In Mexico, you often see huge vats of dark colored pork fat simmering away inside doorways of restaurants and take out places serving carnitas. Cooking in the fat is various cuts of pork - shoulder, belly, intestine, tripe and even snouts. When ready, all these different pieces are chopped together before being dolled out on tacos with some simple salsas. The different textures of the different cuts, all mixed together make for a fantastic treat.
At home however, things are generally a little different. Who has a family large enough to cook 6 different cuts of pork in ten gallons of lard? What follows is a recipe proportioned for four people. Although pork butt is specified, feel free to add in any other cuts you want, especially cuts with varying textures.
Carnitas is a great example of how common flavorings for stocks in Mexico - allspice, peppercorns, bay and thyme - combine to create some lip-smacking good food.
Makes 12-16 small tacos
1 lb pork butt
1 lb pork lard
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
4 allspice seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
Ingredients for carnitas. Today I am adding a pig ear for a bit of gelatinous goodness. Also, I don't have any fresh thyme, so I am using dried - don't tell anyone
Place all ingredients into a pot, making sure that the meat is covered completely by the lard. If not, try cutting the meat half so that it sits lower in the pot. Failing that add more lard, or top up with a little vegetable oil.
Place over medium heat until it starts bubbling. Reduce heat until it is barely simmering, cover with a lid and cook for three hours until the meat is very tender. If the meat starts to brown too much, you are probably cooking it a bit fast. Turn down the heat a touch, and add a half cup of water to replace the liquid that has probably simmered away.
The oil has started to simmer. It now cooks for three more hours.
Once cooked, remove the carnitas from the pot and transfer to a chopping board. Roughly chop into small pieces varying in size between 1/8 and 1/4 inch.
The cooked pork, chopped up and ready for tacos
Serve the meat atop fresh corn or flour tortillas
, with a little diced white onion and maybe some cilantro. Accompany with a variety of salsas to spice things up and a little lime to cut through the fat. Serving it alongside a helping of beans
will only help to round out the meal.
If the heat during cooking was low enough, you should have some pork juice left in the pot sitting under the layer of lard. Strain the contents of the pot into a clean bowl and refrigerate it until the lard hardens. Any leftover juices will separate into a layer underneath the lard. Once this happens, lift off the lard and pour the meat juices over any left over carnitas you may have. This will keep it moist until its time to reheat and serve some more.