America's Test Kitchen's Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)

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Carnitas is Mexican pulled pork usually made with the pork butt (fyi pork butt is NOT the pig's butt) or pork shoulder. What's great about America's Test Kitchen's recipe for Mexican carnitas is that you can achieve the crispiness of the pork by broiling it in the oven only after you simmer it for 2 hours in a dutch oven making it fork-tender. See the corresponding video from America's Test Kitchen season 10, episode 21: South-of-the-Border Supper where they prepare Mexican carnitas which is a pretty good alternative to the carnitas you would get in a taqueria or taco truck.

Traditionally carnitas is fried in lard. Frying something in fat gives great flavor, but it often gets messy and is quite unhealthy. This recipe is perfect if you're looking for a healthier alternative for this classic Mexican dish. Overall, I was pleased with how the carnitas ended up - I loved the tenderness of it after 2+ hours of braising in liquid along with the crisp edges resulting from broiling it in the oven - and it wasn't all that labor-intensive either! I would say the most difficult part was trimming the fat and cutting the pork shoulder before putting it into the braising liquid. I'll definitely be making this again in enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, or burritos and integrating this dish into my meal rotation. These carnitas are great to have as part of a taco bar or party (la taquiza) for small or large gatherings of all kinds and particularly great for a Cinco de Mayo party. Have a bar with various proteins (carnitas, carne asada, lengua, chicken mole, etc.) and other taco fixings and toppings for your fiesta. Tacos are the ultimate party food that everyone will enjoy.

Mexican Carnitas with Salsa
Mexican Carnitas garnished with Cheese, Salsa, Cilantro in a taco

FlavorFool's Notes

  • IMPORTANT: cut the amount of oregano from 1 tsp to say, half a tsp or a quarter teaspoon. The oregano flavor really overpowered the good, natural pork flavor of the carnitas. Update 8-21-14: I made this recipe using 1/2 tsp oregano and it was definitely better, but still a bit overwhelming. If you like the strong oregano flavor then I wouldn't exceed 1/2 tsp which would probably be the right amount for you, but if you like a more subtle oregano flavor, then I suggest cutting it down further to maybe 1/4 tsp.
  • If after 2 hrs in the oven and the pork isn't tender, add another 15 minutes. The total time in the oven was 2 hrs and 15 mins for me and the pork ended up being very tender.
  • Definitely use a corn tortilla. Don't dare substitute it for flour tortillas for tacos.
  • The toppings I used were a Rick Bayless salsa I made from scratch, fresh cilantro, monterey jack cheese, fresh lime juice, and pickled jalapenos. Next time I'll add a little bit of sour cream (or crème fraîche), chopped onion, pico de gallo, and sliced avocado which gives it a somewhat creamy texture.
  • Mexican Carnitas Recipe

    America's Test Kitchen - season 10, episode 21, South-of-the-Border Supper
    Serves 6

    Ingredients

    PORK
    1 (3½- to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to ⅛ inch thick, cut into
    2-inch chunks
    1 small onion, peeled and halved
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp dried oregano [I prefer to use 1/4 tsp next time]
    ½ tsp pepper
    1 tsp salt
    2 tbsp juice from 1 lime
    1 medium orange, halved
    2 cups water
    2 bay leaves

    TORTILLAS AND GARNISHES
    18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
    Lime wedges
    Fresh cilantro leaves [a definite must have]
    Thinly sliced radishes
    Minced white or red onion
    Sour cream

    Instructions

    1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about ⅓ cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.

    2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.

    3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with garnishes and warm tortillas.

    Video: Demonstrating Cooking Mexican Carnitas on America's Test Kitchen

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