Carnitas, Houston style
I discovered pork carnitas during the 14 years I lived in Houston, TX. There hasn’t been a place I’ve been since that has carnitas that come anywhere close to my favorite places in Houston. Until I found this recipe. Thankfully, it’s really easy.
There are 2 Homesick Texan recipes for this deliciousness. The main difference between them is the addition of lime juice and garlic in the SmittenKitten version. This is the one I use most often. The other I’ll use if I have guests who aren’t as fond of garlic as I am.
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes *
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 to 3 limes)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
For Serving: Corn tortillas, Avocado slices, chopped cilantro and fixings of your choice (we love pickled jalapenos or onions, lime wedges and a bit of slaw)
Place the pork in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and enough water to just barely cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours. Don’t touch the meat.
After two hours, increase the heat to medium-high and while occasionally stirring and turning the pieces, continue to cook for about 45 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently (they’ll be eager to fall apart), only as needed.
When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve on warmed tortillas with fixings.
The key to this recipe is that the meat has fat, so don’t trim it! If there’s not enough fat on the meat the recipe will turn out too dry. Whether to shred the meat like pulled pork or leave it in cubes I think is determined by what you’re used to eating. Texas isn’t a pulled-pork state so the texture isn’t as familiar as nicely done chunks. Likewise, I think the brilliance of this recipe lies in its simplicity. You can add as many different spices, herbs and aromatics as you like—but if you have good-tasting, happy pork why not let its flavor shine with just a bit of salt? Ultimately, however, making carnitas is a highly personal affair and so make them as they best suit you!
* You can use bone-in pork shoulder roast. It’s usually a little cheaper and major grocery stores usually have good sales on this way more often than they do the boneless version. When I get the bone-in version, it’s usually an 8 lb roast so I’ll have the butcher cut it in half and freeze one. I can still cut most of it into 2-inch cubes. I cut as close the bone as I can and put the bone in the bottom of the pot. When it’s cooked down, the meat comes off the bone really easily.