“The Spanish fucked everything up! The only thing they did right was seduce the pig.” –Diana Kennedy, on Spain’s colonization of Mexico 500 years ago
Last week I gave you Houston-Style Carnitas, and today as promised, I offer you the original carnita, from Michoacán, Mexico. This dish was created after Spanish colonists brought over pigs – yeah, Mexico never had pigs before then. Someone got the idea to slow-simmer the pig in lard, probably a European learned in the French cooking/preservation method of confit – but instead of preserving the pork, they just stuck it in a taco and ate it. The tradition persists to this day, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, that’s just fine.
As I age and hopefully grow in wisdom and knowledge and all that nice crap, I have noticed that I’ve become more and more of a chill human, a bearer of lackadaisical attitudes towards others’ personal tastes and kitchen shortcuts. Store Bought Is Fine has become a common shrug of mine. I defend canned beans and last week I made the most Basic Bitch Lasagna you’ve ever seen: no-boil noodles, jarred marinara, and pre-grated Parmesan. I just didn’t care, and I wouldn’t ask you to, either. However…. (you knew that was coming)
I still have a few hills I’ll valiantly die on, one of which is this: you cannot make proper carnitas in a slow cooker. Can you cook a perfectly seasoned pork shoulder in your slow cooker, and then shred or chunk it up and fill tortillas with it? Sure! Absolutely. And it will be delicious. But it won’t be carnitas. You know why not? Because a slow cooker cannot achieve the frizzly, crispy, fatty pork chunks that is THE defining feature of carnitas. You must have that pork simmering or frying in pork fat to render (no pun intended) that glorious outcome. Otherwise, you just have pulled pork tacos – which are lovely for their own sake, but they are not, I repeat not, carnitas.
Why will I fight you on this? Why is this apparent arbitrariness worth my time and energy? Because carnitas are special. Because they deserve their own tender, succulent pedestal. Their unctious fattiness is not matched by any other braised meat I’ve ever tasted. Carnitas are a beautiful dish and no one should be tampering with perfection.
Now, you get to choose whether you want the more Texan style of braising in water and then crisping in their own rendered fat, or the Mexican version where they just stew away covered in lard and sweet Mexican Coke. I chose both, two weekends in a row, and I’d highly recommend it! The water-braised method will yield a slightly lighter dish, which allows the citrus and cumin notes to really pop. This method I’m sharing today can occasionally leave one in a pork fat coma, but I assure you it’s worth it. They are a tortilla-encased bomb of sweet-fatty-salty-earthy and I couldn’t love them more.
- 1 ½ lbs. Fatty pork shoulder, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 tbs garlic powder
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 cup Mexican-style Coca-Cola, made with cane sugar
- ½ cup melted lard
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- Warmed corn tortillas, for serving
- Chopped white onion, for serving
- Chopped cilantro, for serving
- Lime wedges and salsa, for serving
- Season the pork on all sides with the garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Transfer the pork to a small but heavy pot, one that will hold the pork snugly. Add the Coca-Cola and lard. Bring to a boil then decrease the heat to maintain a simmer. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Cover and simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes. Without turning off the stove, carefully transfer out each piece of pork to a cutting board, one at a time, and chop into 2” pieces. Return them to the pot. Bring to low boil (about medium heat) and cook another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. What you want is for the cola and lard to boil down and glaze the pork. The pork should be tender and shred easily.
- Remove the pork and shred with 2 forks, into whatever size you want.
- Serve in the warmed tortillas and top with chopped onion, cilantro, and salsa. Squeeze lime wedges if desired.