There are a hundred (too many) recipes for how to make carnitas, and I’ve seen them all.
Add orange rinds. Orange juice. Orange zest. Limes. Lime zest. Onion. Garlic. Milk. Sugar. Brown sugar. Cinnamon. Oregano. Cumin. Coriander seeds. Bay leaves. Marjoram. Jalapeno. Serrano. Pasilla. Chili powder. Tomatoes. Salsa. Hot sauce. Condensed milk. Liquid smoke. Garlic salt. Vinegar. Cider vinegar.
I’ve even seen, “add a cup of Pepsi.”
And after trying most of these variations, I can safely say this:
Keep it simple.
The best carnitas I made were cubes of pork butt cooked in water, lard, garlic, and salt. That’s it. No citrus, no spices, no peppers.
Embrace the lard.
Then do what you wish… eat it plain, wrap it in a tortilla, top it over some greens… I happened to make an enchilada, because I was playing with a new sauce recipe and it needed a vehicle.
And when you’re done, save the fat. It’ll come in handy for your next batch of homemade flour tortillas.
New Mexico Chile Sauce
This is a quick sauce, made with New Mexico chile powder. In addition to using chicken broth, as called for below, you may also add a cup of the pork broth that is used to make the carnitas. Steal about a cup of liquid once the pork has been cooking for about 30 minutes.
~ Ingredients ~
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
- ½ cup chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 cups chicken broth
~ Preparation ~
Time commitment: 15 minutes
- Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir together over the heat for one minute. Stir in the remaining seasonings and tomato paste, then gradually add in the chicken broth, whisking constantly to remove lumps. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until thick. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Carnitas Enchiladas with New Mexico Chile Sauce and Cilantro
Carnitas are pieces of pork meat slow-cooked atop an open flame. Cooking carnitas is a very easy, basic task: just pork, salt and lard. Here, we’ve prepared carnitas the old-fashioned way… then roll ‘em up inside homemade flour tortillas, add a New Mexico chile sauce, top off with some queso fresco and cilantro, and serve hot on the plate.
~ Serves 8 ~
~ Ingredients ~
- 2 pounds pork shoulder or butt, diced into 1 inch cubes
- 1 cup lard or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 5-8 cups water (enough to cover the meat)
- 2 cups New Mexico chile sauce, kept warm (see above)
- 16 homemade 8” flour tortillas, kept warm
- 1 cup queso fresco or cotija cheese
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
~ Preparation ~
Time commitment: 2 hours
- Minute 1: In a large Dutch oven or cast iron pot, place the pork, lard, garlic and kosher salt. Add just enough water to submerge all the pork. Cover with a lid and bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes. At 45 minutes, the pork will be almost tender.
- Minute 50: Uncover the pot and turn the heat to medium high to evaporate off all the water, about 20 minutes.
- Minute 70: The meat will begin to fry in its own fat and lard; carefully brown the meat at medium low heat, stirring frequently, until the pork is evenly browned, about 15 minutes. Note: Do not overcook the meat or it will become very dry.
- Minute 85: Turn off heat; ladle out pieces of pork and let drain and cool on a paper towel-lined plate.
- Minute 100: Using your hands (or two forks), shred the pork meat.
- Minute 105: Add about ¼ cup of pork meat to each flour tortilla, add 1 tablespoon of New Mexico chile sauce, and roll it up. Then add another tablespoon of sauce over each enchilada, sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of cheese and a few cilantro leaves. Serve immediately, with two enchiladas on each plate.
Source: Rustic Garden Bistro, with credit to Mexico in My Kitchen for the carnitas preparation portion of the recipe. It’s the best carnitas recipe I’ve seen anywhere.
Bistro Eats is a collection of recipes we think could work in a bistro setting, i.e. the brick and mortar Rustic Garden Bistro. Click on this category to see a snippet of what the menu may look like.