This is a recipe for succulent slow-braised pork carnitas that is a delicious filling for tacos or quesadillas. The dish is essentially the Mexican equivalent of pulled pork and is my new favourite thing. In this rendition, I have not cooked it in lard as is traditional, so this recipe is more of a pulled pork vs carnitas. They are not the most photogenic (literally just shredded meat) but piled between flour tortillas and tacos and adorned with whatever garnishes you desire; they are a thing of delicious beauty.
You can cook the pork either on the stovetop, in the oven, in a pressure cooker or in a slow cooker. For this recipe, I have cooked it on the stovetop and in the oven. The meat gets shredded and grilled at the end which gives it a lovely caramelisation and this is a step that should NOT be skipped. You can brown these under a grill (as I did) or you can fry the meat in a hot skillet.
Tomorrow is the 5th of May and Cinco de Mayo – a holiday I wish we celebrated here as I adore Mexican food, so I thought this recipe would be perfect. It’s also Tuesday and #TacoTuesday is the best idea. Build your own tacos with a selection of garnishes that you like such as avocado slices or guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce or slaw, sour cream and fresh cilantro.
Carnitas is so delicious and has a vibrant flavour profile from all the orange juice it is cooked in. The chipotle and cumin give it earthy depth as well as a little kick. These are on the mild side of the spectrum, so ramp up the chillies either during the cooking process or in your toppings.
This recipe was originally developed to pair with MAN Family Wines Jan Fiskaal Merlot and I daresay it was a perfect pairing. This is a classic style Merlot that is really smooth and easy drinking with hints of dark chocolate and cherry. This is the perfect wine to drink at a braai (BBQ).
These are the guidelines for cooking in alternative ways to the way I did based on some fairly reliable web searches. The most important part is to get the meat to shreddable consistency. I have not tested this recipe other than my method.
Carnitas cooked in a pressure cooker:
Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes and then use a natural release for 15 minutes. Remove the meat and shred as per above. Reduce the sauce in the pressure cooker on the sauté setting or decant and do this on the stovetop as per my recipe.
Carnitas cooked in a slow cooker:
Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3 – 4 hours. Check that the meat is shredding before removing it. Decant the sauce to a skillet and reduce further as per my recipe.
Carnitas on the stovetop:
Instead of putting the casserole in the oven, let it bubble gently on the stovetop for 1/2 – 2 hours.
*Traditional Mexican carnitas are cooked in less liquid and with a lot of lard and are insanely delicious. Almost confited in the fat. This is my version which is less fatty but I think packed with flavour and the meat is so juicy.
*As an extra PS – I received a comment on this post from a Mexican person who was offended that I called this recipe carnitas. As I stated above, this is a lighter and less fatty version, and I’m also happy to call it pulled pork. I have made the changes and apologies to anyone who is offended.
More of my Mexican-inspired dishes you might like:
Esquites (Mexican corn salad)
Pork carnitas tacos
- 1.5 kg / 3lb pork shoulder Boston butt trimmed of most of the fat
- 2 – 3 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp chipotle in adobo sauce chopped – or 1 Tbsp chipotle seasoning & 2 Tbsp of finely chopped pickled jalapenos
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- I large onion cut into quarters
- 500 ml / 2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice
- A drizzle of olive oil
- Flour tortillas
- Whatever garnishes you prefer
- Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
- Cut the meat into 5cm / 2-inch pieces and put it into a large, lidded casserole dish such as a cast-iron pot. Add the bay leaves, chipotle, cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, onion and orange juice. Bring to the boil on the stovetop and then with the lid on, place it in the oven and cook for 2 hours.
- Remove the dish from the oven and return it to the boil on the stovetop with the lid off for about 10 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread it out and shred the meat using 2 forks or a spoon. It should be falling apart at this stage. Remove the bay leaves and the onion and discard.
- Drizzle olive oil over the shredded meat and check the seasoning again adding more salt and pepper to taste. Pour ¾ of the sauce over the meat and then place it under a hot grill/broiler and cook for around 5 minutes. When it starts to go brown and crispy, flip the meat over and cook the other side for a further 5 or so minutes. Drizzle the rest of the sauce over the meat and toss to combine.
- Serve the meat with tortillas (corn or flour) and the side dishes of your choice to build your own tacos.