Crock Pot Carnitas:
This is not the simplest recipe for doing carnitas, but it definitely has a high “oh god oh god” factor. And you can set it in the crockpot early, then have an easier time setting up for dinner, say if you have company.
I’ve cooked carnitas a variety of ways over the years. I realize that a lot of traditional carnitas use larger hunks, and then shred it, but I like the coverage of the spices and the crunchiness of the exterior you get from having more surface area, so I cube the pork. The first way I learned to do carnitas was to slice a whole shoulder into 1 inch slabs, and braise into oblivion in a big pot in a fire pit. This recipe is easier and indoors.
The ingredients are based on 1 lb of meat, so that it is easy to scale up. To me, carnitas are pork, and best from the shoulder. So either boston butt or a picnic roast are probably best.
In all my recipes that require chilies, variety is king. You can certainly just use “chili powder” that you purchase. However, you get a lot of depth and complexity of flavor by using different ones, hence the variety of peppers you see referenced below. Use what you have, but dried peppers keep pretty much indefinitely. At the moment a casual inventory tells me we have dried Jalapeno, Cayenne, El Chaco, Pasilla, Gaujillo, Thai hot, Chiles de Arbol peppers — and we have ground cayenne, some kind of ground hot Indian long pepper, ground pasilla powder, ground gaujillo power, and a mix of ground dark chili pepper. We have pepper sauces in bottles as well, like chipotle, Tabasco, habanero, pickapeppa, etc., so you can see my fondness for keeping peppers around. Yes, I only de-stem peppers, I typically do not remove either the seeds or the membranes.
Lard (the kind without preservatives) is not optional. This simply won’t work properly with another kind of fat. It is possible to make these by adding some fresh pork fat and rendering the meat and fat down together, but that is a completely different process for making these. One of the objectives of making carnitas is cooking down the fat in the pork until it is all tender, but still arranging things so you have a nice bit of crispy to the outside of a given bite of food. Lard helps this process in all ways.
1 lb Boston butt, cubed.
1 tsp onion powder (not onion salt), or ½ finely chopped onion
1 tsp powdered garlic (not garlic salt) or 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
2 tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)
1 tsp pasilla chili powder
1 tsp gaujillo chili powder
1 tsp cayenne
1 tbl ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp oregano (dried or several fresh leaves)
2 large dried chili peppers – chile de arbol, pasilla, gaujillo, etc.
1 fresh large jalapeno
Lard (the kind with no preservatives)
Dark Beer or Ale
½ lb of sweet onion
2 fresh large jalapenos
2 fresh large anchos or poblanos or anaheims
½ cup butter
¼ cup ketchup (or 1 tsp tomato paste + 1 tsp sugar + ¼ cup water)
¼ cup whole milk
Remove the stems from the dried peppers. Toast the cumin seeds and the dried peppers in a pan. Flip the peppers and shake the seeds when they start to smoke. I do both in the same pan. Place the peppers in a bowl of water, and microwave the water until near boiling. Let sit while you do other stuff. Set the seeds aside for now.
Cube the pork into ½ inch cubes. If you are defrosting a frozen roast, this is a tad easier if it isn’t *quite* totally defrosted yet.
Remove the peppers from the water after at least 10 minutes, and chop them up. Keep the pepper water. Chop up the fresh jalapeno.
Combine the onion and garlic powders, toasted cumin seeds, paprika, chili powders, reconstituted dried chilies, salt, black pepper, oregano, and the one fresh jalapeno. Grind this in a spice grinder until fine.
Rub, toss, and stir the spice paste all over the pork cubes in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Melt some lard in a large skillet. Iron is good, but I also love my giant 16” electric skillet (without which I feel naked). You want enough lard to cover the bottom of the pan when melted, at least 1/16th inch deep. We use local lard which does not have preservatives and must be kept frozen, which is just as well since you want cold lard for things like biscuits anyway. Pour in about ¼ cup of the pepper water (remember saving the pepper water?).
When this heats up, add the pork. Sear lightly for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally. You want parts of the pork to still not be brown when you’re done.
Pour all this into your crock pot, add 1/4 cup of dark beer, cover, and turn on to low heat. Come back in 6-8 hours. Drink the rest of the Ale.
Chop the onion and the fresh peppers, and sweat them in your skillet with the butter for 12-15 minutes at low heat. Add the ketchup halfway through, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and put in a serving bowl, but don’t wipe out the pan.
Turn the heat in the skillet up to high, add the pork from the crock pot (and any juices, etc. as well), and pour in the milk. As soon as it all starts bubbling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook off the liquid, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and scrape pan clean of pork and fond, putting in a serving dish.
Serve with tortillas and sides of fresh chopped cilantro, the onion/pepper condiment, black beans, sour cream, and salsa. Bon Appetit.