It is remarkable how slow and low cooking can turn the toughest cut of meat into something incredibly tender and succulent. These Pork Carnitas with Tomatillo Salsa, made from the tough shoulder cut and cooked slowly for hours, are the perfect filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and casseroles.
We all are constantly juggling our kitchen budgets, trying to find ways to save money while still making delicious foods for our families. One way is to use cheaper cuts of meat. They typically have much more flavor and are extremely tough if cooked quickly. Braising is cooking proteins in a liquid, helping to keep them moist. You don’t have to be a pro to turn out an excellent dish!
The pork takes a long time to slowly cook and become tender. It also tastes better the second day, so make this a day before you plan to serve it. When you are ready to serve, broil the pork and set out the toppings for the tacos. Your guests will be amazed at how quickly you pulled dinner together and delighted they get to make their own creations!
In many recipes for carnitas, you are directed to fry the pieces in fat to crisp them up. The folks at Serious Eats came up with the technique of draining the meat and tossing it with its own fat, then using the broiler to get the crispy texture. Brilliant! No extra fat is needed and you get more intense flavor this way. Keeping everything in a single layer is key – it ensures the meat will always be in contact with the liquids, keeping it moist. I will never make my carnitas any other way again!
The salsa was fun to make and really easy. I found tomatillos at Berkeley Bowl, a remarkable gourmet grocery store that has everything you can imagine and more. I can get lost in there for days, LOL. I knew I was going to make the shredded pork and a fresh tomatillo salsa would be perfect with it.
Do you know what tomatillos (tow-mah-tee-yos)are? They look a little like a green tomato, wrapped in a papery husk and are sticky when you take the husks off. A quick rinse and they are ready to use in a number of dishes including making a salsa. Flavored with citrus notes, they brighten any dish and are commonly found in Mexican and Latin American recipes.
The only onions I had on hand were red ones, so into the pot they went. As everything cooked down I had a suspicion that the red onions might lend a little color to the salsa. Nope, not a little, a lot! Instead of the vibrant green that I was hoping for, I got more of a pink-red-caramel colored hue. That color was deepened slightly by my using some chipotle paste instead of the jalapenos for spicy heat and a subtle smokiness. My ruby-colored salsa was seriously good!
If you want traditional salsa verde, be sure to use white or yellow onions. And use green jalapeno peppers. You’ll have that beautiful spring green sauce we all know and love!
When dinner is done, if you have leftovers like we did, you can turn them into any number of dishes. But the tacos were so good with the toppings and the ruby salsa, I think we may have them again for dinner tomorrow!
Enjoy your day and have a fabulous weekend!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you want a hint of smokiness in your salsa (not the traditional flavor profile but absolutely delicious), you can either stir a little chipotle paste or some chipotle powder into the salsa ingredients and then pureeing.
Keep this recipe handy for Cinco de Mayo that is coming up in a couple of weeks – it’s a winner!!
With few exceptions, Penzey’s spices and herbs are gluten-free and always extremely high quality. Those that do contain gluten, are clearly labeled. Penzey’s is a good option when you are looking for ways to add rich flavor to your meals.
- 3 lb boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp grated orange zest or dried orange peel
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp adobo seasoning, or to taste
- 1 tsp ancho chile powder, or to taste
- 1 tsp ground cumin, or to taste
- 1/2 medium onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut in large cubes
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock, if needed
- Tomatillo Salsa
- 1-1/2 lb (about 6 med to large) tomatillos, husked and halved
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, peeled and halved
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved, sprouted centers discarded
- 2 jalapenos, split in half lengthwise, stem discarded (remove seeds for less heat or use Anaheim or Poblano peppers)
- Kosher or fine sea salt, to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin, optional
- 24 corn tortillas (gluten-free if needed)
- Finely chopped tomatoes, optional
- Finely chopped crunchy lettuce, optional
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco, shredded Monterey Jack, or Colby; whatever your family prefers
- Finely chopped cilantro leaves, optional
- Fresh lime wedges
- Prepare the Pork: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 275°F.
- Place the pork chunks in a 9x13-inch baking dish, preferably glass. Pour in the water and oil. Sprinkle the orange peel, salt, and seasonings over the top. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves. Press everything into an even layer. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in the hot oven. Cook until the pork is fork tender, about 3-1/2 hours. If you don't have a lot of liquid in the pan, shred the meat into the pan juices and skip down to making the salsa.
- If you have a lot of liquid in the pan, set a large, colander over a large bowl. Remove the pork from the oven and using tongs, remove the onions, garlic, and bay leaves. Carefully pour the hot pan juices and meat chunks into the strainer, collecting the liquids in the bowl underneath. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer the drained meat back to the baking dish.
- Separate the fat from the pan juices, reserving both. Pour the fat over the pork, and using two forks or your fingers, shred the meat into small chunks. Discard any remaining large pieces of fat. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Make the Salsa: If you had a lot of liquid in the pan and separated the fat from the juices, pour the juices into a medium saucepan, and add the tomatillos, onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Add enough water to reach about 1-inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a strong simmer, and cook, uncovered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. If you don't have any or very little extra pork liquid, that is fine. You can use just water or a combination of chicken stock and water.
- Use an immersion blender to puree the salsa in the pan or pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Stir in the cumin if desired. Taste again and adjust seasonings if needed. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- To Crisp the Pork: Preheat your broiler with a rack set at the top - you want the top of the meat about 4-inches from the heat source. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and toss it a little. If needed, add some chicken stock and mix it in so all the pieces are moistened. I sprinkled mine with a little extra of the seasonings (adobo, ancho, and cumin) before putting it under the broiler. Broil until browned and crispy on the surface, about 6 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, stir so the browned side is down and broil again for 6 more minutes or until the top is crisp and all the pork is heated through. Remove from the oven and tent with foil to keep warm.
- Prepare the Tortillas: Stack the tortillas in a tortilla warmer or wrap in a clean dish towel and microwave for about 30 seconds to heat through. Cover to keep warm and soft.
- To Serve: Place two warmed tortillas overlapping on a plate. Spoon 2 to 3 tbsp of the carnitas along the center. Top with the salsa, some of the cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. Serve with the lime wedges.
- Yield: about 6 servings
Create a New Tradition Today!
Welcome! If you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, need to alter a recipe for gluten-free, or want recipe suggestions, don’t hesitate to ask. Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material from The Heritage Cook without prior approval is prohibited. If you have any questions or would like permission, please contact me. The suggestions here are not intended as dietary advice or as a substitute for consulting a dietician, physician, or other medical professional. Please see the Disclaimers page for additional details. Thanks for visiting The Heritage Cook!