There is likely nothing better than carnitas and this recipe that I have here is certainly able to fill bill when you have that craving for nice, salty and slightly crisp treat that is a staple at nearly any market in Mexico.
You see, a good carnitas taco is made with chunks of pork simmered in pork lard in a big copper caldron. Usually served on a corn tortilla with a nice salsa or guacamole. Other varieties come with cabbage and radishes or just wrapped up in a tortilla by itself. However you serve these perfect chunks of pork, you will enjoy it.
But here is the catch–who has a big vat of pork lard and a copper pot handy? Not many of us. So here is what I do to make these succulent traditional tacos.
I start off with a nice Boston Butt roast (bone in) like the one I have here from my friends over at Moody’s Quality Meats over on Holly just past Airline in Corpus Christi. I like a market roast because you know it is fresh and I can be trimmed and cut just how I like it. This one I am using is about 9 pounds with the bone and has a fair amount of fat but not too much.
Have them vacuum seal it for you and and let is sit in the refrigerator overnight. Then first thing in the morning unwrap it and pat it dry. Cover it with a good dose of salt all over and what I do is toss some yellow onion into it.
Then toss about a cup of water into the pan but NOT on the roast!!!
This is an important part so take note: Get a can if evaporated milk and pour about a quarter of the can OVER the roast.
Next, cover it tightly with aluminum foil and make sure it is tight. That steam is really important to the cooking process.
Then bake it 3-4 hours or so at 350 until it gets really good and tender and you are able to pull it apart into chunks with a fork.
The next step is simply pull it apart into chunks and reserve the juices totally. Take you about another quarter can of the evaporated milk and pour it all over the meat liberally. What you will do next is simply raise the oven temperature to 450 and cook the meat UNCOVERED for another hour os so until very crisp and tender.
What you have after that is a big pan of nice and crisp carnitas that goes perfectly with some crema or maybe even a fine Mexican style goat cheese–or by themselves. Ummmm, now that is a meal fit for almost anybody on any given day.
I was a kid the first time that I had the lightly crisped and wonderful pork creations served on a corn tortilla. But as an adult having traveled and worked in Mexico for long periods of time, I came to really love the art of carnitas and as I traveled around from place to place I learned that there is perhaps no better taco around.
From Fresnillio to Mexico City and beyond, carnitas are a near staple on Mexican family tables in some form or another. There are many different variations depending on where you go but let me tell you this: The experience is nearly the same.
Like anywhere in Mexico and Latin America, Carnitas are generally made from what meats are locally available. However, the prodominate meat for these wonderful creations does certainly seem to be pork. If you go to Mexican market you find these big, copper pots full of lard and pork fat just simmering away filled with pork chunks and that is without a doubt the most traditional way of making pork carnitas. But there are other ways of doing it.
Take for instance beef carnitas often found in cattle producing regions like Rio Grande, Zachatecas. I have had carnitas there made with a beef roast cut into chunks and then prepared the exact same way in a copper pot filled with pork fat. I admit that they were very good and I eat them every chance that I get. But for me there is nothing better than a good, solid pork carnita taco from the local market.
One of my friends who owns some popular Mexican restaurants in Chicago tells of a time where he visited Mazatlan and a high end restaurant in Mazatlan. There, he was surprised with a light and flavorful version of carnitas made with tuna steaks. While I personally have never tried that version myself, it did look and sound amazing from his Instagram post. So, case and point, carnitas (while traditionally pork) can be made of almost any meat that is locally available.
While I am taking a bit of a deeper dive into the subject of carnitas, I guess I should mention a version that I almost left out above and that is goat carnitas. While visiting just across the border in Nuevo Leon, Mexico I did learn that carnitas could be made of goat meat just as easily as it could be made from anything else. Now, in Nuevo Leon goat is extremely popular and while I do love cabrito, and it was in fact a suitable substitute for the traditional pork, I still found myself liking the more pork carnitas above all else.
Try it on a salad, in a taco or just on a plate with some refried or charro beans. Do not make it too fancy and keep it somewhat real. While my version above does omit the copper pot full of pork lard and fat, it does provide you the same great cripiness and flavor as you get down at the market in Mexico.
In closing here let me say that no matter what meat you use or how you serve it up, this is very wonderful treat that is wonderful year round and it generally feeds an army of people for just a little bit of money. So, go grab you a nicely trimmed Boston Butt roast and plan about 4-6 hours of prep and cooking time and go make you some carnitas! You will be very glad that you did!