I love dishes that taste amazing but require little effort and little money to make. To that end, cheap cuts of meat braised for a long time are something of a miracle for both your pocket book and your taste buds. Pork is my favorite type of meat in general (bacon, tenderloin, pork chops, pork belly, sausage, ham, pork shoulder, spare ribs- the list is endless), but particularly for braising. There is something so incredibly succulent and tender about a slow-cooked piece of pork. I also adore tacos (Taco Tuesday anybody?) and carnitas allow me to marry those two desires together.
Carnitas is a Spanish word that means “little meats.” It is a dish of Mexican cuisine originating from Michoacan. Traditionally, it is made by simmering your pork in lard until tender. I cannot source a large amount of lard to cook my carnitas in, so I cheat. I add olive oil, use the fat from the pork shoulder I purchase, and I add additional lard that I purchase from the store. I find jars of the Epic brand of lard near the oil section in my grocery store.
Traditionally, carnitas are served with salsa, onions, guacamole, tortillas and refried beans. You can purchase refried beans from the grocery store, or you can make your own. Making your own is a little more labor intensive, but like carnitas, a lot of that time is spent waiting for things to simmer away. Plus, you can put your purchased lard to a second use!
Refried beans come from the Spanish “frijoles refritos" which actually translates to well-fried rather than twice-fried. The “re” prefix works as an intensifier, rather than how an English speaking person would use “re” to mean “done again.” Refried beans are certainly fried well; first they simmer for hours, then they are cooked and mashed in lard to create a paste.
Refried beans are great alongside rice, or served with nachos piled high with cheese, jalapeños, salsa…. All the fixings you like! If you’re like me, you might even toss some carnitas onto your nachos, then munch away!
3- 5 pound pork shoulder, pork butt, Boston round
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves (or parsley if you are like me)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if you can find it)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons chipotle in adobo
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup lard (I used Epic brand)
Mexican Crema (to make, combine 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a 1/2 of sour cream plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt; let the flavors mingle at room temp for 3 hours, then serve)
Refried Beans (recipe to follow)
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F. Trim the rind off of your pork shoulder, pork butt or Boston round and scared. Trim the fat and reserve. Cut you meat into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Place the chunks into a 12 inch enameled cast iron braiser with a tight-fitting lid, or a 9 by 13 inch roasting pan. Add in the trimmed fat and the rest of your ingredients and toss well. Place on your lid, or cover with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Put your braiser or roasting pan into your preheated oven for 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork tender but not falling apart. Ince there, remove the meat into a bowl. Strain the braising liquid and reserve. Turn your oven onto broil. Return your meat into your pan. Skim a few tablespoons of fat from the top of your reserved braising liquid and pour it on top of your meat pieces, coating each one.
Place you pan into the oven and broil for a few minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, turn the meat and add a little more fat if needed. Broil a few minutes longer, until the meat is nicely crisped all over.
I recommend making a lovely taco with a heated corn tortilla. I like to heat mine in a dry cat iron skillet. Place a in a few chunks of meat, either chopped of mashed with a fork. Top with whatever you like, such as avocado, salsa, quest fresco, creme, sour cream, a spritz of lime, and some of the braising liquid.
Refried Beans Ingredients:
1 pound of dried pinto beans
3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon oregano (Mexican, if you can find it)
10 cups of water
1/2 cup of lard (I used Epic brand)
1 large diced onion (I like sweet onions, but hate works as well)
1 1/2 salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon jalapeños, finely minced
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo
1 teaspoon cumin
White and Blue corn tortilla chips
Shredded Colby Jack cheese
Soak your dried beans overnight in cold water. Drain your beans and place them into a large pot. Add your garlic, oregano, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, until your beans are soft. I recommend testing a few beans to be sure all are cooked evenly.
Drain your beans and reserve the cooking liquid. Over medium head, add your lard into a large cast iron skillet. Once your lard is melted, and you diced onion. Saute until the onion just begins to brown, then add your beans, salt, pepper, jalapeños, cayenne, chipotle in adobo and cumin. Mash about half of your beans with a spoon or potato masher, then add some of the cooking liquid.
Continue mashing the beans and adding you cooking liquid until you achieve the texture of refried beans that you desire. I like mine a little chunky and thick, but you may prefer them looser and smooth. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed.
I love making nachos with these. In a small cast iron skillet, I pile white and blue corn tortilla chips, spoon over the refried beans, mashed carnitas, generous amounts of cheese and some jalapeños. I place this under the broiler until the cheese and bubbling and slightly browned, then I enjoy them with salsa, sour cream and avocado.