Rosie goes south of the border for carnitas

By on March 30, 2014

049The Hawthornes have always enjoyed trying other cuisines. We stir fry quite often. My son has requested miang kham, a traditional Thai street food, which I successfully produced. I’ve learned how to make a pretty mean bowl of pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. I can whip up a soufflé with the best of them. And I’m always ready to go south of the border for carnitas.

Carnitas means “little meats.” For pork aficionados, carnitas are a favorite in Mexico, particularly in the Michoacan state, whose carnitas are considered the best.

Traditionally, carnitas are chunks of pork fried in large copper vats filled with lard. In the best interests of my arteries, I’m eschewing the lard and opting for another technique for cooking my carnitas.

But first, what type of meat does one chose for carnitas?

I’m using a Boston butt, or pork butt, for my carnitas. Despite its name, the Boston butt is the meaty section from the upper shoulder of the pig, not the rear of the pig. Pork shoulders, butts, and picnic “hams” are all part of the front leg and shoulder of the hog.

Whole shoulders consist of the butt and the picnic shoulder or picnic “ham,” if it’s been cured. This is not a true ham, which comes from the hind leg. Boston butt is a cut from the thicker, upper section of the shoulder where there is more intense marbling. It is an excellent choice for pulled pork and barbecue.

Shoulder cuts, including picnic shoulder, are from the thinner, triangular shaped end of the shoulder.

Both butt and shoulder cuts need long, slow cooking and are excellent for barbecue and stew meat. Back in the day (18th century), Boston butchers learned to cut the pigs’ shoulders in a certain way, separating the butt from the picnic, and packed them into barrels called “butts,” for transport, hence the Boston butt cut.

Now, let’s prepare carnitas. As I said, I’m not preparing traditional carnitas fried in lard. I’m going to slow-cook the pork until succulent and tender and the water is gone. Then, I’ll take it one further step by caramelizing the pork in its own fat, essentially frying the meat into beautiful crisp, browned morsels.

Carnitas Ingredients
1 Boston butt – 4-5 pounds
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp Kosher salt

I started out with a 4-pound Boston butt and I left the fat on it. If it’s bone-in, remove the bone. Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. Put the pork cubes in a large pot and add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice, cumin, and salt. Toss by hand to coat meat, then add in just enough water to barely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 2 hours, uncovered, without disturbing.

After the 2 hours, most of the liquid will have evaporated. Increase heat to medium high and cook uncovered for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated and only the rendered fat (lard) remains. Keep turning the meat until it is browned all over. The orange and lime juices help tenderize the meat, giving you fork-tender pork pieces. The meat is pull-apart tender inside from the 2-hour citrus sauna and it’s browned on the outside from the pork fat. Transfer meat to a bowl.

I always want to get every bit of flavor out of whatever I’m cooking, so I left the pan on medium low heat, added in about 1/3 cup of beef broth, and scraped up all the goodie bits in the bottom of the pan. Let it reduce a bit to intensify the flavors. If you wanted to add a splash of a nice cabernet sauvignon or a merlot, I certainly wouldn’t stop you. Pour that reduced, concentrated yumminess over the carnitas.

There are several ways you can serve serve carnitas:


In a fried corn taco with a side of your favorite coleslaw and/or salsa.

On tortilla chips.

As a taquito, rolled up in a corn tortilla and deep fried, with salsa, cilantro, and a cheese sauce. Or if you want to go rogue, as I did, go multi-cultural and wrap them in an eggroll wrapper and fry.

Or you can serve them in a tortilla bowl with salsa, crumbled Cotija cheese, and shredded lettuce.

Please visit with Rosie at for more recipes and kitchen tricks. I’m sure you’ll find something that will whet your appetite and satisfy your palate. If you have any culinary questions, feel free to ask Rosie at [email protected] I’ll do my best to answer.

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