Carnitas Tacos

You may have heard rumors about how carnitas are cooked. Rumors about vast quantities of lard, in which massive chunks of pork swim, braising over the lowest heat possible until they’re fall-apart tender. Well, these rumors are true -- this is how carnitas are traditionally made, but the traditional way is not the only way. 

This absolutely genius recipe adapted from Serious Eats proves that you can make beautifully tender carnitas with that trademark crispness without having to put a chunk of your savings towards pork fat. Instead, these carnitas are oven-cooked, packed tightly together with a drizzle of vegetable oil, creating a moist braising environment that softens them up beautifully. The liquid is then poured off, the fat separated and poured back over the meat, which is then pulled into shreds and placed under the broiler to give it brown, crisp edges.

Carnitas Tacos

Vanns Cinnamon Sticks and Vanns Bay Leaves provide the perfect hints of warmth throughout. And, as a bonus, this recipe uses the leftover pork juices to make a savory, bright tomatillo salsa to drizzle over the meat! Everything you need for the best taco night ever is right here.

Spices used in this recipe


Salt, Kosher
Cumin Ground
Bay Leaves
Cinnamon Sticks

Ingredients

  • 2 medium white onions
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (or butt), rind removed
  • Vanns Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Ground Cumin
  • 1 medium orange
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • Vanns Bay Leaves
  • 1 Vanns Cinnamon Stick, broken into three pieces
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 6 medium tomatillos, peeled, washed, and halved
  • 2 jalapeños, stem removed, cut in half lengthwise (remove seeds from one or both for a milder salsa)
  • 3 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
  • About 24 corn tortillas

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F, with a rack in the middle. 
  2. Finely dice one white onion and toss with cilantro leaves. Refrigerate until serving.
  3. Cut the pork shoulder into 2-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Toss with 1 Tbs. kosher salt and 1 tsp. ground cumin to season. Place pork in a single layer in a 9”x13” glass casserole dish. The pork should be tightly packed with no spaces. 
  4. Cut the orange into quarters. Squeeze each quarter over the pork and then nestle the squeezed quarters into the meat. Cut the second white onion into quarters and nestle 4 into the pork, along with 4 of the garlic cloves, the bay leaves, and the cinnamon stick pieces. 
  5. Pour the vegetable oil over the pork, cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, and cook in oven until pork is fork tender, about 3 ½ hours.
  6. When pork is done, remove from oven. Set a large fine-meshed strainer over a large bowl. Remove the orange peel, onion quarters, garlic cloves, cinnamon stick pieces, and bay leaves from the pork with tongs and discard. Transfer the pork and its juices to the strainer and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork back to the casserole dish. 
  7. You should end up with about ½ cup liquid and ½ cup fat in the strained liquid. Carefully skim the fat from the liquid using a flat spoon, adding it back to the pork as you go.
  8. Shred the pork into large chunks with your fingers or two forks and season to taste with salt. Refrigerate pork until ready to serve.
  9. Pour remaining pork liquid into a medium saucepan and add the tomatillos, remaining 2 onion quarters, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeños. Add some water -- just enough to raise the liquid to a level 1 inch below the tops of the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are completely soft, about 10 minutes. 
  10. Allow the vegetables and liquid to cool for 10-15 minutes, and then transfer to a blender, or use a hand blender in the pot. Blend until smooth and season to taste with salt. Chill completely in the refrigerator before serving.
  11. To serve, preheat your broiler to high. Place the casserole dish with the pork under the broiler and broil until nicely browned and crisp on top, about 6 minutes. Stir the pork and broil for another 6 minutes, or until crisp again. Cover with foil to keep warm while you heat the tortillas.
  12. To heat the tortillas, you can wrap up to 5 of them in a damp paper towel, place them on a plate, and microwave in 30-second bursts until heated through. This is the easy way. The more time-consuming but more easily-controlled method is to heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat until hot, and then dip each tortilla in a bowl of water, before putting them on the skillet, cooking until the water evaporates and the tortilla develops brown spots, about 30 seconds. Then, flip the tortilla and cook for an additional 15 seconds. Transfer the tortillas to a tortilla warmer or wrap in a clean dish towel.
  13. Once your tortillas are warmed, it’s time to assemble your tacos! Stack two tortillas on top of each other, top with around 3 Tbs. of carnitas, and add your choice of condiments! A sprinkle of the chopped onion and cilantro gives a nice raw bite, while the tomatillo salsa adds a nice hit of acid. Queso fresco gives a nice salty creaminess. I also like to add pickled red onions to mine, the recipe for which you can find here. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the tacos to taste.

Makes around 12 tacos, or 6 servings. Adapted from Serious Eats.

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