It’s times like these, when I’m craving authentic, Mexican food that I especially miss my days in Tucson, Arizona. Massachusetts, for the most part, has not mastered the art of real Mexican food.
Tucson, is situated about an hours drive north of the Sonoran border of Mexico. It’s full of fantastic little, sometimes hole-in-the-wall restaurants AND food trucks that would put to shame any Mexican cuisine found around here. Sure, we have the chain restaurants, but they are in no way, shape or form, real Mexican food. In my eight years here, I’ve come across only 2 independently owned restaurants that served any thing close to authentic Mexican food. So, I find myself researching recipes and experimenting to try and recreate the flavors, as I remember them, of some of my favorites. Carnitas would be on that list.
Carnitas are essentially Mexican pulled pork. In researching how to make them, I found that there are several different methods to prepare them, including my pick, which is using a crockpot. My motto is: USE WHAT YOU HAVE. Other methods, which are probably closer to the authentic version, involve boiling the meat in lard, or in water, and then finishing it in the oven. The goal is always the same though – to produce a moist, tender meat that easily pulls apart.
I also noticed when researching, that a wide variety of ingredients are used, some of which I’ve never heard of. My thought is that the ingredients may vary by regional preference. None of them sounded like they would taste the way I remember them from Tucson though. What I remember about carnitas is that they have a very subtle citrus and spice taste that doesn’t overpower the flavor of the meat, but enhances it. I think the following recipe does just that.
A couple of notes about this recipe: The ingredient amounts for the dry rub are more of a guideline than a must. Feel free to adjust amount of spices based on your own personal taste. For the purposes of this post, I used what I had on hand, which were limes and a 2.5lb pork loin roast. The limes gave a nice hint of citrus, but my preference would have been to use oranges. Instead of pork loin, I would have preferred using a pork butt or shoulder roast. The meat is more marbled, and with slow cooking, holds more moisture and flavor than a loin cut.
I would also suggest browning the meat well. This helps produce some crispy bits that hold a lot of flavor.
One of my favorite parts about carnitas are the crispy bits. To do this, after the meat is cooled, pull off serving size pieces. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a little oil or bacon grease. Add the chunks of meat to the hot skillet and quickly heat them through, allowing parts of the outside to brown and get crispy.
Serve with corn tortillas, Spanish rice, limes and your favorite salsa or pico de gallo
This recipe is based on approximately a 2.5lb to 4lb roast, so please adjust amounts accordingly.
1 T. kosher salt
2 T. chili powder
2 T. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. cumin powder
1/3 c. vegetable oil
Citrus: Juice of 2 medium oranges (2/3 c. or 1 c. of orange juice from concentrate) OR Juice of 4 or 5 small limes (4 – 5 T.)
2 T. cider vinegar
1 can of chicken broth OR approximately 12 oz of beer –
1/2 large onion cut into chunks
1 T. bacon grease
Using a small, sharp, pointy knife, press the point of the blade in to make several deep slits on all sides of the roast. Start with the salt by itself. Press liberal amounts of salt firmly into the meat on all sides. For the rest of the dry ingredients, you can combine them, or apply them inidividually. You want to press firmly so that you create a crust with the dry rub.
In a small bowl whisk together orange or lime juice, vinegar and oil. Place roast in a ziploc bag or a container that can be sealed. You don’t want to lose any flavor, so make sure to add any dry rub that falls of the roast into the bag or container as well. Pour in liquid. Let meat marinate for at least a couple hours, or overnight. Turn meat every couple hours so that all sides get to steep in the marinade.
Heat bacon grease in a skillet on medium heat. Brown roast on all sides. DO NOT DISCARD MARINADE. Place roast in crockpot. Pour in marinade. Add broth or beer, and onion. Cook on low until meat begins to fall apart. Pull apart and serve.
This roast cooked about 7 hours on low.
© 2015, C.L. Alden. All rights reserved.