Carnitas (Car-knee-tahs) literally means “little meats”. To anyone who’s ever experienced a real Taco de Carnitas, it means so much more. The best definition might be the Buddhist concept of Nirvana: “A state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic place”.
Carnitas originated in the Mexican state of Michoacan, a beautiful agricultural region with a wide coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Carnitas are traditionally made by slowly simmering huge chunks of heavily seasoned pork in copper vats filled with lard (rendered pork fat). When the meat becomes tender in three to four hours, the carnitas are finished by turning the heat way-up and crisping the outsides of the tender meat. The carnitas are then chopped on demand and served in warmed corn tortillas topped with chopped cilantro, diced white onion, salsa, and guacamole with beans on the side.
Tacos de Carnitas
- Large Dutch oven with cover or large heavy pot
- 3 lb Boneless pork shoulder Remove and save fat
- 1 cup Sliced yellow onion
- 3 Cloves garlic, crushed
- 1½ tbsp Kosher salt
- 3 tbsp Dark brown sugar
- 1½ tsp Dried Mexican oregano
- ¼ tsp Ground cinnamon
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1 Orange, juiced
- 1 Lemon, juiced
- 3 tbsp Vegetable oil
- ½ cup Rendered fat from reserved pork fat
- 24 Corn tortillas
- 1 small White onion, diced
- 1 Small bunch cilantro, chopped
- 2 Limes, cut into wedges for squeezing
- 1 cup Salsa verde and/or guacamole
- Kosher salt
- Marinate Pork – Remove and reserve all outside fat from pork butt. Cut into 3-inch chunks. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add pork, onion, garlic, brown sugar, salt, oregano, bay leaves, orange and lemon juices. Toss to coat meat, cover, and refrigerate anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.
- Cook Pork – Bring pork to room temperature. In a small pan, heat reserved fat over very low heat to render out fat. When crispy, scoop out crispy bits and pour liquid fat into a cup measure. If there's less than ½ cup, top it off with vegetable oil to get to a ½ cup. Pour over the pork in the pot, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for about 3 hours. Begin checking for doneness after 2 hours. When done, pork pulls apart easily with a fork.
- Shredding Pork – With a slotted spoon, remove cooked pork to a bowl. Discard cooking liquid and clean the pot. Using a cleaver or 2 forks, shred pork into small chunks or strips.
- Crisp Pork – Return pot to stove top over high heat. Add oil and when starting to smoke add a batch of pork being careful not to crowd (it'll steam instead of crisp). Turn as needed to get crisp on both sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a bowl and repeat until done. Lightly salt.
- Serve – Place 4 stacks of 6 tortillas between wet paper towels and heat for 30 seconds in a microwave oven. Stack them in a towel-covered basket. To eat, place some meat in the middle of 2 folded tortillas, top with salsa, onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Serves with some refried beans on the side. Devour and repeat.