Today we are taking a trip to the southwest region of America. The culinary style of this region was inspired by a combination of ingredients using mainly large cuts of meat, such as pork and beef, spices and chilies influenced by the Spanish colonists, Native Americans, Mexicans and the good old cowboys.
Carnitas, which is also known as little meats, is essentially twice cooked pork. Pork shoulder is used in this recipe as it is relatively inexpensive and becomes very tender when braised. The traditional rendition of carnitas uses lots of lard. However, after many of my kitchen tests I came up with a healthier version omitting the fat.
A 4-5 lb. piece of pork shoulder will amply feed a crowd of 6-8 people for your taco night. I have given you a list of topping ideas at the bottom of this page, so that you can build the tacos to your liking.
This carnitas taco night recipe is very easy to make and I have given tips for preparing the meat a day ahead of time in the cook's notes at the end of this recipe. The picture is before being twice cooked in the oven.
4-5 lb. (or larger) pork shoulder roast with bone-in and skin attached
3 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. cracked black pepper
2 large jalapeno chiles, cut in half and seeded
2 poblano chilies, cut in half lengthways, seeded and sliced into strips
2 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 large white onion, cut into chunks
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
5 cups of chicken stock or broth (8 cups for the slow cooker method below)
Preheat oven to 300F.
1. With a sharp utility knife make several deep slits on the underside of the meat. This allows the broth to penetrate the pork while it cooks, which will give it more flavor. Rub the meat with olive oil. Then, rub in the cumin, along with the salt and pepper.
2. In a deep-sided pot, roasting pan or a slow cooker large enough to hold the meat, sit all the veggies, chilies and cilantro in the bottom. Place the meat on top of the veggies skin side up. Pour the chicken stock or broth around the edges of the pan. Cover with foil, a tight fitting lid (or both) and cook for 3 hours.
3. When the pork is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bone. The bone should slide right out of the meat if you cooked it long enough. Pull the meat apart with two forks, disposing all of the fatty bits. Strain the broth through a sieve, discard the veggies and reserve your broth.
3. To finish, preheat the oven to 375F. Place the shredded pork in a roasting pan and moisten it with some of your reserved broth and drizzle a little more olive oil over the top. Cook for about 30 minutes, then turn the meat once in the pan and repeat and bake until the meat turns crispy all over on top, about 20 minutes. If you like crispier meat, do not turn the meat and cook for about 45-50 minutes. Either way, the meat will be crispy in parts but generally moist overall.
In a slow cooker, follow all steps above and cook on low for 6-8 hours until the meat is tender.
Build Your Taco Bar
You can build your tacos any way you like. To assemble my Carnitas tacos at home, I use re-fried beans in the bottom of the shell or tortilla, layer a little shredded pork, then I add some salsa verde (green salsa) and a few pinches of fresh cilantro. If I'm feeling brave I will top my taco off with a few diced, fresh jalapenos!
Heres a shopping list of toppings for your Taco bar.
Salsa verde (green salsa)
Shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, cotija)
Shredded white cabbage or Iceberg lettuce
Diced and seeded tomatoes
Diced fresh chile peppers (any kind)
Flour or corn tortillas (any size)
Hard tortilla shells (available at your supermarket)
Day ahead: Follow the recipe above and shred the pork. Add some of the reserved broth from your roast to the meat and store in your refrigerator. This will stop the meat from drying out and then follow the rest of the recipe.
If you are braising a larger piece of meat than the recipe above calls for, then adjust the cooking time. It may take at least another hour for a bigger roast.