“Little meats,” is the translation of carnitas from Spanish. Crispy and glistening from its long lard bath, the pork either shredded or chopped can be swaddled in fresh corn tortillas and served, as it is throughout Mexico, where it is considered by many to be its quintessential dish. Originating from the Mexican state of Michoacán, traditionally Carnitas are made by braising pork in large copper cauldrons over a wood fire in its own lard. The process easily takes three to four hours of constant attention resulting in very tender and juicy meat.
Like most confits or braised dishes, this recipe is perfect for a sous vide redo. By vacuum packaging, the meats along with a slew of delicious fixing's not only do you get ridiculously tender and juicy meat perfumed with all the additional aromatics, but after straining and reducing the cooking liquid, you get a tremendous sauce perfect for adding to your tacos or serving in a more elegant presentation.
So why little meats? Well, other than the cooking method and the Latino flavorings, carnitas are basically like American pulled pork or more precisely, “whole hog” pulled pork. You see Mexican carnitas are at their best when they are a blend of the entire pig. From the snout to the tail and all edibles in between truly shine when combined.
Most American recipes call for the use of pork butt from the pork shoulder that is cut into cubes and either chopped or shredded after cooking. Truly delicious and so much easier than tackling a whole hog in the garage! Having said that you do miss out on some of the glories of traditional carnitas. So, in today's sous vide version of this classic I’m attempting to recreate the traditional experience with not just pork butt but the entire pork shoulder.
A whole pork shoulder extends from the bottom of the front leg to the top of the shoulder, excluding the feet. Boston butt (also known as pork shoulder butt) refers to the top of the shoulder, a perfect piece of the piggy with tender meat, generous marbling and a blade bone running through part of it. Picnic ham or shoulder ham refers to the bottom of the shoulder, which includes the top of the foreleg. It’s not quite as well-marbled as the pork shoulder butt but responds well to low and slow cooking techniques like sous vide. By using both cuts, we can experience the richer and softer qualities of the butt and the denser and ever so slightly more flavorful flesh of the picnic ham. Our good friends at cheshirepork.com sent me two beautiful specimens to create today's recipe, and one of the features of their whole pork shoulder butchering is offering the skin, intact. This bonus cut completes my carnitas trifecta! Removed separately and cooked along with the rest of our “little meats” the tough pigskin renders down beautifully, offering a rich, unctuous mouthfeel with lip-smacking love in every bite!
Don’t feel that you must use an entire shoulder as I did. I just wanted to showcase the opportunity of what you can achieve by using it with the skin to raise the level of your carnitas approaching the textures and flavors of the traditional method. Simply use a smaller pork butt or a picnic ham and cut the marinade by half, it will still be delicious. Having said all that, the beauty of vacuum packing allows the user to make large even huge batches of food like our incredible carnitas and after cooking, portion them in large pouches or individual serving to be used anytime you like, the future is now!
• 13-14 pounds pork shoulder, whole with hock and skin, bones and skin removed and reserved, meat cut into 2-3 inch cubes
• 1-2 pounds pork skin, reserved from whole pork shoulder or purchased separately, defatted and cut into roughly 4x5 inch sheets
• 4 tablespoons Kosher salt, or as needed
For the cooking marinade:
• 2 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
• 20 large garlic, cloves, peeled and cored
• 4 teaspoons oregano, Mexican
• 4 teaspoons cumin, ground
• 4 large cinnamon sticks, broken
• 1 cup condensed milk
• 2 large oranges, zest removed, pith removed from orange and orange
Cut into quarters for serving:
• 2 cups pork lard sous vide, or favorite brand
• Guacamole, see recipe as needed cilantro sprigs reserved cooking sauce as needed queso fresco or Monterey Jack, crumbled as needed lime wedges, fresh
1.Preheat the water bath of the VacMaster SV1 to 165°F/74°C
2.Place the cubed pork and pork skin in a large mixing bowl.
3.Season the meat and skin evenly on all sides with kosher salt, reserve.
4.Heat a large well-seasoned cast iron skillet dry, over medium high heat
5.Place the onions and garlic in the hot skillet and frequently turn to achieve a nice char all over about 3-5 minutes
6.Remove the onions and garlic and place in the bowl of a high-speed blender or food processor
7.In the same pan add the oregano, cumin, and cinnamon.
8.Stir frequently to toast the spices being careful not to burn about 1-2 minutes or until the spices are well toasted and fragrant.
9.Add to the blender along with the onions and garlic
10.Add the condensed milk and orange flesh to the rest of the ingredients in the blender and puree until smooth.
1.Using the VacMaster bag filler and appropriately sized VacMaster bag(s) add the salted pork, skin, the reserved bones, lard and orange zest.
2.Carefully pour in the marinade.
3.Using a VacMaster chamber machine vacuum seal the bag(s).
4.Carefully add the vacuum sealed bags to the preheated water bath of the VacMaster SV1 and cook for 24 hours.
5.Keep your eye on the water level and be prepared to top off with hot water.
6.Depending on your setup it's a good idea to cover the water tank of the SV1 with a lid or plastic wrap to slow down evaporation.
7.When meat is cooked, remove from water bath and transfer contents of the bag to a large bowl.
8.Pick out the meat and skin with tongs and transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet, reserve until cool.
9.Discard the bones and strain the cooking marinade through a fine mesh and discard any solids.
10.Pour the strained marinade into a suitable saucepan, let sit and gently de-fat the surface with a large shallow spoon, reserve fat.
11.Place the pan with the defatted sauce on medium-high heat and reduce by half stirring often to prevent scorching, reserve.
12.When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred meat roughly using 2 forks or your fingers or leave in cubes
1.Working in batches, heat some of the reserved cooking lard with the carnitas in a cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat, occasionally turning, until crisp, about 5-8 minutes.
2.While the carnitas are browning, using a sharp chef's knife cut the pork skin into fine ribbons and add to the pan to heat through.
3.Serve carnitas immediately with warm tortillas, the reduced marinade, guacamole, crumbled cheese, cilantro and lime wedges.
4.Alternatively, you can plate the carnitas with all the same ingredients on a large dinner plate as a more elegant presentation.