the meat, DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT--that is what makes carnitas.  If you don't want a fatty meat, don't try carnitas.  This is not an everyday meat, but a delicacy.  Cut meat into long strips about an inch wide and 3+ inches long.  Add to a big, deep pot--such as a dutch oven (no lid needed).  Best method: season the meat now while dry by adding cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper and massage into meat.  Will do method: add seasonings after liquid and try to move the pork around.  Either way, the liquid will mix with the spices and the pork will have its seasoning.

Once the pork is in the pot, seasoned or not, add the juice and then add water to just submerge the pork (the water always varies with how much meat you are using and size/shape of your pot--tap is fine).  Crank the heat up to high and come to a good boil (watch carefully since it could foam up and make a mess).  Really wait until you get a good, clear boil going.  The surface should be a tempest!  Then, turn the heat down to low slowly so you don't lose all of the bubbling (start at medium low or 4 on the dial then reduce to 3 or perhaps even 2 as long as you can keep a simmer) and simmer for 2  hours uncovered (3 for larger batches).  DO NOT TOUCH THE MEAT during this time.  Your fussing will just make it into pulled pork, which although good, is not what we are going for at this stage.

After 2hrs (3 for larger batches), crank the heat up to medium high and let her go for a good half hour before checking for browning at the bottom.  During this last hour, the liquid will reduce down to fat and fry the meat on the bottom.  Reaching this stage happens fast--you can have bubbling liquid reducing and no brownage one minute and burnt meat the next, so after a half an hour, check back OFTEN to look for frying.  Once frying, now you get to SCRAPE the bottom (be careful if using non-stick--I destroyed too many non-stick pans and now use a big stainless steel pot that I can take the metal spatula to--but it is tough work!) and turn the meat to brown it as much as you feel comfortable with.  All the small bits will blacken, but they aren't carbon--they are caramelized meat from the fruit juice and pretty damn tasty--but you don't want your whole batch of carnitas to be black.  The scraping can get labor-intensive if you have a sticky pot, but your work is definitely worth the effort!

Once you have a desired degree of browning, remove from the heat and strain the meat from the fat (a wire mesh strainer works well--but don't go crazy straining all the juices out too, use a light squeezing with the back of a spoon). And DON'T throw away that fat!  Store it in another container for cooking eggs and plantains (see picture below).  It is delicious!  The cooled meat will store for a week in the refrigerator in a covered, air-tight container (and the fat can last even longer).  But there won't be leftovers for long!

Pork Carnitas on FoodistaPork Carnitas


  1. Everyone should try this, it is seriously one of the best things I have ever tasted! It goes lovely with the plantains too.

  2. Made this tonight. It was FANTASTIC!

    Thanks so much for sharing this awesome recipe. The kids dug it too :)

  3. So glad you and your family enjoyed this! I love to indulge in carnitas! So delicious!

  4. I got some pork shoulder at the market yesterday. We're going to try this recipe this week!

  5. My homies Amelia and Jon (formerly of Santa Cruz) pointed us to this recipe. After forcing them to make it for us numerous times we finally gave it a go. Delicious! We used bottled lime juice, and cut the suggested salt in half (per Amelia's recommendation). It came out great and the kids gobbled it up. If I use bottled lime juice again I might use a bit less (3/4 cup) since it's a pretty powerful flavor.

    I really want to try it with pineapple juice though...


  6. That is great to hear, Phil! I have been making mine lately in the slow cooker first before stovetop boiling with 6-10#s of pork shoulder, or if I can find it: Boston Butt (usually fattier), and OJ or my fall favorite: apple juice straight off the farm. I usually just add salt, pepper, and cayenne to it with the apple juice (1c per 5#) and it is SO delicious! Here is the slow cooker version of my recipe if you don't have the time for stovetop: http://feastingonfitness.blogspot.com/2011/09/diy-food-adventure-slow-cooker-carnitas.html