When Tony and I were first dating, one of the first places he invited me to was a Mexican restaurant in Chicago. We met in culinary school, so I had high expectations from a man with a education in food. And, boy oh boy, he didn’t disappoint.
We had carnitas and I remember it well. The salty pork bits were crispy on the outside and so tender and moist on the inside. We slapped them onto corn tortillas with a green salsa, onion, and cilantro. Divine doesn’t even to begin to describe those carnitas. That’s probably one of the main things that made me fall in love with Tony. Dude knows his food. 😉
Since then, I’ve been back to that restaurant many times with my parents, with Tony’s parents, and with our son. But when I get the hankering for carnitas and don’t feel like venturing to the city, I make them at home. Slow cooker to the rescue.
Traditional pork carnitas are slowly braised in lard, then fried in– you guessed it, more lard. That is why they are so insanely good. But these carnitas are made a bit differently. This recipe is hands off for most of the preparation, which is music to my ears. The meat is slowly cooked in a flavorful liquid with lime zest, oregano, garlic, and serrano. The cooking liquid is reduced to a glaze which eventually coats the pork after it is fried until crispy and shredded. An acidic avocado salsa is included because salsa is such an important part of carnitas. It just ain’t right to have one without the other. (Pssst… they are also awesome with nopales.) If you’re on a diet, look away. This is by no means a healthy recipe. But hey, everything in moderation, right? Pork fat rules.
These slow cooker carnitas are darn close to the ones from that beloved restaurant and that’s because they have all of the essential qualities of good carnitas. Here are a few key tips for succulent carnitas that make them stand out from other pulled pork dishes:
La sal! Pork loves salt. Be sure to season it well. I even suggest in the recipe adding a pinch of salt to the liquid it is cooked in, as well. This is so important for maximum flavor.
Caramelization, baby. Crisp it up like there’s no tomorrow. Carnitas have a slight sweetness to them and this is accentuated by a thick, delicious crust. It is also super important that the pork is in sizable chunks when it’s fried. Too big and there won’t be enough surface area for a great crust. Too small and they will dry out. Also, if you caramelize them after they’ve been shredded, you get wirey shreds of meat that become crispy. No bueno.
These crunchy pork bits get tossed in a glaze at the end of the frying, which makes a thick crust even more essential so they stay crispy. So when you’re frying the carnitas, don’t skimp the caramelization.
Put your carnitas in the air, and glaze ’em like you just don’t care. Part of the secret to moist, soft, carnitas is this slightly sticky glaze. Please don’t be tempted to skip this. It’s sooooo worth it.
So, do you love carnitas as much as we do? Tell us all about it! See you soon!
- 3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
- zest of 1 lime, finely grated
- ¼ teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
- 2 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
- 2 serrano chiles, one split in half and the other with the stem removed
- 8 medium tomatillos
- 1 medium avocado
- ½ small onion
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lard or vegetable oil
- warmed corn tortillas for serving
- salt to taste
- Place the pork shoulder in a slow cooker and season generously with salt. Add the lime zest and oregano, then massage to coat the meat.
- Fill the slow cooker halfway with water, add heavy pinch of salt to the water, then top with the split serrano (save the other one for the salsa), and one of the garlic cloves. The pork needs a lot of salt, so don’t be afraid to season it really well. Put the lid on the slow cooker and turn to a high setting. Cook until the pork is fork tender, about 4 hours.
- While the pork is cooking, make the salsa. Pace the tomatillos on a heavy skillet or comal over high heat. Roast the tomatillos in their husk, turning them as needed, until they are charred on 2 sides, but still somewhat firm and green. They should be a little bit soft, but still firm in the middle. Set aside to cool.
- In a blender, combine the flesh from the avocado, the other serrano, remaining garlic, onion, water, and salt. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and add to the blender with the other ingredients. Blend until slightly chunky, then transfer to a bowl for serving.
- When the pork is tender, transfer to a plate and strain the liquid into a large saucepan. Place over high heat and reduce to a light glaze. You will know the glaze is ready when the bubbles start to get larger while boiling and the sauce thickens slightly.
- While you are reducing the glaze, fry the carnitas. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the lard followed by the pork pieces and fry until crispy on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cookie sheet and shred the carnitas. Pour the glaze over the carnitas and toss to combine.
- Serve with the warm tortillas and salsa. Enjoy!