Pork + salt + water = carnita. I just recently learned this equation. As a lover of Mexican food, I always assumed that such tender, flavorful tacos required hours simmering in some exotic spice concoction that I would never fully be able to master. I pictured chiles, a mortar and pestle, you know.
But while browsing smitten kitchen I saw Deb’s take take on carnitas, which led me to Homesick Texan, which led me to Diana Kennedy, which led me down this rabbit hole of incredibly easy carnitas recipes and now my life is irrevocably changed.
Jesse’s life has changed too. Now every time I say, “what do you want for dinner?” his answer is “could you make those carnitas again?”
We’ve decided to limit it to once a month.
This recipe is incredibly easy, especially considering the amount of flavor you get out of it. Basically what you are doing is putting the meat in a big pot with water and salt. As the meat simmers for a couple of hours, it becomes incredibly tender. When the water evaporates, the meat then cooks in its own fat until it eventually starts frying in it, leaving you with those delicious crispy ends. Magic!
Full disclosure: Be prepared to have a simmering, rendering pork butt in your home for several hours. When the pork is cooking, it’s going to look like something you do not want to eat. It’s also going to smell a little bit…funny. Not bad, per se, but certainly not like baking cookies. You’re boiling a hunk of meat. I feel strongly that the final result is worth it and I don’t want to discourage you, but I just want to be honest about what to expect.
“Homesick Texan” Carnitas
The three recipes I looked at varied slightly. Diana Kennedy calls for just pork and salt and water (a purist!) The others added a few more ingredients (lime juice and cumin, for example). I’ve made it both ways and was not convinced I could taste a difference. I think the benefit of the added ingredients is that they make you feel like you’re doing something — so in that spirit I’ve included a couple here that I used.
[Update 4/1/13: Ok, after making this one more time, I now think it is a little better with the added ingredients, rather than just salt. So follow recipe below.]
- 2-3 lb pork shoulder or pork butt
- 1/2 C. orange juice (from 2 oranges)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- fixin’s — avocados, radishes, thinly sliced cabbage, lime wedges and sour cream are all nice; tortillas (flour or corn)
1. Cut the pork into 2-3 inch cubes. Leave most of the fat on because you need it for the cooking process (just like a brisket…of pork….)
2. Put the cubes in a large, sturdy pot. Add the salt, orange juice, garlic, and any other ingredients you are using. Fill with just enough water to cover the meat.
3. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about two hours. Don’t touch or stir the meat.
4. After a couple of hours, most of the water should have evaporated. Turn the heat up at this point to medium high and cook for another 45-60 minutes, turning the pieces gently every once in a while, until the rest of the liquid evaporates and the meat is sizzling in its own fat. As you’ll see, this is not the most attractive stage.
5. You’ll know it’s done when it starts to look like carnitas — meaning that the pieces are starting to brown and get a little crusty at the edges and the meat is starting to fall apart very easily. I like my carnitas shredded so I split the pieces apart with a wooden spoon. Don’t overcook or the carnitas will start to dry out.
6. Taste it and add more salt if necessary. Serve in warm tortillas with your fixings and a little bit of lime juice on top. Wear sombreros.
These are equally good leftover, or you can make them ahead and serve them to a group at dinner. Put out a selection of toppings and let people put their own together.