Traditional carnitas, Mexico’s version of pulled pork, is fried in gallons of lard or oil. The results are tasty, but who wants to deal with all that hot fat? We wanted restaurant-style carnitas—tender chunks of lightly crisped, caramelized pork, subtly accented with oregano and citrus—without the hassle of frying.
Our initial recipe for carnitas started by simmering the meat (taste tests proved boneless pork butt had the best flavour) in a seasoned broth in the oven and then sauteing it in some of the rendered fat. The flavour was OK, but too much of the pork flavour was lost when we discarded the cooking liquid.
So we reduced the liquid on the stovetop (after the meat had been removed) to the consistency of a thick, syrupy glaze that was perfect for coating the meat. Broiled on a rack set over a baking sheet, the glazed meat developed a wonderfully rich flavour, and the rack allowed the excess fat to drip off.
We emulated the flavour of the Mexican sour oranges used in authentic carnitas with a mixture of fresh lime and orange juices. Bay leaves and oregano provided aromatic notes, and cumin brought an earthiness that complemented the other flavours.
MEXICAN PULLED PORK
Start to finish: 2 hours and 30 minutes
We like serving carnitas spooned into tacos, but you can also use it as a filling for tamales, enchiladas, and burritos.
Pork:1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 4/5 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Table salt and ground black pepper
2 cups water
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
1 medium orange, halved
Tortillas and Garnishes:18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
Minced white or red onion
Fresh cilantro leaves
Thinly sliced radishes
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 F. Combine the pork, onion, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, water, and lime juice in a large Dutch oven (the liquid should just barely cover the meat). Juice the orange into a medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice). Add the juice and spent orange halves to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours, flipping the pieces of meat once during cooking.
Remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven to broil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a bowl; remove the orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from the cooking liquid and discard (do not skim the fat from the liquid). Place the pot over high heat (use caution, as the handles will be very hot) and simmer the liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (a heatproof spatula should leave a wide trail when dragged through the glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
Using two forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in the reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the pork in an even layer on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet or on a broiler pan (the meat should cover almost the entire surface of the rack or broiler pan). Place the baking sheet on the lower-middle oven rack and broil until the top of the meat is well browned (but not charred) and the edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip the pieces of meat and continue to broil until the top is well browned and the edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with the warm tortillas and garnishes.
To warm tortillas, place them on a plate, cover with a damp dish towel, and microwave for 60 to 90 seconds. Keep tortillas covered and serve immediately.