Editors’ Note: Please welcome new blogger Borracho, who is joining the ES team to share stories of Hispanic cooking, foodie football fests, and more.
The wifey and I recently ventured out to a new local Mexican restaurant, and due to my almost maniacal obsession with all South of the Border cooking, I was delighted to see a simple carnitas plate on the menu. However, what came out, while very good, was not exactly what I was looking for. It is tough to find carnitas that are the same at any two places. The word carnitas just means “little meats,” so they can be made of beef or pork and can be fried, braised, put in a slow cooker, thrown on a Foreman grill…you get the picture.
By the time we left the restaurant, my mouth was already watering at the idea of coming up with my own version. For me, ideal carnitas are the crispy on the outside, moist on the inside nuggets of pork gold I had from a street vendor in Mexico. That version had been simmered for hours in a large amount of lard. While I believe lard does not get nearly enough respect, leaving a couple pounds of it simmering on the stove for 10 hours would just be cruel to our dog, Guinness, so in stead I decided to go with a mojo as the base liquid to cook my carnitas in.
Mojo is seen quite a bit in Cuban cooking and is a simple marinade that packs a punch of flavor. It has a ton of tart citrusy goodness and is one of my go-tos in the kitchen when I am looking for something that is quick and easy. For the mojo, I started with a quick sauté of garlic in olive oil and then tossed in all the other ingredients listed below. If you can find them in a Hispanic market near you, you should use sour oranges, but our local Wegman’s had none so I went with equal parts orange and lime juice. I let it all simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors blend and then poured it off to cool.
1/3 cup olive oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
2/3 cup or equal portions orange juice and lime juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
I decided to go with pork shoulder as my meat and wanted to make sure I had plenty left over because carnitas can be used as the meat in many Hispanic dishes. Our local butcher was able to give me a 5-lb cut which I knew would be perfect for enchiladas, quesadillas, tostados and even with eggs. You can use any cut that isn’t too lean but I like shoulder because it has a nice amount of fat that just melts away and helps keep the meat nice and tender when cooking.
I found a nice deep pot and fired up the stove on high to sear the pork, and then turned it down to a simmer before covering the meat in mojo. ( I made a double batch of mojo but feel free to just dilute it with water to cover the meat.) All that was needed now was time. It takes a few hours to make the pork tender enough to fall apart, so after taking the dog for a walk and getting some things done around the house, I finally checked in on the pot, which had already filled the house with a sweet mixture of pork, orange and garlic.
The meat was falling off the bone tender but I still needed to get that pork crispy enough to make a vegetarian salivate. I drained the liquid, shredded some pieces with a fork and sautéed them on high with just a little peanut oil until the meat caramelized. You can serve them however you want, but with a little lime, pico de gallo and homemade tortillas, my 4 hours of work was gone in 30 delicious minutes.