Taking a little trip south of the border for a love affair with tacos! Try this crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside Yucatan Carnitas recipe on your next taco night. Slightly spicy, cooked in juice, and rendered fat, this carnitas recipe is hard to beat.
There is a complex simplicity to Latin American cooking. The subtleties of Precolumbian cultures; Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs, and traditional ingredients alongside the influence of Spanish cuisine and introduced ingredients that came with colonization.
Pork arrived with the Spanish and was quickly adapted to fit local tastes and create one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes: Carnitas. The Mexican answer to pulled pork, you’ll find recipes for Carnitas vary from region to region. This recipe borrows from Mayan traditional seasoning and ingredients.
Tender Pork Bits
Juices, spices, onion, garlic, and jalapeño. This is a recipe that needs a fatty, well-marbled price of meat. Some prefer to use pork loin mixed with pork belly. Others swear by pork butt. Personally, I use pork shoulder because it’s often an inexpensive, plentiful cut with all the fat you need to render good results.
This is a simple slow-cooked recipe in stage one; just combine all your ingredients in a slow cooker or Dutch oven and cook until fall-apart tender.
Crispy Pork Bits
You could stop there, honestly. Delicious soft, seasoned shredded pork makes a great meal, but carnitas are CRISPY on the outside and tender on the inside because once that pork is tender cooked, it’s crisped in good fat or lard. That’s what gives carnitas their signature texture and deep flavour.
Methods vary to get that crispy result. Depending on what tools and vessels are available in your kitchen, we can get you there.
I made use of my cocotte here, first cooking until tender, lid on. Then pouring off and reserving extra liquid and returning to a hotter oven, lid off to finish, tossing, turning, and adding rendered liquid as needed. You can use your slow cooker in much the same way. Cook until tender then remove pork and crisp in a hot cast iron pan with lard and reserved juices.
If you don’t have a cast-iron pan, use a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 375⁰F (190⁰C) oven. Add reserved juices and fat as needed, and cook until golden and crisp. Then pull apart with two forks (as above)
How do you serve your carnitas?
You can serve with rice, tomatillo salsa a sprinkle of feta (to substitute for cotija cheese, which can be hard to come by outside of Mexico, feta is about as close as you get at times), and a dash of crema.
You can use carnitas in burritos, fajitas, quesadillas or to top natchos. They freeze and reheat well, so they make terrific leftover meals. Personally, I’m an advocate for carnitas tacos! Finished with fresh onion and jalapeño, avocado, and a dash of fresh pico di gallo, love a good Yucatan Carnitas Tacos!
But then again, tacos are my love language. So, I might be a little biased!
Try this crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside Yucatan Carnitas recipe on your next taco night. Slowcooker or cocotte friendly, the trick is the reverse sear that gives them their signature crispiness. I heart TACOS!
3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch, square chunks
1 onion, cut julienne
4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
1 cup orange juice
2 limes, juice only
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt
Preheat oven to 325⁰F (162⁰C).
Combine dry spice mix in a small bowl. In your cocotte or dutch oven, toss spice blend with pork cubes to coat evenly. Add juices, onions, and jalapeno peppers and gently stir to combine. Cover with tightfitting lid and place in pre-heated 325⁰F (162⁰C) oven for about 2 hours, checking liquid levels at the one-hour mark to be sure enough moisture and fat remains.
Remove lid and increase oven temperature to 375⁰F (190⁰C). Toss pork chunks in remaining juices to coat. Return to oven to begin crisping. As the liquid evaporates, toss pork to continue to evenly coat in what remains, about every 10 minutes or so for a total of about 30 minutes depending on your oven.
Remove from heat and rest for about ten to fifteen minutes. Pull apart pork chunks with two forks to create, long stringy pieces. Toss pork in remaining juices. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve in any manner you choose; on a bed of rice with refried beans, in a fajita, burrito, or my favorite… Crispy Ycantan Carnita Tacos.
Combine dry spice mix in a small bowl. In your slow-cooker, toss spice blend with pork cubes to coat evenly. Add juices, onions, and jalapeno peppers and gently stir to combine. Cover with lid and cook for 6 to 8 hours on medium setting.
Preheat oven to 325⁰F (162⁰C). Remove pork from liquid and spread evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon a generous amount of reserved juices over pork to coat well, then place in 375⁰F (190⁰C) to begin crisping.
Check every 10 minutes or so, adding liquid and tossing pork bits, for a total of about 30 minutes depending on your oven.
Remove from heat and rest for about ten to fifteen minutes. Pull apart pork chunks with two forks to create long, stringy pieces. Toss pork with about a 1/2 cup remaining juices if it looks dry. Adjust seasoning if needed. See serving notes. THINK TACOS!
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer, recipe blogger and Food Business Consultant. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn, ten years in catering, and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.