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Mexican Cooking Project #8

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What an absolutely lovely table, a delicious feast. Your guests are so fortunate!


And thanks for the invitation. I'll be briefly in Vermont in late March, all other things being equal. Maybe we could lift a glass, or a knife and fork.


Salud, y provecho.

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I invited friends to dinner for Friday night, without a clue of what I might cook. Last evening, I found myself in front of the meat case at my local groceria, trawling for ideas, when what to my wond

What an absolutely lovely table, a delicious feast. Your guests are so fortunate!   And thanks for the invitation. I'll be briefly in Vermont in late March, all other things being equal. Maybe we

Follow-up...   Dinner was quite tasty. I had way too much liquid. That's okay because it tasted great. I simply ladled off a bunch of the cooking liquid six hours later and in a cast-iron skillet,

  • 2 weeks later...


I am far from fluent in Spanish, but I do know that 'carne' means meat, and literally, 'carnitas' means 'little meats.'


Carnitas are a very traditional Mexican dish. And, traditionally, carnitas are pork, but you can make them with any meat...beef, chicken, lamb, etc., although for leaner cuts, you'll have to add some fat.


And, although I have heard 'carnitas' used in reference to something akin to the 'pulled pork' of the U.S. southeast, most of the time, 'carnitas' are small squares of pork that have been first boiled, then braised or fried, until the insides are moist, tender and flavorful, and the outsides are crispy.... Think 'pork croutons.'


I use pork shoulder, 1-2 lbs worth. Cut into cubes about 1-2" square or so. (You can remove large pieces of fat, but remember that you will need some fat to eventually fry your carnitas. Some people even add a little lard if your roast is particularly lean.) Place in Dutch oven. (You can use a large saucepan, but remember that you will eventually be frying them, or putting them under the broiler, or doing something else to crisp them, so you need a large surface area.) Add water just barely to cover. Simmer, partially covered, till all water is gone and meat starts frying in its own rendered fat. Reduce heat and fry, stirring frequently, till pieces are evenly browned.


That's the basic method.


But of course to make this really flavorful, you need to be creative along the way. So, what are your options?


First, the liquid in which you boil your carnitas: you can use a little or a lot of beer, wine, tequila, chicken or beef broth, vinegar, lemon, lime, or orange juice. Quite a few recipes call for milk - between ½ to 1 cup. I usually use chicken broth, the juice of one orange, about ½ lime, a dash of vinegar, and either tequila, or gin. I really like the sweetness of gin in cooking and use it often, but it's obviously not traditional in carnitas. A friend swears by rum. So, there you go.


Next, you'll probably want to flavor your liquid. The most typical choices for this step are oregano, bay leaves, onions, garlic, epazote, chiles (either chopped or dry or powdered), cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper. One friend puts in some mint; another adds nutmeg and sage. I usually chop up some onions, garlic, chipotles, poblanos, and for seasoning, use a prepared seasoning product called TexJoy that I like with pork and I dust my cubes with that and let them set in the fridge for several hours beforehand.


So now, you've boiled your carnitas down, and you're frying them in the fat, and you might think, "Boy, it'd probably be good if those suckers were caramelizing even more."


Of course, not everyone likes sweetness in their meat, but plenty do. If you're one of them, add a little sugar to the liquid when you add your spices. Choices here are syrups, like Caro or Molasses, or Maple, or brown sugar. Even cola. And if you've added milk, that has enough natural sugars to do the trick. Sometimes I add 2 T brown sugar, and 1 T sorghum (not too much for two pounds of meat, but enough to help brown and caramelize it). Mi amiga, on the other hand, caramelizes a cup of brown sugar in another pan, and then pours it over her browned carnitas, stirring and cooking over high heat for another ten-fifteen minutes or so, until the cubes are well caramelized. Although if you don't like sweetness with your meat, don't bother adding any additional sugars. Your carnitas will still brown up and caramelize nicely.


Rather than browning your carnitas in the fat on top of the stove, many people finish them in an oven on high heat, or under the broiler. Actually, that is my preferred method.


Okay, so now you've got your crispy carnitas. What do you do with them? The answer, of course, is 'anything you want.'


You can just squeeze a little extra lemon or lime over them and serve as is, with some salsa or pico de gallo or escabeche or guacamole and refried beans and tortillas alongside. Or, you can: arrange on top of arroz; garnish a bowl of charro beans; or with chopped onion and cilantro in soft tacos or burritos or quesadillas; or whatever you want.


If you're a person that prefers exact measurements, try this:




Day before, combine:


About 2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into cubes about 1-2" or so (don't remove the fat; you'll need it)

2 chopped white onions

4 garlic cloves, smashed & minced

2 jalapenos, chopped

nice dusting New Mexico red chile power

2 tsp each cumin & oregano (preferably Mexican)


Toss all together. Cover and let sit overnight in fridge.


Next day dump cubes and all into large Dutch oven and add 1/4 C lime juice, 1/2 C orange juice, 1 cup tequila. Then enough chicken broth to barely cover meat.


Allow to simmer stovetop until liquid is gone, and fat is rendering from meat. Keep an eye on it and either cover, or uncover, or partially cover Dutch oven, and turn heat up and down as required to keep the liquid evaporating nicely, but not so quickly that it's all gone before the meat is properly cooked and tender. This may take a little practice.


When the liquid is gone, and the fat is rendering from the meat, turn up heat and fry the pork cubes in their own fat.


Or, turn out into large, shallow roasting pan and spread them out into one layer and roast in hot (450) oven for about 10-20 minutes until meat is crispy (this method is what I prefer). While roasting, stir meat as needed to assure even browning.


Serve with tortillas, pico, slices of lime.


Now, this is the method of making carnitas that I learned long ago, and that I have used lo these many years.


But there are other methods. For one, the famous carnitas of Michoacan.


I am hopeful someone else will step in here and explain how they are made, because I don't know much about them, other than that they are very good. I believe that they are made by starting with your cubes of pork and some lard and frying them from the gitgo.


But again, I don't know, and don't want to give bad advice.


Maybe Cristina or ExtraMSG or RG or one of the other many fine cooks on MF can give us a primer.

I *need* carnitas and I like this recipe a lot. My question is does the marinating really make much difference? Most methods I've seen call for just bunging the whole thing in a pot. I'm happy to delay gratification for 24 hours (write this day in your diary) but wonder if it matters.


Also, I don't like the sweet end of the spectrum but want to use citrus to help break down the meat. Would a combo of orange and lime be just the thing?


Finally some recipes I've found call for adding brandy during the evaporation period. Thoughts?


Thanks jaymes for the help.

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  • 3 weeks later...

As posted in the Breakfast thread:


I did something I've never done last night, and it completely went against the grain. I boiled meat—I know Rancho Gordo does this all the time with chicken, but it's just something I've never done. Shredded Pork (just the meat part) was the easiest thing. Ohmygod.


2.5 pounds of pork shoulder, already cut into strips from Trader Joe's, in a heavy-bottom skillet...just covered with water, with the peel of one lime, three garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, and one teaspoon of salt. Boil and boil and boil. It got really hard, then it softened up.


Dear God.


Breakfast was a corn tortilla topped with pinto beans, shredded pork, two fried eggs, grated jalapeño Monterey Jack cheese, and chipotle salsa and salsa verde.


Boiled meat, who knew?



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Did y'all see carnitas a la Jaymes got a shout-out on Roots & Grubs?

Wow. I had completely missed that.


I particularly appreciated the "99% of Mexicans" comment. After all, I did learn my 'carnitas method' from Mexicans. In Mexico. Not to mention that it's very similar to the method explained by Santa Diana.


Thanks for posting that.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Per Helena's recommendation, making Clifford Wright's carnitas right now. After the braise, I removed the pork butt and threw Rancho Gordo's white posole into the liquid. Holy Mole! It's fabulous! Can't wait for dinner tonight!

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Oh Liza, how wonderful - carnitas are so addictive; in fact i have several seville oranges in the trunk of my car - hauling them (along with RG's red posole) tonight to MA: we invited some friends for a cartnitas party ;)

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