Crock Pot Carnitas!
Happy Friday All!
Today’s recipe has quickly become one of my favorites over the last couple years for its amazing flavors and ability to feed a larger group, or make a lot of tasty leftovers. Anything you make in the crock pot should inherently be fairly easy and with only about 15 minutes of prep my carnitas recipe is basically a “set it and forget it!”
Usually in the summertime just to lighten up this recipe I use butter lettuce cups instead of tortillas. They offer a different texture and flavor than standard tortillas and you can eat a lot without feeling guilty! Guacamole is pretty much a requirement on these as well so I’ll put a simple recipe for that and an easy Pico de Gallo below.
1 – 3 to 4 lb pork shoulder or roast. I like to use a bone in shoulder as it keeps the meat even more moist and I paid less than $7 for the one pictured! A bone in shoulder will require an extra hour or so of cooking time compared to a bone out.
1 – diced white onion
1 ½- cups roasted salsa verde
Juice of one fresh orange
Juice of one fresh lime
5 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried chipotle powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh pepper
1/2 dark or Mexican beer (I prefer Negro Modelo)
First step is to prepare your shoulder for the crock pot. I like to get the shoulder all prepped and marinating in the crock pot the night before so I can get up in the morning, add the half beer, plug in and head to work.
First peel your garlic cloves and keep them whole. Take a sharp knife and cut 5 pockets or slits into the shoulder and press the garlic cloves into each pocket of the meat. Make sure to distribute these as evenly as possible throughout the pork.
Next combine the cumin, paprika, dried chipotle powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Rub this entire mixture over, all around and into all the crevices of the meat until its coated well. Once that is done place your rubbed pork into the crock pot. Now you’re going to add the entire diced white onion on top and around it, then pour the salsa verde on top of that.
Final step at this point is to pour your orange juice and lime juice on top of this entire mixture then cover and refrigerate overnight. The overnight refrigeration isn’t absolutely necessary but it does help the flavor.
After sitting overnight the final step before cooking is to simply pour half of a dark or Mexican beer over the top of it. I really prefer the flavor of a good Mexican beer in this recipe such as Negro Modelo or Dos Equis Amber. Stay away from hoppy or bitter beers such as an IPA.
Now you are ready to plug in the crock pot and let it do its thing! I use the low setting (my crock pot gets fairly hot even on low) and for bone in shoulder I cook about 7 hours. If you are using a smaller or bone out piece of meat 6 hours should be plenty of time. One important item to note at this point is to not take off your cover for at least 4 hours. Crock pots work much better if they are left alone so wait at least 4 hours then you can turn your roast to let it finish cooking. Ideally you want to remove the lid only once until its done. You can easily test for cooking completion by taking a fork and trying to shred off some chunks of meat. If the meat isn’t tearing apart fairly easily it needs longer.
Once your pork is done carefully remove it from the crock pot with a large tongs or couple large serving forks and let it sit and cool on a cutting board for a while. I like to press down on it with the fork and start breaking it into large pieces so it cools off quicker. While you are waiting for the pork to cool it’s a good time to prepare your sauce. I like to think this is where my carnitas recipe separates itself from all the others! My trick is to use a hand/stick blender to fully blend up all the juices, fat, garlic, etc. that is left over in the crock pot after I have removed the pork. This liquid is going to be hot so please use a lot of caution. I tip the pot a little then run the blender on low until it’s a nice smooth consistency. You could use a regular blender for this if you don’t have a stick blender but I’d let the mixture cool down to room temp first before trying that. Once its blended smooth pour into another bowl to hold while you are shredding the carnitas. At this point the crock pot should be totally empty. One quick note here if you don’t have the time or the right equipment to blend your sauce simply strain it through a colander/strainer and you’re all set.
Once the carnitas are cooled off enough you can commence shredding! I use my hands for this as it’s by far the easiest and fastest way I have found. Take time to remove most or all of the fat (depending on your own preference), any leftover garlic that may still be stuck inside and of course any bones. If you haven’t made carnitas before you’re basically looking for a texture/size similar to pulled pork.
Once your pork is all shredded add it back to the crock pot and start slowly adding back in your blended sauce. I usually end up using about ¾ of the sauce I have back in the crock pot with the carnitas. It really depends on your own preferences and if you prefer a more wet or dry pork. I like mine nice and moist but not completely soaked in the sauce.
At this point your carnitas are ready for however you want to eat them! As I noted above in the summer I like using butter lettuce cups instead of tortillas just to lighten them (and my waistline) up a little bit. After the first time or two using the lettuce cups I bet you won’t even miss the tortillas!
I really think these go best with a simple fresh guacamole and/or Pico de Gallo so here is a quick recipe for each of those. Remember to adjust anything you’d like to your own tastes!
Fresh Pico de Gallo-
½ bell pepper – diced-any color but I tend to prefer red
½ white onion-diced
½ bunch of cilantro- chopped
2 medium to large fresh tomatoes – diced
Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a little salt and pepper and you’re good to go! If you prefer this a little spicier use any kind of pepper you’d like. Jalapeno, Serrano, etc.
2 ripe avocados
½ bunch cilantro- chopped
½ white onion- diced
Combine all ingredients into a bowl with a little salt and pepper and mash together lightly with a fork.
If you aren’t a big fan of onions feel free to use shallots here which are milder than the onion.
A couple quick notes on this recipe:
Leftover carnitas are about the best food in the world so don’t worry if you have a ton left after dinner. Usually the next morning I fry a couple eggs then heat up some of the leftover carnitas and top the eggs with it which is flat out delicious! If you have some avocado and cilantro left over put that on top of the carnitas and prepare yourself to discover your new favorite breakfast!
The leftovers work great for nachos, put them on a homemade pizza, or just about whatever you can think of. Also another quick and fun variation on this is to pan fry the carnitas before you put them into the lettuce cup, this will add a nice crispiness and another layer of flavor. This is known as “street taco” style.