I’ve never met a braised meat I didn’t like. As a New Englander, I grew up eating the traditional boiled dinner with glee — tender beef with all of those wonderfully seasoned carrots, onions, and potatoes (mmmmm). But it wasn’t until I was a young adult that I branched out and tasted some of the other braised dishes from around the world — chile colorado, coq au vin, and lamb tagine to name a few.
Most recently, though, I’ve taken to carnitas. The contrast of a melt-in-your-mouth interior from the hours of braising, with a crisp, caramelized exterior from a quick dip in hot oil (read: fry), is outstanding. And while they are perfectly enjoyable on on their own, when combined with chopped onion, torn cilantro, and fresh lime juice all wrapped in a freshly made corn tortilla (and maybe served with a side of black beans and glass of ice-cold horchata), I have no words. They’re just. that. good.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours, minimum
For Braising Pork:
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless pork shoulder (picnic, not butt)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 4 ounces (from about 1 medium) yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 navel orange, cut into about 16 pieces
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1/4 cup olive, canola, peanut, or grapeseed oil
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 4 limes, quartered
- 1 recipe corn tortillas or 16 packaged corn tortillas, warmed
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Trim any hard fat from the pork shoulder, make sure to leave the 1/2″ or so layer of across the top¹. Score the layer of fat — cut perpendicular lines about 1″ apart all the way through the layer of fat, but avoid cutting into the flesh. Rub pork with oregano and salt. Place half of the onions, garlic cloves, and orange wedges in the bottom of a 2-3 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven². Set pork on top (make sure the fatty layer is exposed). Cover with remaining onions, garlic, and orange, and the two bay leaves. Gently press down on everything, if necessary, so that the lid will fit on properly. Pour water down the sides of the pork until the it reaches about 1″ from the top of the pork (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups). Cover pot and place in the preheated oven to braise for 3 hours³.
After 3 hours, remove the pot from the oven. Check the temperature of the pork, it must be at least 145°F (it will likely be much, much higher, but this is a good step to take just to be safe). Carefully remove the pork from the braising liquid onto a clean plate. Allow meat to rest for at least 15 minutes. Remove any remaining large pieces of fat from the pork — it should come off quite easily.
DO AHEAD: At this point, the meat may be cooled completely, wrapped tightly and stored for up to 7 days (for quality purposes, I recommend no more than 3 days) in the fridge before proceeding.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat (if it begins to smoke, immediately remove pan from heat and allow the oil to cool off slightly). Cut 1/2″ thick slices against the grain; cut slices into 1/2″-1″ pieces. Fry pork in a single layer (depending on the size of the pan, likely 2 or more batches) until crispy and browned on two or more sides (it’s up to you!). Remove to a paper towel lined plate and season to taste with additional salt.
Fill warm tortilla with a few tablespoons of pork, top with onion, cilantro, and a spritz of lime juice to taste.
¹ This 1/2″ layer of fat basically bastes the meat during braising. If you’re not sure what or how much fat to remove, just leave it all on to be safe, it will all be trimmed off after cooking.