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Tacos of Achiote-marinated Pork Carnitas Recipe

Achiote, a spice blend based on annatto seeds, is one of the most recognizable flavours of southern Mexican cuisine and finds its way into countless regional dishes including Yucatecan pork carnitas – rich and succulent, hot, sweet and sharp, they are wrapped in a warm corn tortilla and topped with a sparkling salsa. The achiote seasoning is available in many forms, from pastes to liquids, and the easiest to use in my experience is the powder.

Pork lard is a traditional and authentic ingredient in pork carnitas but it can be difficult to source and duck or goose fat, widely available in large supermarkets and delicatessens, is an excellent substitute – and I actually prefer the taste.

There are many ways to prepare pork carnitas, and I have developed two different methods after much experimentation – one stove-top and one oven-roasted. The boiled version below has a more intense flavour, while the slow-cooked belly of pork is wonderfully luscious and tender (see link below). The choice is yours!

Tacos of Achiote-marinated Pork Carnitas – Tacos de Carnitas al Achiote

Serves 4

400 g/14 oz stewing pork, from leg or shoulder, cut into chunks
120 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup fresh orange juice, from about 2 oranges
15 ml/1 tbsp fresh lime juice, about 1 lime
5 ml/1 tsp achiote spice powder
5 ml/1 tsp ground cumin
5 ml/1 tsp Mexican dried oregano
5 ml/1 tsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 whole habanero chilli, fresh or dried
120 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup duck or goose fat
5 ml/1 tsp bouillon powder
Warm corn tortillas, to serve

For the cucumber and pomegranate salsa:-
150 g/6 oz cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
40 g/1 1/2 oz red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
25 g/1 oz red chillies, as mild or hot as you like, deseeded and finely chopped
15 ml/1 tbsp fresh lime juice, about 1 lime
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
10 g/1/3 oz fresh mint, leaves only, coarsely chopped
1 medium pomegranate, seeds only
30 ml/2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the pork in a glass or china bowl. Whisk together the orange and lime juices, achiote powder, cumin, oregano, salt and crushed garlic and pour over the pork. Stir it all together, cover the bowl with clingfilm/plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

Transfer the pork and its marinade to a medium, heavy saucepan, add the whole habanero chilli, the duck fat and the bouillon powder, and pour in enough cold water to cover the meat by 1 cm/1/2 in. Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down and leave it all to simmer, stirring every now and then, for about an hour and a half, until the meat feels really tender when pierced with a fork. If there is any liquid left in the pan, turn the heat up and let it bubble until it has evaporated and the meat is starting to fry in the fat. Turn the heat down again and continue to cook, stirring often, until the surface has begun to caramelize and turn golden.

Make the salsa while the meat is cooking by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl. Do not however add salt until the last moment or the cucumber will go soggy.

Remove the pork from the heat and shred the meat with two forks.

To serve, place a good spoonful of carnitas in a warm tortilla, top with some salsa, roll up and enjoy.

Buén provecho!

Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.co.uk

Just The Two of Us Entertaining Each Other by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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