February 22, 2015

Slow Cooker Mexican Pork Carnitas

Carnitas, literally "little meats," is a dish of Mexican cuisine originating from the state of Michoacán. Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pork in oil or preferably lard until tender. The process takes three or four hours and the result is very tender and juicy meat, which is then typically served with chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) and diced onion, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, and refried beans (frijoles refritos). (Wikipedia)

My love for great Mexican food dates back to the late 1960s. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my grandparents had a beautiful beach house in Leucadia, California and every summer my family would make the long drive down I-5 from Central California to visit for several blissful weeks. Highlights of those memorable vacations are forever engrained in my mind. We enjoyed long days at the beach, playing in the chilly water, building sandcastles, and hunting for sand dollars. There were day trips to Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park, where I remember savoring a warm homemade corn tortilla from a historical exhibition at the Museum of Man.

The Beach House (on the right),
 which has been remodeled. 

We gazed out the large picture windows that spanned the full length of the house, watching for whales, and occasionally spotting a pod of dolphin riding the waves with the surfers. And of course, there were always the breathtaking sunsets. We dug for sand crabs to use as bait when we fished from the shore and jigged for bait when we went to the pier up in Oceanside. We sneaked jelly beans and gumdrops from my grandfather's candy jars and learned how to play Mah Jong with our North Carolina cousins. The one thing I don't remember is eating out anywhere other than Tony's Jacal in Solana Beach. I think it was at Tony's that I tasted my very first taco, enchilada and guacamole dip. I've been in love with Mexican food ever since.

Oh, my. This picture. So many, many memories of sitting in this back room... my grandmother's memorial lunch was held here. I ate here with my parents, my grandparents, my first husband... my baby girl.

Best rice, beans and enchilada sauce ever.

This past month, my daughter's Instagram feed (yes, you really should follow her!) has been full of tantalizing meals at Mexican restaurants in the Dallas area, making me drool with envy and hit the cookbooks in search of more recipes to add to my repertoire. I have an old recipe for carnitas, which requires simmering a pork roast on the stove top for several hours. In an effort to use my slow cooker as often as possible, I was excited to find this recipe in, yes, you guessed it, The Skinnytaste Cookbook. I made the carnitas a couple of weeks ago and dinner turned out great! Of course, a taco is merely a vehicle for the transfer of guacamole, but these tacos were seriously good. I used the leftover meat for quesadillas later in the week and they were just as amazing. 

You're welcome!

Slow-Cooker Mexican Pork Carnitas

2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder roast, trimmed
6 garlic cloves, crushed with a garlic press
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced (or more if you like it spicy)
1  1/4 tsp. ground cumin, divided
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Season the pork all over with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Set in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, add the pork, and brown on all sides for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

For the dry adobo rub:

In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of the cumin, the garlic powder, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the black pepper.

Using a sharp knife, insert the knife into the pork about 1 inch deep and insert the crushed garlic, rubbing any excess over the pork. Rub the pork all over with the dry adobo rub.

Pour the chicken broth into the slow cooker and add the bay leaves, chipotle peppers, and the pork. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. After 8 hours, transfer the pork to a large dish. Discard the bay leaves. Shred the pork using two forks and return it to the slow cooker with the juices. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cumin and the 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Serves 10

My Notes:

This recipe made enough for 6 tacos and 2 large quesadillas. If I'm going to make this for a group, I'll definitely want to use 4-5 pounds of pork. The roast I bought was 4 pounds, so I cut it in half and put it in the freezer for future use. I was worried that 2 pounds wasn't going to be enough for a couple of meals, but there was plenty. However, I think next time, I'll just double the recipe and freeze the cooked meat for tacos, quesadillas and burritos. 

I didn't use the garlic and the meat still tasted flavorful.

I've never cooked with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and I wasn't sure how spicy they would make the meat, so I decided to just use one pepper. I didn't dice it up, either; just set it in the broth and stirred it around. I'm not sure if I'd bother with it next time around. Maybe some cayenne added to the rub would be sufficient for a little kick.

After shredding the pork, I decided to throw it in a hot skillet to make the meat a bit more crispy. I didn't have to add any oil or fat since the pork is already a little fatty. 

Serve with warm tortillas, shredded jack & cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, guacamole and sour cream. Don't forget the Negra Modelo!


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  1. YES MA'AM. I've been on a big SERIOUS Mexican food kick lately. There's a little place I like that recently moved closer to the university where I work, and it's a perfect little stroll from my office. Killing my wallet and my figure, but it's delicious.

    1. It's probably a good thing we don't have anything close to B&N, in the way of great Mexican food. I could drive to Las Margaritas, but I only get 30 minutes for lunch...

      Amy has been going to Mexican Sugar and Mi Cocina and their tacos look AMAZING!

  2. And I have to share this. It's a little different take on carnitas using lots of fresh citrus. It's amazing. http://www.joyouslydomestic.com/2012/12/pork-carnitas.html

    1. Andi, my other recipe uses a lot of orange juice, as well as brandy! I got it from Bon Appetite. You can find it here.

  3. Both your memories and the recipe sound delicious!

    1. Aw, thanks Kathy. We were very blessed to be able to spend so much time with my grandparents in their lovely home.

  4. You know, Mexican food is life. Truly. Or so I've always thought. Can't get through a week without it. I don't cook it at home much though. Too many places that do it better than me here. :-)

    1. I completely agree, Kay. I can't imagine my life without Mexican food! I wish we had better choices here, but we do have a few favorites that we get to at least once or twice a month. San Diego has so many more options, though. Texas does, too, although it's TexMex and we prefer the Baja style food more. It's all good, though, right?

  5. Ok. I adore carnitas but I always make them in the oven. I love the idea of a slow cooker version. I wonder if I have a pork roast in the freezer. Hummmm.

    1. I've never thought to make carnitas in the oven. Do you braise the pork in a dutch oven? I love the ease of using a slow cooker, especially if I need to leave the house for a long period of time during the day. Plus, I suspect it's cheaper to have the slow cooker on for 8 hours vs the gas oven! :)

  6. Those carnitas looks luscious.

    I love chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. We're light-weights when it comes to heat, so I slice one in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon to put in compost, and dice it up. That's what I put in our vegetarian chili to give it a little smoky flavor. We get about 6 servings from chili.

    1. Hi, Joy. Thanks for the info about chipotle peppers. We're lightweights, too, so this is good information for the next time around. Any idea how long I can keep the unused chipotles in the sauce in the refrigerator (in a new container, not the can)? I wonder if I can just freeze them...

      Thanks for saying hello!

  7. This sounds great, and so easy! My husband just gave up meat for Lent, so trying this will have to wait a while, though.

    1. Yep, this is a great recipe and very easy. I'm planning to make it again in another week or two. Hope you enjoy it after Lent!


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