May 15, 2021
I really thought I stole this recipe from Pati Jinich, but then I went to look it up on her website and it isn’t there. So maybe I stole it from someone else, or maybe I just made it up. Whatever the case, I love it. I love carnitas and I love this recipe! It is incredibly easy, though not quick, and the pork tastes delicious every time.
Start with a three and a half pound pork shoulder. Cut it up into six to eight big hunks. Pat the hunks dry, and then season them generously with cumin, salt, and pepper. Brown the meat in two tablespoons of neutral oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. They should cook about four minutes per side. Do it in two batches not to overcrowd your pot. Once the are nicely browned, remove them and set aside.
Add half of a white onion, roughly chopped, to your Dutch oven. You should have enough oil and pork fat left to cook the onions, but if you don’t, add an extra tablespoon. Gently salt the onions and cook them for five minutes, or until soft. Once your onions are done, deglaze the pan with the juice of an orange. (This is where the recipe starts to get a little strange.) Make sure to scrape up all the fond stuck to the bottom of your pot left behind by the pork and the onions.
Return the pork to the Dutch oven. It can be crowded now. I try to get it all into a single layer. Top it with half of the orange peel and the milk, brown sugar, thyme, Mexican oregano, and cayenne pepper. I like to mix the milk, sugar, and spices in a measuring cup before pouring them over the pork. You should know, Mexican oregano is very different from Mediterranean oregano. If you don’t have Mexican oregano a good substitute is marjoram. We are only talking about two teaspoons though so if you leave it out, it’s going to be ok.
Put the lid on your pot and turn down the heat to low. This is the hard part. It needs to sit there for two hours. Make a margarita or two and wait. Waiting without a margarita is very difficult! After two hours has passed, it’s time to finish them up. With a pair of tongs, remove the pork from the pot and put it on a large cutting board. Strain the remaining liquid into a bowl. Do not throw it away! Carefully wipe out your Dutch oven with a paper towel. Then shred the pork and put it back into the pot. If you don’t mind the heat, you can shred the pork by hand, if it is too hot to handle (you could just wait a bit) or you can use two forks to shred it. Don’t use a knife to cut it up though, you won’t get the right texture.
At this stage, many people suggest broiling the pork to get it crispy. I prefer to crisp the pork by cooking it for a few minutes back in the Dutch oven over high heat. Once I have toasted the edges of my pork, I stir in the reserved cooking liquid about a quarter of a cup at a time, usually adding anywhere from a half of a cup to a cup. This adds a lot of flavor back into the carnitas and helps keep them juicy. The meat should suck up all of the liquid, you don’t want your carnitas swimming in juice. Give them a taste, they might need a little more salt at this point, but otherwise they are ready to eat.
The combination of milk and orange juice seems a little odd, but it really works. The addition of the brown sugar gives an addictive sweetness. And who doesn’t love tender, juicy pork shoulder. Serve them on tacos or in a burrito. I almost always use the leftovers to make Cubano sandwiches or Carnitas breakfast hash. Although it takes about three to four hours to make from start to finish, it is an incredibly easy dish you will make over and over again. I know I do.