A few weeks ago we picked up a whole pork shoulder for about 11 bucks. I had a thought of making pulled pork, but decided on carnitas. Both are slow-cooked pork, but I associate pulled pork with barbecue and carnitas is definitely mexican. Anything that can be folded into a tortilla has my vote.
I scanned some recipes online and eliminated any that called for orange juice. I have a dislike of fruit or citrus with flesh. I spotted one from David Lebovitz that looked good and easy to adapt to the crockpot.
It was my first pork butt. Why is it called pork butt if it is from the shoulder? I don't know, but it's fun to say "pork butt". Let me tell you, pork butts are huge. I decided to just work with half of it at a time, since I wanted to use my crockpot.
Carnitas, adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris
4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder (pork butt!), cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick (omitted)
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (omitted)
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced
1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)
2. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.
3. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel, then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits. I poured this liquid into the crockpot with the pork.
4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees. If you are using oven instead of crockpot.
5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd's submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic. I added the juice of one lime, too.
7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter. OR - cook in your crockpot on low for 8 hours. The liquid won't evaporate, but I just pulled out the pork with a slotted spoon and transferred it to a sheet pan.
8. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.
9. Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them. I browned my carnitas for 20 minutes in a 375* oven.
These were delish. We had some in tortillas the first night, and then I had the idea to try to recreate a carnitas bowl from Chipotle.
I started with the cilantro-lime rice. I browed one cup rice in a tablespoon of oil for 10 minutes, or until it smelled nutty, almost like popcorn. Then I added chicken stock and cooked covered for about 20 minutes.
I juiced some (way too many) limes and added the juice to the rice. Next was chopped cilantro.
In a bowl, I layered rice, carnitas, lettuce, tomato, salsa and sour cream. The only thing missing was the black beans.