Slowly simmered in lard this recipe for Authentic Homemade Mexican Carnitas yields a tender juicy inside with a crisp outside - the perfect carnitas
The making of - Authentic Homemade Mexican Carnitas
Have you ever made carnitas?
No, I don't mean the ones on the internet that have you put a pork butt or shoulder into a crockpot and cook it for 6 hours.
I call that ... "pulled pork".
I mean real Authentic Homemade Mexican Carnitas.
Like my friends in Los Angeles Abuelitas make?
Cooked in lard.
The French call it confit; in Mexico, it's carnitas.
The French do it with duck. In Mexico, it's pork.
And it's all delish.
Meat in fat Lindy? Isn't that just a bit crazy and against all that you talk about this whole low-fat cooking?
No, it's not. And I'll tell you why as the story continues.
The ingredients for Authentic Homemade Mexican Carnitas are simple - lard, pork, orange, cilantro, and cinnamon stick. Let's go over each one briefly.
Disgusting you say?
Why? Because it's fat from an animal and not a plant?
Well, calorie wise, fat is fat. And while regular consumption of high saturated fats is not good for you, the cooking method of making carnitas does not add to the fat content of the meat. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurs - fat is actually pulled from the meat. This is why, in most Mexican households that make homemade carnitas, there is a big tub of previously used and stored lard in the refrigerator. Each time it is reused, it only adds more and more flavor.
After you make this recipe if you ever plan to make it again, save the seasoned lard. You know, in that back corner of the refrigerator when all left-overs end up to turn into moldy, "what the heck was this"? Yeah, stick your saved fat there for next time.
In a container of course.
There is no substitute for lard in an authentic recipe for carnitas. Not oil, not broth,
Where do I get lard?
I know at my local Carniceria lard is in quick demand. You call and call and it's gone. But that is the best way to get it - buy the fat and render it down slowly.
The first I bought a couple of tubs of pre-rendered lard, which was good but the second time I had some lard, freshly rendered from Berkshire pigs, and it was much better. So if you can, get fresh and render it. If you can't get some already done. Do not buy shortening and think it's the same thing. It's not. Vegetable, animal. You want animal fat.
It would be extremely difficult to make carnitas without the pork. The only thing to keep in mind with this ingredient is - buy a fatty piece of pork. One that has a lot of marbled fat in the meat so it can cook out and flavor the meat while adding moisture. A roast without fat will be dry at the end of the cooking process - so fat is key. Pork shoulder, or pork butt. Usually, I use boneless, but sometimes I get bone in. When I do, I put the bone into the mix as well, it only adds flavor. You will not, however, be eating the bone.
The purpose of the orange is to not only flavor the meat but to keep the meat from cooking too quickly. As the moisture of the orange cooks away, the lard will increase in temperature allowing the meat to cook, crisp on the outside, while keeping the inside tender and moist.
Cilantro and Cinnamon
Flavor, pure and simple.
How cooking in fat, doesn't add fat
It seems counter-intuitive. If you are cooking in fat, should you not be adding fat to the item you are cooking?
Well, that depends. With some foods, cooking in fat at a high temperature keeps the fat from penetrating the food. With carnitas, cooking in fat at a low temperature keeps the fat from penetrating the food.
There are pretty much two things that happen when you cook a fatty, connective tissue-laden cut of meat like a pork shoulder in low-temperature fat - under 250°F:
- Connective tissue breaks down - Beginning at around 176°, the proteins that make up the connective tissue (mostly collagen) will slowly break down and convert to gelatin. Unlike collagen, gelatin will not coagulate at serving temperature allowing them to lubricate muscle fibers, giving food a luscious mouthfeel.
- Muscle proteins contract, expelling moisture - Muscle fibers begin to contract at around 120°, squeezing liquid out of their ends. They contract tighter and tighter as the temperature gets higher until eventually the liquid is almost completely expelled. Unlike collagen, the amount of liquid expelled from muscle is related only to the temperature they are heated to.
This can be easily proved by measuring the amount of fat you start with and then remeasuring once you are done. You will find that you have more fat in the end then you had at the beginning.
So low, and slow.
Now, if possible, save that fat.
Once the carnitas is cooked crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, remove them from the pot and allow them to drain briefly.
Using two forks, gently tear the meat and place into a flour or corn tortilla.
Look at that sumptuous tender, juicy meat..
We like to serve carnitas just like our little taqueria in Corona did, with a simple salsa of minced fresh jalapeno, cilantro, and white onion, in a steamed corn tortilla. Chips and guacamole are a nice side, as well as pickled Mexican veggies.
On a side-note...I had my second son when I was "older" - and within 3 days of when my first son had his daughter. Being way too young to be called grandma, and also not to confuse my newborn son who had a grandma, who was my husband's mother, we decided on calling me Abuelita, or Lita for short. This is how my grandchildren know me. So while my roots may be Swiss and German - I can make carnitas as good as any Abuelita.
Authentic Homemade Mexican Carnitas
- 3 pounds about 1 ½ quarts lard (there is no substitute)
- 3 ½ pounds boneless pork fat trimmed, (butt or shoulder) cut into 3-inch cubes
- 1 small orange cut into slices
- 4 large sprigs cilantro with stem
- 1 cinnamon stick broken in half, if desired
- To Serve
- Warmed tortillas flour, corn or both
- Salsa of chopped onion jalapeno, and cilantro (chop in equal ratios and mix together)
- Sour cream and guacamole if desired
- Melt the lard in a heavy, deep pot, over medium-low heat. When melted, add the meat, orange slices, cilantro, and cinnamon. The melted lard must just cover the meat if it doesn't add more.
- Cook, over medium-low heat, for 2 to 2 ½ hours. After about 30 minutes the lard will begin to boil, bring it to just a simmer and allow it to cook. As the moisture of the orange and cilantro gradually cook-off, the temperature of the lard will rise. As the temperature rises, the meat will begin to brown. If the meat is not brown at the end of the cooking time, remove the orange slices and continue to cook until the meat browns. Remove the meat to a rack to drain as it browns.
- To serve: Place the meat on a preheated platter. Serve with tortillas and the salsa, and any additional accompaniments you choose.
I used this recipe today to make carnitas for the first time! They turned out amazing! My only deviations were seasoning the meat the night before with a little adobo seasoning and ground cumin, and I broiled them for a few minutes once they were done, just to get them a little extra crispy. Delicious!
Sounds like a great addition to the recipe! Thanks for sharing. Cheers ~ Lindy
I made them again today and they’re even better than the first time! I’m thinking it’s because I used the same lard, which I will continue to do again and again.
EXACTLY! That's the trick of the trade - save your flavorful lard. Thanks for commenting Jeff. Cheers ~ Lindy