Editor’s Note: You may be wondering why the hell you’re reading about making homemade carnitas right now. And you may also have wondered why you learned how to cure your own bacon (What Youth Issue 8) and make amazing Pull ‘n’ Peel shrimp (What Youth Issue 7). And the reason is because we recognized that we know people who are good at things, and we wanted you to be good at things too. Adam Warren is the guy in the car on a surf trip who’s story always begins around a group of friends cooking and hanging out together having a good time, not to mention he always smells of surf wax and bacon and is a no-bullshit host who likes to have fun. When he cooks, magical things tend to follow. And since we wanted to know how to be more like him, we’re giving him a column so you can add a few impressive recipes to your arsenal. It’s time to quit being a shitty takeout-eating person. It’s time to be artisan! Start today. —Travis
Mexicans have mastered the art of cooking pig. And none more beautifully than what they’ve done with carnitas: a slow cooked pork shoulder that comes shredded, crispy, juicy, happy, eat me, beer me, ready for anything me.
Carnitas is one of those blue collar peasant dishes that’s being served in a variety of ways these days: from the street to 5-star. And, yes, it’s easy as shit to make: all you do is take a pork shoulder, chop it up, season it and throw it in a bubbling five gallon vat of lard. Cook those little porky pigs until they are crispy and happy, shred them up and eat without breathing.
But who has a five gallon vat of hot lard at their house you may ask? Especially one that is ready waiting for you and holding all the timeless flavors of batches past? I sure don’t. And neither do you. So here is how you work around that and create your very own king of the taco cart carnitas.
The trick to making a great homemade batch of carnitas is properly seasoning your pork, and slow cooking in just enough oil to break it all down so you have a perfect blend of crispy and tender.
Here is what you need:
Carnitas (serves 8-10)
-2-3 lbs pork shoulder (bone out)
-2 lbs pork lard
-1 cup water
-2 tablespoon kosher/coarse salt
-4 cloves peeled garlic
-1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, or 2 small regular sticks
-3-4 bay leaves
-tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
-1 cup evaporated milk
-½ cup light beer, mexican
-1 bunch fresh cilantro
-½ white onion – chopped
-your favorite salsa – (it should be green!)
-Corn or flour tortillas
-More beer (for drinking)
- Trim the excess fat and cut the pork shoulder into 3 inch chunks. Make sure they are fairly even in size so they cook evenly.
- Make sure your meat is room temp. Season your happy little pork chunks with kosher salt
- Add the lard (you can get it from your local butcher, and yeah, you should have one, remember the word: artisans!) and the water to a large stock pot or dutch oven. Make sure whatever pot you use is big enough so the lard and water only come up about 1/3 of the way. If its too small and spills over once boiling then you’ve got a grease fire on your hands. And that’s not my fault!
- Turn the pot to medium/high heat, once the lard has fully liquefied you can add the meat. Add them carefully so that no grease splashes out.
- Cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice in while cooking, after they are all squeezed in you can throw the spent oranges in as well.
- Simmer on medium heat uncovered for around an hour. Make sure and stir every 10 minutes or so to make sure the pork doesn’t stick to the bottom
- Add the garlic, cinnamon, bay leaves, milk, oregano, onion and one light Mexican beer. The beer and milk will add flavor but also help keep your carnitas tender.
- Cook for another hour or so on medium heat and keep stirring so they don’t stick. Once they are cooked, use tongs or a something to take the meat out and let cool on a tray or large plate lined with paper towels.
- Once the meat cools, give it a rough chop and transfer to a serving dish.
And now the final bit of advice, and the most important: You are going to want to make a day of this. Probably a Sunday. And I don’t want you to go to Vons or any of those places to get your pork butt, you must go to a local butcher or an authentic Mexican market. They will be better pieces of meat and the people behind the counter have probably done this a shit load of times and they can help you out. Get on this nice and early. Invite your friends over. Invite a babe. She will like your homemade taco bar. Put on some country music (show your range!) and it is Sunday for God’s sake! Open a beer. Warm up your tortillas and build some amazing homemade carnitas tacos topped with fresh cilantro, chopped onion and queso fresco. You are so fucking legit.—Adam Warren