Start to finish: 4 hours (45 minutes active) | Servings: 4 to 6
Authentic Mexican carnitas involve slowcooking pork in lard until fall-apart tender, then increasing the heat so the meat fries and crisps. The fried pork then is broken into smaller pieces for eating. In the U.S., however, carnitas usually is made by simmering pork in liquid, then shredding the meat. The result is moist and tender, but lacks intense porkiness as well the crisping traditional to carnitas. Our method melds the two techniques. We cook cubes of pork shoulder in 1 cup each of neutral oil and water, along with spices and aromatics, until the meat is fork-tender. We then break the pork into smaller pieces, moisten it with its own juices, and fry it in a hot skillet. The pork gets to keep its flavor and develop crisp bits. If you have a fat separator, it makes quick work of removing the fat from the cooking liquid: pour the liquid into it after removing the pork from the pot, then return the defatted cooking liquid to the pot, but remember to reserve the fat. You can cook, shred and moisten the pork with the reduced cooking liquid up to three days in advance; fry the pork just before serving so it’s hot and crisp. And if you like your carnitas extra-crisp, after browning the first side, use the spatula to flip the pork and cook until the second side is well-browned and crisp, another 5 to 7 minutes. You can serve carnitas simply with rice and beans or make tacos with warmed corn tortillas. Either way, pickled red onions (recipe follows) are a must—their sharp acidity perfectly balances the richness of the pork. Also offer sliced radishes and salsa, such as our tomatillo-avocado salsa.
Don’t trim the fat from the pork shoulder. The pork should render its fat in the oven and so the meat cooks slowly in it and the juices. And after cooking, don’t discard the fat you skim off the cooking liquid—you’ll need some of it to crisp the shredded pork in a hot skillet.
- 5 to 6 pounds boneless pork butt, not trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 10 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
Heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. In a large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven, stir together the pork, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in the oil and 1 cup water. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook for 3 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven. Stir the pork and return the pot, uncovered, to the oven. Cook until a skewer inserted into the meat meets no resistance, another 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer to cool. Tilt the pot to pool the cooking liquid to one side, then use a wide spoon to skim off as much fat as possible; reserve the fat. Bring the defatted cooking liquid to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about ⅓ cup, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
When the meat is cool enough to handle, break the chunks into .- to 1-inch pieces, discarding any large pieces of fat. Add the pork back to the pot and stir until evenly moistened with the reduced cooking liquid.
In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 1 teaspoon of the reserved fat until barely smoking. Add the pork in an even layer and cook without stirring, pressing the meat against the skillet with a spatula, until the bottom begins to brown and the pork is heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Pickled Red Onions
Start to finish: 10 minutes | Makes about 2 cups
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- Kosher salt
- 2 medium red onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño chili, stemmed, halved lengthwise and seeded
To make, in a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons white sugar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Stir in 2 medium red onions (halved and thinly sliced) and 1 jalapeño chili (stemmed, halved lengthwise and seeded). Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Green Chili and Tomatillo Hot Sauce
Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active) | Makes 1 cup
This brightly acidic, cumin-spiked hot sauce is an excellent condiment for any Mexicaninspired meal. To give the sauce kick, we use a serrano chili with its seeds, but you could remove the seeds for less heat. For an even milder sauce, replace the serrano with a seeded jalapeño. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the sauce will keep for up to a week.
Don’t worry if the vegetables broil somewhat unevenly. The chilies may brown the most and the tomatillos should be fully softened, but be careful not to scorch the garlic. And don’t remove the charred skins before processing—they add a subtly smoky flavor.
- 3 medium tomatillos (about 6 ounces), husked, cored and halved lengthwise
- 1 medium poblano chili, stemmed, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 1 serrano chili, stemmed and halved lengthwise
- 1 medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher salt
Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatillos and both chilies cut sides down on the prepared baking sheet, then add the garlic. Broil until the chilies are deeply charred and the tomatillos are softened, 5 to 8 minutes, rotating the baking sheet about halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the broiled vegetables, vinegar, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and . cup water. Process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl, then taste and season with salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Start to finish: 20 minutes | Servings: 4
Oaxaca, Mexico is home to the antojito (street food) known as the tlayuda, an oversized corn tortilla topped with black beans, cheese, meats and a spate of other ingredients, then toasted on a grill. Since super-fresh, extra-large corn tortillas are difficult to find in U.S., we use flour tortillas instead, and we do as some Oaxacans do and fold them in half to enclose the fillings. For ease, we bake them in a hot oven rather than cook them over a live fire. Fill the tlayudas as you like and cut into wedges just before serving. Pickled red onions are an essential topping. To make, in a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup white vinegar, 2 teaspoons white sugar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Stir in 2 medium red onions (halved and thinly sliced). Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Don’t use Spanish chorizo, which is dry-cured and firm, like salami. Mexican chorizo, which is soft and fresh is the type to use here.
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 8 ounces fresh Mexican chorizo sausage casing removed, crumbled
- 4 large jalapeño chilies, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Four 8-inch flour tortillas
- 1 cup black bean puree (recipe on next page)
- 4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- Shredded lettuce, to serve
- Pickled red onions to serve
- Sliced tomato, to serve
- Green chili and tomatillo hot sauce, to serve
Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the middle position. In a 12-inch cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until barely smoking. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking the meat into small bits, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to a paper towel–lined plate; set aside. Add the jalapeños and scallions to the pan, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the chorizo; set aside.
Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons oil onto a rimmed baking sheet and brush to coat the entire surface. Place 2 tortillas on the baking sheet to coat the bottoms with oil, then flip them and coat the second sides. Spread 1/4 cup of the bean mixture evenly on half of each tortilla, all the way to the edges. Top the beans on each with . of the cheese, then fold the unfilled half over to cover and press gently to seal. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, beans and cheese.
Place the filled and folded tortillas in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake until the cheese has melted and the bottoms of the tortillas are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the tlayudas to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Carefully open each and fill as desired with the chorizo-jalapeño-scallion mixture, lettuce, pickled onions, tomato and hot sauce. Re-fold, then cut into wedges. Serve warm.
Black Bean Puree
Start to finish: 15 minutes | Makes 3 cups
This bean puree is quick and simple to make. It’s also versatile. Keep some on hand for use as a filling for tacos, quesadillas or molletes; serve it warm as a side dish to any Mexican-inspired meal; or use it as a dip for tortilla chips. Leftovers can be thinned with water or broth to the desired consistency.
Don’t forget to reserve 1/4 cup of the bean liquid after you drain the cans. And don’t rinse the beans after draining them; the liquid left clinging to them helps create a puree with a silky consistency.
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- Two 15 1/2-ounce cans black beans, drained (do not rinse), 1/4 cup liquid reserved
- 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
In a small skillet over medium, toast the cumin and coriander, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a food processor and add the beans and reserved liquid, chipotle chilies and adobo sauce, lime juice and 1 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the cilantro, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
PHOTO CREDIT: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES