Carnitas are pulled pork for people who don’t really like BBQ. Or for people who just know that tacos are always the better alternative to most foods. And truly, what’s so different about a carnitas taco versus a pulled pork sandwich? Slow-cooked, shredded, well-seasoned pork shoulder, piled high on something soft and warm (be it bun or tortilla), topped with the zingy acidity of something pickled (be it cucumber or red onion), devoured hastily with eyes on the next helping.
This recipe is my very favourite way to cook a pork shoulder. The meat comes out unbelievably moist, with a heady kick of spice from the garlic and chiles that have melted into the tangles of shredded pork. Equally at home on a warm bun as a tortilla, this meat asks nothing of you other than to be paired with something pickled to counterbalance the rich fattiness of the meat. My go-to is a batch of quick pickled red onions, which should really be a condiment offered at most mealtimes. Plus, as with many braised meats, this pork is possibly even better the next day. Reheat it on the stove, adding a little more chicken stock to moisten things up as needed. I will also admit that I have re-purposed leftovers into pulled pork pancakes (just scatter a spoonful of pork over the uncooked side of a pancake prior to flipping) which, when combined with the sweetness of maple syrup, reaches a whole new level of porky nirvana.
Adapted from Bon Appetit (January 2013)
Feeds roughly 8 people if serving as tacos
**You can often buy Latin American products, such as various dried chile peppers, at some Asian specialty stores (such as South China Seas in Vancouver), and of course at many Latino grocery stores
3 dried chipotle morita chiles (or 1 if you’re very sensitive to spice)
3 ½ lb boneless, skinless pork shoulder (aka pork butt)
1 ½ cups pilsner
1 cup good-quality chicken stock
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
3 tsp kosher salt
Dry toast the whole chiles in a large heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven) set over medium heat. Turn the chiles every 2 minutes or so, until each side is slightly darkened and the air smells smoky and spicy. Transfer the chiles to a cutting board and slice off the stems, shaking out the seeds from inside. Cut the chiles lengthwise and set aside. Do not be an idiot and think that scratching anywhere on your face is acceptable like I did and then spend the next half hour smearing yogurt on your face and googling cures out of bleary-eyed desperation.
Cut the pork shoulder into 1 ½ - 2 inch cubes, discarding any particularly gristly bits that you notice along the way. Place the pork into the same pot that the chiles were toasted in. Add the beer, chicken stock, garlic, salt, and reserved chiles. Bring the liquids to a boil then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and partially cover. Cook for 75 minutes, checking every 15 minutes or so and submerging the pork cubes that have been at the top of the pot so that every piece gets to spend time in the bubbling juices. Uncover the pork completely and increase the heat to medium, cooking for another 20-30 minutes or until most of the liquid has reduced down and the pork is fork tender. You need some liquid to still be in the bottom of the pot as this keeps the pork nice and juicy once it’s been shredded.
Using 2 forks, shred the pork, leaving some slightly bigger, juicier chunks throughout the carnitas. The chiles will likely have disintegrated by now, so you can go ahead and just shred them into the pork. Serve hot or let cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve with warm corn tortillas, pickled red onions and plenty of cilantro and hot sauce.
Pickled Red Onions
1 red onion, sliced thinly into ½ moons
1 cup red wine vinegar
In a small deep bowl or medium-sized jar, combine the onion and vinegar, submerging as many of the onion slices as possible. Cover with plastic or with a lid and let sit for 1-2 hours. Stir every 30 minutes or so to ensure that all the slices get pickled. Keeps covered in the fridge for up to 1 week.