As much as feel Don Pablo's has mass-produced somewhat mediocre Tex-Mex food, I must admit that I enjoy their carnitas. My husband orders them whenever we end up in the restaurant (which I will say is a few times a year) and I definitely appreciate any version of slow cooked pulled pork. I figured I'd try to make carnitas at home (even if the taste wasn't exactly the same) because I can make enough for eight servings for about the cost of one serving at the restaurant.
What are carnitas? In Spanish carnitas means "little meats". In my experience it's the Mexican version of pulled pork. It's seasoned with oregano, onion, garlic, and citrus and served on fresh tortillas with fresh toppings.
I searched the Web for recipes and many of the authentic (and I'm sure delicious) versions used lard. I just couldn't bring myself to roast or fry an already fatty cut of pork in lard. It seemed unnecessary. I came across a recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website (yes, they do have a few recipes listed) that did not use lard and could be prepared in a slow cooker and I decided to give it a try.
Main ingredient? Pork shoulder! You know I love pork shoulder. Read more about that here and here and here. (I think I need a pork category to organize my blog.)
I rubbed the pork shoulder with spices and let it sit in the fridge overnight...
Then I got up at 5:00 am (I typically rise at 5:15 for work) and browned the pork, covered it with lime, lemon, garlic, onions, and beer, and plopped the whole mess into the Crock Pot for 10+ hours. Yes, my house was smelling like fried pork and beer at 5:00 am. Welcome to Keeley's home.
It's like a party in a Crock Pot!
I came home to this...
Which I pulled with tongs, removed some fat and bones, and broke down into this...
It was pretty good. The taste was milder than Don Pablo's version (if that's even a standard for carnitas) and I'd like to add more garlic and a bit more salt next time. The flavorful broth can cause your tortilla to get too moist, so I drain mine well before wrapping it in a tortilla.
Speaking of tortillas, corn tortillas (while more difficult to work with) are authentic, but we ate ours with flour tortillas. Recently, I've learned how to make my own flour tortillas, which has opened up an entirely different world of possibilities (that's a topic of another blog post).
I like my carnitas on a (homemade) flour tortilla topped with pico de gallo or just some red onion and cilantro...
Maybe you like yours with cheese... or chipotle sauce... or sour cream... do your thing.
I'm not sure how "authentic" these carnitas are, but they were satisfactory. With a bit of tweaking I can make this recipe perfect for my little family. I love finding a good slow cooker recipe, especially with the fall coming up soon. If you enjoy fresh Mexican food, try this one!
2 tsp. salt I would add a bit more salt next time
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 boneless pork shoulder roast, 3 to 4 lb.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Mexican lager-style beer I used Dos Equis (bought one bottle for about $2)
Grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs. dried oregano
Warm corn or flour tortillas
Chopped yellow onion I prefer red onion
Hot or mild salsa
Chopped fresh cilantro
In a small bowl, combine the salt and pepper. Season the pork roast generously with the mixture.
In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pork and cook, turning frequently until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
Pour off all but a thin layer of fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté just until they begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beer and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up the browned bits from the pan bottom with a wooden spoon.
Transfer the pork to a slow cooker and pour in the beer mixture. Add the orange and lime zests and juices and the oregano. Cover and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until the pork is very tender, about 5 hours on high or 10 hours on low.
Transfer the pork to a carving board and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Using a large, shallow spoon or a ladle, skim as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid. Using a large, sharp knife and a fork, coarsely cut and shred the pork into small bite-size pieces.
Arrange the meat on a warmed platter or individual plates, moisten it lightly with the cooking juices, and serve immediately with the tortillas, lime wedges, chopped onion, salsa and cilantro. Serves 6 to 8.