Chunks of pork are slow-cooked until tender then fried in the rendered fat until it’s golden brown and crisp on the outside.
Chunks of pork are slow-cooked until tender then fried in the rendered fat until it’s golden brown and crisp on the outside. I use a combination of pork shoulder and pork belly, the pork belly has much more fat on the cut so, as it cooks, the fat renders and gives off more fat to fry the carnitas in. The cooking liquid is flavored with jalapeño, onion, garlic, orange and bay leaves and top the fat and water with a bit of milk which works to tenderize the meat. The water and milk both keep the oil from getting too hot as the pork slowly simmers and cooks.
This recipe is modeled after my favorite carnitas which can be found at La Taqueria in San Francisco, a small restaurant in the mission district. I loved the combination of the tender carnitas with pinto beans in their mission-style burritos so I figured I would make my own taco version.
I highly recommend making your tortillas from scratch – it is much easier than expected and really adds a boost of flavor and texture. Top the tacos with a scoop of pinto beans, some pico de gallo and pickled onions.
If you don’t make your own flour tortillas, opt to buy some 6” ones, just a bit bigger than the street taco size which will hold in all of the fillings without them spilling out. For a shortcut, simply heat a (15.5 ounce) can of pinto beans. But if you are making the carnitas from scratch, I highly recommend taking the time to stew some beans in another pot while the carnitas cook.
To reheat the carnitas if you are making them ahead of time, first I microwave them in a bowl, then broil them on high. Spread the carnitas in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until crispy, about 2 minutes. Microwaving them first keeps the meat from drying out under the broiler as they “crisp” since they don’t need to stay under as long. Then continue to add them to the tortillas as in the serving instructions.
Tip: If you have leftovers from the tacos – try serving the carnitas in a bowl over finely shredded cabbage and crispy rice with beans, pico de gallo and avocado!
In a small bowl stir together the cayenne, salt and sugar. Evenly sprinkle over the pork shoulder and pork belly pieces, tossing to combine. Add to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight to marinate.
Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Heat a large (7-quart) Dutch oven over medium heat, add the lard (or vegetable oil) to the pot followed by the marinated pork. Arrange the onion, jalapeño, garlic, orange and bay leaves in the pot then top with the milk and 2 cups of water. The pork should just barely be covered by the liquid.
Bring to a boil over medium heat then lower heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the meat is fork tender and the water and milk have evaporated, stirring about every 15 minutes for a total of 2 hours. If the liquid has not all evaporated at this point, remove the meat to a bowl and continue to simmer until it has then add the meat back to the pot if necessary. Increase the heat to medium-high heat and fry the meat, stirring occasionally until it is crispy and golden brown on the outside, about an additional 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.
For the stewed pinto beans:
Add the beans and onion to a large pot and cover by several inches of water. Bring the beans to a boil over medium heat then lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if necessary, to keep the beans covered by about ½” of water. When the beans are tender stir in the coriander and cumin and season with salt to taste.
Use a slotted spoon to top the tortillas with a scoop of the stewed pinto beans followed by carnitas and top with pico de gallo and pickled onions. Serve with lime wedges.
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