Monday, January 17, 2011

Carnitas Tacos


I made these tacos as an homage to my friend Lyonel's abuelita. When we were growing up, she fed us the most delicious tamales, while Lyonel's dad was an expert at carne asada. Every once in a while there were tender, yet crispy, carnitas. I really miss the food and people of my childhood. It really seems like the friends you had when you were young are unlike any you will ever have. At least there's food that serves as a time machine to transport one back to more golden times.

Carnitas Tacos

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1” chunks, trimmed of excess fat
2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
16 ounces vegetable or chicken stock (see notes)
1 cup red wine
1 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced
2 Anaheim chiles

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Cut the pork shoulder into 1" cubes, discarding excess fat.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. In three batches, sear the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until browned. If necessary, pour of excess fat between batches and add additional oil.

3. Once all the pork is browned pour off any excess fat. Deglaze the skillet with the red wine and scrape to release the fond.

4. Add the pork back into the pan, then add stock and enough water so that the pork pieces are 2/3rds submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and onion, then stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.

7. Cover the skillet in aluminum foil and braise the pork in the oven for 2 1/2 hours or until the pork is falling apart.

8. Meanwhile, roast the Anaheim chiles over an open flame. Wash in cold water and scrub away the skin. Remove the seeds, thinly slice, then reserve.

9. Remove the skillet from the oven and place on the stovetop, pouring off any excess liquid of need be. Add the chiles, turn heat to medium high and brown the pork until crispy.

10. Serve on warmed tortillas, topping with salsa.

I think that using stock and wine to braise the pork is critical to adding additional flavor. Many people braise carnitas in water, but that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Why avoid flavor?

Regarding stock, please don't use stock with a high salt content. I think vegetable stock is the best for this recipe, but others will do in a pinch.


  1. Food really does have the power to do that. I think music too. Can take us back to that time. What I love, is when I'm cooking and I go outside to drop off trash, come back and my kitchen smells like my grandma's kitchen.

    Just made levish (soup), and caramel covered corn. Tim's got your surprise packaged and by the door.

  2. You are killing me here, Christian - the carnitas sound amazing right now.

    I've cooked a shoulder on a smoker (love it), and we have also used a crock pot with beer as the braising liquid.

    However, your recipe sounds extremely flavorful, and I may have to give it a go sometime in the near future!

    Also, I think you have a typo in step #7: "Cover the skillet in aluminum foil and braise pork in the oven uncovered..."


  3. whisk: I am so excited. Can't wait!

    alan: Gah! Thanks for pointing out the typo. In my rough draft I thought about going uncovered, but adjusted that. I love the use of beer as a braising liquid. Perfect!

    esperanza: Thank you! I have been getting terribly homesick these days.

  4. Hey Christian. I popped in to tell you that I made bagel chips today, with leftover bagels. They came out pretty good. Now I want to take the leftover and grind them into bread crumbs. Just for fun.

  5. I've read Mexican Coca Cola is another ingredient to carnitas, too.

  6. OT but Christian, when are you going to make a cooking zine? (If you have not done so already).

  7. Hi JJ,

    I published three issues of a Cook And Destroy food zine, but decided to simply store my recipes online for handy reference. This blog is pretty much my online personal cookbook. :)

  8. Popped in to say hello. Hello. I have in the oven another roasted chicken breast only this one is seasoned with organic Italian seasonings. Then earlier today, I made homemade tomato sauce. I've got cheeses in the fridge. Toss 'em together and it's a party in a pan.

    Hope you're eating well and I look forward to your next post.

  9. Would you happen to have a tried and true barbequed goat recipe? I am going to eventually try my hand at traditional birria (cooked in a firepit) but want something a touch easier for now.

  10. Hi Esperanza,

    My wife is a chef and she said that basically you could prepare a goat shoulder in the same way I did the carnitas and it should be good. As for barbecuing, she's not sure. The tenderloin might be a good option for barbecuing, but a braise with the shoulder might be the way to go.

    I hope you are well. :)

  11. oh my god...its going to be so good.