As much as I love the cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean, one thing they don’t do much or any of is pork, so I have to look to other cuisines to get my piggy fixes. I was chatting with a friend the other day, & she asked whether I was going to put my carnitas recipe on the blog – so here you go!
Carnitas (‘little meats’ in Spanish) is Mexican slow cooked pork with a hint of orange & spices, which is then shredded & crisped up. Whilst there are crisp bits on the meat, it remains beautifully moist – mainly due to the fact that they cook it in huge vats of hot lard.
This introduces a challenge…. Whilst it may be fun to try & cook them the authentic way, I don’t own gallons of lard, nor do I plan to. Luckily the pork is able to create its own lard, so my solution has been to have the pork packed fairly tightly in a casserole dish, so that as it cooks the fat renders down & surrounds the pork – not gallons, but enough to keep the meat melt in the mouth.
As such, try & get a fatty piece of pork shoulder for this dish, as the fat is an integral part of the cooking method. In addition, I always make a decent amount of this at a time, because it freezes brilliantly. Just hold off the crisping stage & freeze it in portion sized bags – defrost at a later date, crisp up, & you’ve got some porcine pleasure on a plate.
2kg pork shoulder, cut up into 5cm chunks – keep the fat & skin in place.
2 tsp cumin (seeds or ground, either is fine)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 dried pasilla chile pepper
250ml orange juice
Preheat the oven to 150 °C / 130 °C fan / gas mark 2. Arrange half the pork in a layer at the bottom of a casserole dish, then sprinkle over the rest of the dry ingredients in a layer, followed up by the rest of the pork in another layer – you want to minimise space between the pieces of meat.
Add the orange juice, & then just enough water to cover the meat (probably between 150 – 250ml). Cover, place in the oven & cook for 4 hours – leave it untouched for the first 3 ½ hours, with a quick stir at this point to allow some other pieces of pork to come to the surface to brown.
Take out of the oven – the meat should be fall apart tender at this point. Turn the oven up to 220 °C / 200 °C fan / gas mark 7 & preheat a baking tray. Remove the meat pieces from the casserole dish with a slotted spoon, transferring to a large bowl & breaking up into 1-2cm pieces. Whilst doing this, remove any large pieces of fat that remain, & some of the pig skin (leave some of the skin though, broken up into small pieces).
If you’re freezing any of the carnitas, leave this portion of the meat to cool slightly, then transfer to a freezer bag & pop in the freezer when fully cooled. For the carnitas you’re eating immediately, spread out on the preheated baking tray & put back in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the outside of the pork has crisped up a bit. Serve on tacos or tortillas, with some salsa, cheese/sour cream & a hot sauce of your choice.