I first read about carnitas getting on 20 years ago. I imagine back then few on these shores knew anything about the dish but I was transfixed by any recipe with half a kilo of lard in, something I only associated with my nan's famous pork chops (cold frying pan, knob of lard on top). With the growing popularity of burritos at the minute the name is now familiar to many but in case you're not one of them carnitas are pork slowly cooked in fat until meltingly soft. In the name of health people do mess around using nothing but water (in this recipe the water just gets it going) but you won't get the same result and it's not something you're going to eat every day.
The cooking starts similarly to a confit of pork, slowly simmering in its own rendered fat but once tender we depart from the French and aim to get the pork brown, leaving golden chunks whose crisped exterior belies an interior so soft you can shred it with a fork. Traditionally the meat is only delicately flavoured - Rick Bayless uses just salt - but again folk deviate and I've seen all kinds of spice heavy versions, these tend to be the ones that simmer in water too though so I stick to the mild version, letting the pork shine through and adding spices in the accompaniments.
On the topic of accompaniments once cooked the obvious serving suggestion is within a tortilla. This time I went for a burrito, adding salsa, sour cream, cheese (a rare move to a mild cheddar, it tastes too English otherwise), jalapenos (pickled and roasted) and black beans - rice seems a bit superfluous unless you're bulking out a £5 lunch so I left it out the wrap. A simple soft taco with the pork, some mild onion and coriander is also lovely, especially with some vinegar heavy chili sauce to cut through the richness. I could imagine it taking the place of pulled pork in a sandwich too, altering the condiments a bit so it says Mexico rather than USA.
This method of simmering in lard till tender is used on all kinds of cuts in Mexico. Stomach, ear and skin all get the treatment so if you're feeling adventurous don't feel limited to shoulder. The stomach carnitas is definitely calling me.
Carnitas, serves 4-6
2kg pork shoulder
2 clove garlic
2 ts salt
1 ts black pepper
4 TB malt vinegar
Juice of an orange
To make the marinade blend everything except the pork. Take the skin off the pork then cut the into big chunks (3 per kg) and marinade, overnight preferably but you'll get some flavour within a couple of hours.
Put the pork and marinade an overnproof dish, add 600ml of water and the lard. Cover and stick in a 170 deg oven for 2 hours, turning occasionally.
Turn up the heat to 200, take the lid off and give 30 more minutes, turning a couple of times till brown, it may help the colour if drain a load of the lard off first.
Remove and it's ready for whatever you want to shred it into.
If you can get it from under the lard the sauce is a lovely combination of meat juice, salt and the marinade too.