Mar 26, 2020

Carnitas Tacos with Stewed Pinto Beans

Prep Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Chunks of pork are slow-cooked until tender then fried in the rendered fat until it’s golden brown and crisp on the outside.

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Chunks of pork are slow-cooked until tender then fried in the rendered fat until golden brown and crisp on the outside. I use a combination of pork shoulder and pork belly in this recipe. 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. The pork is topped with additional 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. Cook the pinto beans while the pork simmers to save on time.

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.

Carnitas Tacos with Stewed Pinto Beans

Ingredients in Carnitas

  • Cayenne – The pork is marinated in a blend of cayenne, salt and sugar for just a bit of spice. While it may seem like a lot of cayenne it really isn’t. Just be sure to evenly distribute the mixture over the pork.
  • Salt – When cooking, unless otherwise noted, I use coarse kosher salt as it tastes way better than iodized table salt. Iodized salt granules are much smaller and dissolve instantly, as opposed to larger kosher salt granules so you end up using more. I keep kosher salt for cooking in a small bowl next to my stove for easy access.
  • Sugar – The pork sits in the granulated sugar to marinate. It adds a slightly sweet flavor that contrasts with the spice of the cayenne.
  • Pork – I use a combination of both pork shoulder and pork belly to make my carnitas recipe. Pork belly is the fatty cut of pork from the pig’s belly after the loin and spareribs are removed. Many carnitas recipes solely use pork shoulder or pork butt. The added fat from the pork belly melts into the simmering mixture, keeping the pork extremely tender.
  • Pork lard – Lard or vegetable oil is added to the pork so that as it simmers. As a result the fat from the pork melts into the oil the pork essential confits – cooks in the fat to become extremely tender.
  • Onion – The onion is added to add flavor to the cooking broth. I don’t peel the skin from the onion since it actually contains plenty of flavor and it cooks down so much and any leftover pieces are removed before the pork fries so it really doesn’t matter.
  • Jalapeño – The jalapeño is added more for the flavor than the spice.
  • Garlic – Garlic rounds out the flavor in the broth as the pork simmers.
  • Orange – In addition to adding flavor the citrus works to tenderize the meat as it cooks.
  • Bay leaf – Aromatic whole bay leaves are added whole to add depth of flavor and removed before serving.
  • Milk – The milk is added to the oil and water as the pork simmers. Based on density the milk actually sits on top of the layers. As a result it works to keep the pork moist while tenderizing it.

How to make carnitas tacos

For the carnitas:

  1. Make the spice blend. In a small bowl stir together the cayenne, salt and sugar. Evenly sprinkle over the pork shoulder and pork belly pieces, tossing to combine.
  2. Let the pork marinate. Add to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight to marinate.
  3. Add the pork to a Dutch oven. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the lard (or vegetable oil) followed by the marinated pork. 
  4. Add the aromatics. Arrange the onion, jalapeño, garlic, orange and bay leaves in the pot then top with the milk and 2 cups of water.
  5. Cook the pork. 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 occasionally.
  6. Make sure the liquid simmers. 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.
  7. Fry the meat. 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 beans:

  1. Prep the beans. Add the beans and onion to a large pot and cover by several inches of water.
  2. Cook the beans. Boil over medium heat then lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are tender.
  3. Add the spices to the beans. When the beans are tender stir in the coriander and cumin and season with salt to taste.

For the tacos:

  1. Serve. Use a slotted spoon to top the tortillas with a scoop of the stewed pinto beans followed by pork carnitas and top with pico de gallo and pickled onions. Serve with lime wedges.
Carnitas-66.jpg

How to reheat carnitas

Reheat the carnitas if you are making them ahead of time, is a two step process. First, I microwave the carnitas in a bowl, then broil them on high. Spread the carnitas in an even single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until crispy, about 2 minutes.

Microwaving the carnitas first keeps the meat from drying out under the broiler. They “crisp” since they don’t need to stay under as long. Continue to add them to the tortillas as in the serving instructions.

Tips for this recipe

  • 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 then buy some 6” tortillas. They’re a bit bigger than the street taco size which holds in all of the fillings without them spilling out. 
  • For a shortcut, simply heat a (15.5 ounce) can of pinto beans. However, 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.
  • If you have leftovers from the tacos – try serving the carnitas as a rice bowl. Serve the crispy carnitas over finely shredded cabbage and crispy rice with beans, pico de gallo and avocado!
carnitas taco closeup topped with pickled onion and pico de gallo

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this not a braise?

If you were braising these carnitas then you would cover with a heavy lid to lock in the moisture. In this recipe you actually want the liquid to evaporate as the pork simmers and becomes tender. This should happen in time with the pork cooking so that when you are ready to fry the pork in it’s own fat, the other liquid has evaporated completely.

What should I do if the cooking liquid hasn’t absorbed fully?

Remove the tender meat and set it aside. Return the pot with the liquid to the heat and continue to simmer until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated and only fat or oil is left.

What if my meat isn’t tender after the cooking time?

Keep simmering it for an additional 30 minutes or so until the meat is tender. Keep in mind the meat will continue to cook as the meat is fried and broiled and you don’t want it to fall apart too much.

Carnitas Tacos with Stewed Pinto Beans

shredded pork carnitas on flour tortillas with pickled onions and tomatoes on a white plate with blue napkin
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Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the carnitas:

  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2” pieces
  • pounds pork belly, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 cup pork lard (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved
  • 1 medium jalapeño pepper, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 medium orange, halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup whole milk

For the stewed pinto beans:

  • 1 cup dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked through
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt, as needed

For serving:

Instructions:

For the carnitas:

  • 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.

For serving:

  • 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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  1. I was initially whelmed and questioned my culinary skills trying this one , I love carnitas , but I’ve never purchased pork should and belly from a butcher. Kylie’s instructions are very clear , "thank you". This recipe is definitely a weekend one for me because you need three solid hours , but the process was relaxing , not intimidating , and very rewarding. The orange adds a lightness to the pork , its was so so so good. My boyfriend was beyond impressed , "thank you again". I highly recommend this recipe and I have already sent it to several family/friends.