Monday, February 15, 2010

Feb 15: Michoacan-Style Pork Carnitas

Watching PBS... I got to hankering to make carnitas.

Typically, the carnitas recipes I've run across cooks the pork by braising and the final step is to crisp up the meat by roasting in the oven or pan-frying. My first attempt at carnitas, Carnitas 2008

What caught my eye about this recipe is the pork is cooked in fat, sort of like a confit.
It's intriguing... yet a little daunting cooking in all that fat.

However, I'm always looking for a good carnitas recipe so I decided to give it a shot.

The recipe is based upon Chef Rick Bayless's recipe.
However, I scaled it back by 1/4th.

Michoacan-Style Pork Carnitas (

2.5 lbs Pork Shoulder (skin-on picnic shoulder is a good choice, too)
1.5 lbs Pork Belly
2 T Lime Juice
1 T salt
1 lb Lard
1 C of Bacon Grease
2 Slices of Bacon
Vegetable oil as needed


1. Mix together the lime juice and salt. Smear the mixture on all sides of each piece of pork, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

[I actually kind of backed off of using the whole 1T of salt for fear of creating salt pork. In the end, I probably used 1/2 T of salt and 2 or 3 T of lime juice.]

2. Heat over medium-high heat until the lard or oil reaches about 275 degrees.

[Lard, bacon and veggie oil.]

[As I was melting the lard, I remembered I had a stash of bacon dripping in the refrigerator. Yay! More flavor being added to the lard!]

Carefully lower in the pieces of pork, excluding the juices. (Add the bacon, if you're using it.) Adjust the heat to between medium and medium-low. After the oil's initial frenzy of having received the moist pork, it should settle into what looks like a brisk simmer when you have the temperature right. You'll notice, too, that the temperature will have dropped to just above 212 degrees - the boiling point of water - indicating that the meat is literally simmering in the oil. Using a pair of long tongs or one of those large Chinese wire strainer/skimmers, gently move the pieces of meat every 10 minutes or so.

[After adding the pork, I added about another cup of veggie oil to bring up the oil level. Added a couple extra slices of bacon for more flavor. This is the simmer phase of the cooking process, 212F. That's one big pot of oil!]

[Just in case... I added a splatter screen to minimize the mess.]

3. In about 1 1/4 hours, the meat should be completely tender, but not falling a part - start checking it at about 1 hour.

[After 70 minutes, the oil temp was raising, 230F at this point.]

When it is completely tender - meaning you can pretty easily pull it away from the bone - remove it to a large paper towel-lined pan. The carnitas are ready to eat - though they may not be as brown as you're expecting. (They will, however, take on more of a golden color as they begin to cool.)

[The meat was removed from the oil onto a paper towel lined dish.
The oil was heated to 325F for a final frying.

Yikes! The final 325F fry created quite a mess with a lot of splattering.
Be careful with this step.]

To give them a richly browned exterior, heat the oil to 325F.
Fry one piece at a time and let brown - it'll only take 45 seconds to a minute.
Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until you're ready to serve.

[After the final fry, I sprinkled a little SusyQ, garlic powder and onion powder onto the hot carnitas.

The finished carnitas... shredded with a fork. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.
Note the thick bark - crispy brown layer on the surface!]

The Finished Carnitas - Carnitas Tostada.


The Layers:
Corn Tortilla
Refried Beans
Red Onions
Green Onion
Sliced avocado and extra tomato served on the side.

Notes about the recipe...
1) Cooking at 325F created a lot of splatter.
* Too much moisture from the pork belly and skin?
* Next time will not use pork belly nor will I buy skin-on pork.
2) In lieu of the 325F browning step, just frying longer with higher heat will probably be good enough.
3) The 1/2T was enough salt.
* Read other recipes online where people actually pour orange juice into the simmering oil.
* Also, can add other spices to the oil or into the marinade.

Overall, a tasty version of carnitas with a lot of potential and variations to add extra flavor to the pork.

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