So, I'm going to take a shot in the dark here, really go out on a limb, and guess that you like carnitas? Maybe too much? Crispy bits of slow-cooked pork, ready to cradle in a warm tortilla—it's rightfully one of the best-loved taco fillings out there. And there seem to be countless ways of arriving at the habit-forming shards of juicy meat, from the traditional method of slow simmering them in lard to braising them in a slow-cooker with beer or stock to Kenji's meticulously tested version here.
In their new book, Tacolicious, Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, owners of the San Francisco restaurants of the same name, go the more traditional route for their carnitas. Fatty pork shoulder gets marinated overnight in orange and lemon juices with aromatics and brown sugar, then slow-cooked stove-top in the marinade and lard until it wants to fall to pieces at the touch of a fork. At which point, it gets pan-fried until ridiculous. I mean, crispy. Load it up in a tortilla, sprinkle it with onion, lime juice, and maybe some of that salsa from yesterday, and go hog wild.
Why I picked this recipe: It's a classic and a favorite.
What worked: The marinade was amazing—onions, garlic, and Mexican oregano, along with the citrus and sugar, imparted fantastic flavor to the meat and smelled unbelievable on the stove.
What didn't: Three hours over medium-low heat, as instructed, took the pork too far and made for dried-out meat. I also wasn't clear if I should stir periodically (which I did), since the liquid only went about half-way up the chunks of pork.
Suggested tweaks: Cook over low heat, stirring now and then, and start really checking for doneness at 2 hours. A note on the lard: They recommend seeking out leaf lard (from the soft fat around the pig's loin and kidneys) as opposed to using shelf-stable, hydrogenated lard from the grocery store, though that will work, too. Leaf lard has a neutral flavor and a higher smoke point, and can often be found at butcher shops and online.
Reprinted with permission from Tacolicious, by Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
- Yield:Makes about 16 tacos; serves 4 to 6
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:16 to 24 hours
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2- to 3-inch cubes
- 1 cup sliced yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup lard
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
- Chopped white onion, chopped fresh cilantro, salsa of choice, and lime wedges, for serving
Put the pork in a nonreactive Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid. Add the onion, garlic, sugar, salt, oregano, bay leaf, orange juice, and lemon juice and toss to coat the meat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
Bring the pork to room temperature. Heat the lard in a small pan over medium heat until it melts, then pour it over the pork. Cover the pot, place over medium-low heat, and cook the pork for about 3 hours, until the pork begins to pull apart easily when tested with a fork.
Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a bowl. Discard the cooking liquid and clean the pot. Using a couple of forks, shred the pork a bit but not completely, removing any large chunks of fat.
Return the pot to the stove top over high heat and add the oil. At the minute the oil begins to smoke, using tongs or a spoon and working in batches to avoid crowding, carefully add some of the meat to the hot oil and cook, turning as needed, for about 4 minutes, until crisp on all sides. (If some onions are still attached, don’t worry about it.)
Serve with the tortillas, onion, cilantro, salsa, and lime.