Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Crispy Pork Carnitas – These “Little Meats” are Special Treats

There’s nothing like carnitas. Cubes of fragrantly spiced pork are slowly cooked in lard until they’re crispy on the outside, while at the same time remaining soft and succulent inside. Bust some up on a warm tortilla, drizzle with braising liquid, top with a little salsa, onion, and cilantro, and you’re probably enjoying the world’s best taco.

I said probably, since these things can be debated forever, and who has that kind of time when there are carnitas to make? This is a very simple recipe to adapt to the home kitchen, and as long as you cook the pork until it’s fork tender before crisping, you’re almost guaranteed a gorgeous pile of memorable meat.

I show how to do a whole pan at once under the broiler, but you can just as easily crisp up small batches in a frying pan set on medium-high heat. Just spoon in some reserved fat, and cook until crisp. Either way, this is a very important step, and not to be skipped.

There are hundreds of different spice combinations you can use here, and I often switch things up. I always include the salt, pepper, orange, garlic, and cinnamon, but then see where my mood takes me. Having said that, this is a pretty typical ingredient list, except for maybe the Chinese 5-Spice.

Mine contained cinnamon, fennel seed, clove, ginger, and star anise; so if you can’t find any, just add a pinch of each of those things instead. It seemed to add a little extra sweetness to the meat, and I may even use more next time. Besides that, oregano and/or thyme are nice additions, as are various chili powders.

If you’ve never tried to make carnitas at home, I really hope this inspires you to try. If you’ve never had carnitas at all, I need you to call in sick tomorrow, and make this recipe immediately. It’s that good. And don’t forget the fire-roasted salsa. Enjoy!


Ingredients for 6 servings Carnitas:
3 pounds boneless pork butt (shoulder), rind removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt (this needs to be salted generously!)
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice
1 orange, peel and juice
8 cloves peeled whole garlic
2 bay leaves, torn in half
1/4 cup olive oil
- Roast at 275 F. for about 3 1/2 hours or until fork tender

40 comments:

Bill Best said...

Would this recipe work with a pork loin, or is that too lean a cut of meat to use?

Looks great! Can't wait to try this!

Bill Best said...

Would this work with pork loin, or is that too lean a cut of meat to work with this?

Looks great! Can't wait to try it!

Seth said...

What a coincidence, I just made carnitas for the first time ever a week and a half ago (was sad I couldn't find a recipe on your site), and am about to make it again in a couple days! The method I used before was to put the pork, spices, and other ingredients in a dutch oven and cover with a braising liquid, put that in the oven, then take it out, reduce the braising liquid to a syrup like sauce and mix it in with the pork before putting it under a broiler. It turned out quite good, though I had put whole orange halves in which disintegrated and was impossible to separate from the pork, but just using the peel + juice would avoid that issue (I didn't really mind having the carnitas be super orange-y anyway).

Anyway, if you're familiar with both that method and your own, why is your method the better way to go? And if you're not familiar with both, is there any major problems with the braising method that you can think of?

I'll probably try yours in a couple days either way so I can make the comparison myself, but thought I'd ask!

Unknown said...

Can I use pork loin roast?

Randy Sieb said...

Looks amazing! Instead of the oven could I do an all day slow cooker braise?

Angela said...

This looks marvelous!

Alex Weber said...

As a Beijing-based San Francisco exile, I dream of carnitas, especially in taco or Mission burrito form! However, my wife is Moslem, and she would not appreciate me filling the house with the oh-so-delicious smell of pork. Do you think I could get any mileage trying a similar technique with any of the many cuts of beef available? I known fat content will be an issue...

Chef John said...

No, to pork loin! Not enough fat, and why are you wanting to use a more expensive meat anyway?

Slow cooker could work, but never tried.

RE: other meats, not the same!

Alex Weber said...

I think I'm showing up at my neighbor's with a bottle of wine and 3 lbs of pork butt tomorrow. :P

cu_marty said...

I'm curious, why no vinegar? I realize you're getting some acid from the orange, but it seems like vinegar usually carries more tang/twang through to the end of the cook. I've been thinking about making some of this for a couple days, but am torn between crisping the meat under the broiler or going all-in and deep frying it. what are your thoughts?

Bill Best said...

Thanks, I had a feeling it was too lean. I picked some up on sale and am tired of making roasts out of the loin.

I'll try your maple brined pork loin recipe instead. :)

drlpipe said...

Fantastic, Chef John. I love Carnitas and I've tried many recipes... can't wait to try yours. I also like the nice touch on your final tacos with only adding a touch of diced onion and cilantro. So far I have personally preferred pulling the meat (like pork BBQ) and then crisping it in a pan (no flattop at home sadly) with some lard or butter.... omg. But the broiler method for chunks seems good and probably more traditional and I will try it with your recipe. Cheers!

haaya123 said...

Hello, Chef John! I used your recipe to make carnitas today and it was riquísimo! Chinese 5-spice? No mames! I substituted that Asian stuff and put in a bottle of beer (Pacífico) and dried chile de árbol. And I loved all the crispies. I also mixed 2Tbsp of the pork fat, lime zest, and comino to my homemade corn tortillas and they were the best I've made to date. Mil gracias! Houston, TX

Paul B said...

Looks insanely delicious, Chef! Will have to give it a try.

Big fan of your work. Would love to collaborate on some fun stuff sometime.

Paul
Amoretti

Steven said...

What kind of tortilla is that? Looks good

edward said...

Overall this is the recipe I use - though I use oregano and no star anise - I also throw in a bit of lemon juice to the braising liquid - makes the most awesome tacos - or just be like chef and grab a handful of meat and eat it :) Just wanted to say - if it seems at all time consuming I put it all in a pressure cooker, cook if for 40/45 minutes, then fry it in a pan with some liquid/fat til it's absolutely crispy. Best tacos you'll ever make.

philogaia said...

Pork butt, my favorite cut of meat. That spicing looks great. I made carnitas not long ago but may need to again soon! I'm wanting to try doing my own tortillas from nixtamal and I can't think of a better filling.

Mark Anderson said...

Great recipe. The broiler thing is brilliant. (Why didn't I think of that?)
The corn tortillas--I've never made a decent corn tortilla. Show us how?

William DiStefano said...

So Very Full... absolutely fantastic, thank you Chef!

rancholyn said...

This looks amazing!!! Please let us know more about tortilla...also, if anyone uses crock pot before browning and is successful...please post....

Chris K. said...

Not for nothing, but thinly sliced radish is a great topping for carnitas. The crunchy texture and bite provide a nice contrast to the fatty pork.

I like to flatten out the chunks of meat a little bit before broiling, for added crispiness. Then I toss the meat with the braising liquid, reduced until it's almost a syrup.

Phil Hayne said...

Just made the fire-roasted cherry tomato salsa, and the carnitas are in the oven. Can't wait to try them together!

couturiermommy said...

I just made this for the family. It was awesome. Very easy. This would be great for a party. It is a low maintenance dish. Thanks chef! You rock.
Justin

Mark LeFond said...

I just made these little meats and they were fantastic! Since, as Chef John mentioned, I am the jefe of my carnitas, ese, I chose to reduce the cinnamon by 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp and it was just right for me. This recipe was a banger, evidenced by the fact that everyone exercised very poor judgment in terms of portion control.

For our porkless friends I would suggest trying it with a boneless chuck roast. It has the fat and connective tissue that makes this good, while still adhering to your value system. It will be different and not really carnitas but it can't possibly go that wrong, IMO.

Carla said...

Yummmm! I always mix whichever spices tickle my fancy that day but I don't think I have tried that particular spice mix.
I also vary liquids and the best i've ever tried was an odd mix of cola and passion fruit juice. Wonderfully sweet and sour!

Greg Ryan said...

Great and so simple!!! I love carnitas tacos..... almost as much as Al Pastor. Only if someone could show me how to make Al Pastor too...........

OldLadyBlus said...

Just made this --- Wow are they good. Super easy and Oh so delicious. I must say the smell of this dish is heaven. Love you chef John. By way of your blog and videos, you have changed me from a stand on the sidelines cook to an adventurous thrill seeking cook. I thank you and my family thanks you.

Warren Drell said...

Just wanted to share my Abuela's recipe here. Takes about 3.5-4hrs in a slow cooker. Enjoy!
http://i.imgur.com/dxwRT.jpg

Chef John said...

Thanks!

Bill said...

I made this with about 4 lbs of pork, so I've been eating off it for a couple of days. I finished the first batch under the broiler, but subsequent meals I've just thrown a few pieces in a frying pan. It works great for for 2-3 tacos and after pork is fried, I use the residual heat in the pan to warm the tortillas. Scrambled with eggs, it makes a great breakfast.

Mikey B said...

Chef John,

What a fantastic recipe! We loved it. Now for my "modifications". I made this on a Sunday morning before the 1pm games (yes I'm on the East Coast) in time for kickoff. My brother lives in Naples, FL and was visiting. I had asked him to stop by a great butcher shop there that carries Berkshire pork and get a pork butt. The butcher told him that they did not have anything under 7+ pounds, so instead he got a Japanese pork neck cut, which I had never heard of. What a great cut of meat for this! Tender and delicious, similar to a pork butt, with a more "firm" overall consistency. I was able to trim quite a bit of fat off and throw into the mix, as you suggest. The carnitas were unbelievably tender and delicious--I've been imagining how to incorporate Chinese five-spice into more dishes. The smell is amazing. Thanks for another awesome recipe idea.

Marcy said...

This was about the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. The men in my life now love you. I wrote about it here if you’re interested: http://www.tootimidandsqueamish.com/2014/11/pork-carnitas-meatlovers-prepare-to-swoon-multimedia-splice-1-a-new-link-party/

Dan said...

So excited about making this tomorrow! If I need to let this sit for an hour while other things get cooked in the oven, should I keep it covered in the heavy foil and do the crispification right before serving?

david charles said...

Chef John you know your stuff! It is rare that a recipe that I try out for the first time turns out - well this didn't just turn out.. it was amazing. My husband loved them. I may leave out the Chinese 5 spice next time I make them - would that alter the dish too much, would I need to substitute anything? I am a fan and will DEFINITELY be trying more of your recipes.

Wren said...

I had never had carnitas before. It was an eye-opening experience. The supple corn tortillas, the way the cilantro and crema play together to make something not unlike raita, and of course the juicy but crispy pork... Heaven!

I rendered out a tub of lard to use instead of the healthier alternative. A pack of pork fat cost me about a dollar and three days in the crockpot rendering, and the results were so worth it.

...does spiced "lard" need to be refrigerated?

Chef John said...

Yes, I would refrigerate. Thanks!

David Krueger said...

I just made this again With substitution this time of coconut milk for the milk. It came out wonderfully. I love the little bit of sweetness the coconut milk adds. I got the idea from your chicken Teaka masala. I will post a picture when I make this again.

Harold M said...

Uh, David, there's no milk in this recipe.... think you're confused.

galaxydreams3 said...

We can't get enough of this recipe! We make this with your fire roasted salsa often and we love it. Making it again for tonight's dinner :) I also like to make some calintro lime rice to put in the tacos. Yummmm! Thank you so much chef John :)

Bitterling said...

Would this work in a pressure cooker?