Carnitas need no introduction. Besides al pastor, they are probably the greatest pork product to ever have come out of mexico, and they are so easy to make at home, especially with this trick in your back pocket.
Most recipes you find for carnitas say you need lard to get that beautiful pork confit effect, but what if you don’t want to buy lard or can’t find any? I had the idea recently to use pork belly to make a self-confit carnitas and it worked out great.
This trick works because you cut everything up into 1″ cubes, which sounds like a lot of work, but with a sharp knife, it’s really fun. You could probably convince a butcher to do it for you as well. After that, you just scatter the pork belly up in between the shoulder and, as it cooks, the fat melts right off the belly and confits the pork.
Bonus: you end up with pork belly in your carnitas, and if that isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is. All the herbs and spices are optional, but they’re traditionally what’s included in hierbas de olor, aka Mexico’s bouquet garni, and it’s what sets this carnitas apart and makes it taste just like the good taqueria in town, especially the cinnamon.
People are always saying homemade sourdough is the ultimate quarantine food because it takes a lot of time and we all have a lot of time these days to hover around the kitchen. I disagree: traditional carnitas is actually the ultimate lockdown recipe. I made this on the stovetop and it was so perfect for lockdown. Just put it on the lowest heat and give it a stir every hour or so. Your whole house smells good, it gives you a reason to get up every so often, and something really magical happens between hour 4 and hour 6. You could also do this on the slow cooker, but why take that out if you don’t need to?
I thought this recipe would make carnitas tacos for days, but it was so good that they basically only lasted through lunch and dinner. We haven’t made it out to our local taqueria this year, and now it’s looking like it’s going to be even longer before we do, because between this and our birria taco recipe, we have our own little taqueria here.
Tips for the best tacos:
- Those little tortilla warmers they sell do a really good job warming up your tortilla, but since you have all this pork fat, why not dip the tortillas in pork fat and fry them up over a low flame?
- The best tacos are saucy and spicy, so pre-sauce your tacos before they land on the table. If you’re feeling lazy, aardvark sauce makes for a pretty darn amazing lazy salsa
- It’s better to pack more meat into fewer tacos than the other way around. Ignore the photos in this post. A good taco should be fat and happy, and doubled up on the tortilla.
The Best Stovetop Carnitas Recipe
- 2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
- 1 lb boneless pork belly skinless optional
- 1 tbsp dried oregano mexican preferred
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 6 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 stick cinnamon
- juice of large orange about 1lb
Cube your pork belly and pork shoulder, then season with salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin. Toss to combine and mix well.
In a heavy pan able to snugly hold the meat (about 2qt), add 2 tbsp oil and saute the onions until golden and translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute.
Add the meat, cinnamon, and orange juice. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Turn the heat all the way down as low as it will go. Cook, stirring once every hour or so, trying to keep the meat as flat and packed down as much as possible.
When the meat is done, remove the cinnamon stick and store in an airtight container in the fridge. To make tacos, crisp up the meat in a dry cast iron or nonstick skillet, then serve in doubled up warm tortillas with plenty of onions, cilantro, lime, and salsa.
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