Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork – Texas Style)


  • Boneless Pork Butt (approx 3-5 lbs.)
  • ½ Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbspn Dried Oregano
  • 1 Tbspn Dried Cilantro
  • 1 Tbspn Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tbspn Garlic
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Cups Broth
  • 1 Medium Orange (squeezed)
  • 1 Lime (squeezed)
  • 1 Medium Onion (diced)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 Whole Chipotle Pepper (if you don’t like it spicy, this can be omitted. For my tastes, I would prefer to add 3 or 4 of these whole peppers)


In the traditional preparation of carnitas, the pork roast would be boiled in lard or oil. Once it was fork tender, the pork would be pulled into smaller chunks that would be roasted to a nice caramelized crispy finish. In the interest of lightening this dish up a bit, this version is braised in a broth.

Begin by preparing the roast, cut the roast into large chunks, approximately 2 inch squares. Cut away the really big chunks of fat and any gristle you find. Do not get carried away trying to remove all the fat, we will want bits of fat remaining that will render out into our braising liquid. Move your trimmed pork roast pieces into a large mixing bowl.

Often, when braising meats, it is recommended to begin by browning the meat in a hot Dutch oven so that the meat caramelizes on the outside, prior to braising. Since we are going to roast the pulled pork to finish the dish, we won’t brown the meat to start.

Add the olive oil, dried herbs, seasoning, citrus juices, onions and peppers to the mixing bowl and stir so that the meat is well coated. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and allow the mixture to marinade in the refrigerator for at least an hour (overnight if you can).

Ready to Braise

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. When you are ready to braise, place the contents of your mixing bowl into a Dutch oven or heavy roasting pan and add your broth. The meat should just barely be covered. Bake until the meat is fork tender, approximately 2 hours. Note from experience, at this point it is best that you have a suitable task to distract you during this cooking step. The aroma that fills your kitchen and house will make it difficult to concentrate!

Remove the meat from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and allow the meat to cool slightly in a bowl. We will want to pull the large chunks of pork into smaller bite size pieces by hand, so you just want the meat cool enough to handle.

While the meat cools, strain the liquid into a heavy saucepan, discarding the solids. I actually have a strainer cup, which allows me strain out the solids, and then I pour the liquid back into the hot Dutch oven, which makes 1 less pan to clean up! Allow the cooking liquids to reduce to a glaze. You will know you have the right consistency when a silicon spatula or spoon creates a trail in the bottom of the pan that does not immediately recede.

When the meat has cooled enough to handle, pull the pork into smaller bite size pieces. We aren’t looking for shredded pork consistency here, but we won’t want pieces too big to eat in a single bite either. At this point, any rendered pieces of fat that remain in the meat should be removed. Fat is flavor, but biting into a taco with a big piece of fat in it is NOT good eats. Pour your reduced cooking liquid back over the pulled pork and toss the meat so that it is well coated.

Set your oven to High Broil. While the broiler heats up, spread the meat over a baking sheet, ensuring the meat is on a single layer. Roast the meat under the broil until the ends are crispy and the sauce is caramelized, approximately 10 minutes.

To the Table!

At this point, your carnitas are ready to eat. My favorite way to eat this meat is in a taco. I prefer corn tortillas with the meat, a few pieces of shredded cilantro and a squeeze of lime. You can certainly dress it up with all the fixings, like peppers and onion, salsas and such if you like. This also makes a great main course dish, served over rice with some grilled vegetables and beans, perhaps. If you decide to use this as a main dish, I would probably consider using the cooking liquid as a base for a sauce or gravy, rather than coating the meat before broiling. A tablespoon of mild chili powder and touch of cumin with a dusting of flour would make for a nice sauce.

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