I have an unhealthy obsession with tacos. I think moving home to Utah from Texas has made it worse. That’s probably because of the scarcity of real, authentic tacos. Since I can’t run down the street to El Tio’s Taqueria anymore where our good friend Rogelio dishes us up some amazing tacos al pastor, I’ll have to make do at home.
When I first started making carnitas it was a little bit of a disaster. I didn’t really know what I was doing but tried following several different recipes online and came up sorely disappointed. Most of the time, they just tasted like dry, plain meat.
Then we found this amazing restaurant in Salt Lake City called The Red Iguana. Ok, if you live in Utah and don’t know about this place, I’m about to blow your mind. There are two locations right off of North Temple and please, go there. Like now. I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like yet. My husband is suuuper picky about Mexican food here in the states but he loves this place. It’s kind of like gourmet Mexican food if you ask me. And The Red Iguana gave me the secret ingredient to their AMAZING carnitas.
First, I suppose I ought to clarify. Carnitas means “Little meats” which is funny to me because that’s what I used to call diced ham at salad bars when I was little. I loved the “little meats” on my salad. And carnitas are also little pieces of pork but oh so much better than plain ham.
So my husband ordered the carnitas at The Red Iguana one time and told me, “You have to try these. They’re amazing!” He was right. They were so amazing that I asked for a menu again just so I could read the description of the carnitas to see if it provided any clue as to how they make them. Sure enough, right there in the description it said, “Tender pieces of succulent pork cooked in it own juices, with spices and orange pulp, then fried with beer and a hint of milk.”
It sounds so exotic and strange doesn’t it? Who fries pork with orange pulp, beer, and milk? Smart Mexicans do apparently.
So I got back to my kitchen and started experimenting some more. We don’t have beer just lying around and I don’t like to buy special ingredients for one dish so I omitted it and it’s still delicious. But the orange and milk thing I did experiment with. I’m all about convenience and less trips to the grocery store. Since I don’t buy oranges very often (maybe I would if I lived in Florida or California but it’s hard to come by a juicy orange here in Utah) I used store-bought orange juice.
And please, don’t be afraid of the bacon grease. We all cook with fat and sometimes bacon grease is really the only fat that gets the job done. I rarely waste the stuff and usually keep it in a mason jar in the fridge for just such occasions as making carnitas. And flour tortillas. It’s like my secret weapon.
This is my own version of carnitas and we all love it! Me, my kids, my extended family, and even my husband. Let me assure you that if my husband loves it, it’s approved. He’s not shy about telling me where my cooking lands on his scale of “real Mexican food.” He has told me on a number of occasions that it’s too sweet because I added too much orange juice. The other night I made them again and after taking a bite he looked up and said, “That’s it.”
There’s a lot of freedom here and I never measure of course so trying to pinpoint an exact measurement is extremely difficult. I’m going to give you some ballpark figures and you’re going to experiment on your own, mmmkay?
My American family likes more orange juice because they like a sweeter meat. My husband turns his nose up at sweet meat and thinks Americans have ruined their pork by adding coke, brown sugar, orange marmalade and all other abominations. My family likes the meat crispier and my husband thinks it dries it out. So, you can’t please everybody. I think I’m leaning more toward my husband’s side though. Too much orange juice will make it too sweet and you lose the actual flavor of the meat. At that point, it won’t taste Mexican. If you’re ok with that, go on ahead. These are your carnitas.
Oh, have I mentioned yet that this recipe is so stinking easy?! That’s hard to come by when it comes to Mexican food. I don’t know what it is but it feels like real Mexican food takes a lot of time and a lot of sides. That’s what’s so great about these. You’ll want to garnish your tacos with the following, and only the following if you want to be a real Mexican like me :
- Finely diced white onion
- Chopped cilantro
- Splash of fresh lime juice
The crockpot is your friend for this one. The slow cooking of the pork is what makes it so “succulent” as the Red Iguana likes to describe it. I love that you can throw it in in the morning if you’ve got a busy day ahead of you and fry it up when you get back home. Done and done. You can easily chop the onion and cilantro while the meat fries up and the salsa, well we always have some in the fridge. If you’re really short on time, use some store-bought although we all know, nothing compares to homemade salsa. I have a different one I usually use for tacos that is more taqueria-style but this one I’ve already posted works just fine, especially if you omit the onion and cilantro.
That’s it guys! This is a meal all on its own! I can’t wait for you to try it and for it to blow your mind. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes and if it delivered, which I’m sure it will
- 3-4 pound shoulder blade or butt pork roast
- 4 tbsp. bacon grease
- 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup milk
- Corn tortillas
- 1/2 white onion, finely diced
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 lime, quartered
- Grease the bottom and sides of your crockpot with a little bacon grease. Cut up the roast into 2 inch chunks and add the meat, salt, pepper, oregano, and the rest of the bacon grease to the crockpot. Let cook on low for 8 hours or until meat is tender and easily pulls apart. Shred the meat with two forks while in the crockpot.
- Working in batches if necessary, add enough of the crockpot liquid and meat to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. While frying over medium high heat, add orange juice, milk, and more salt if necessary. Stir frequently to keep the orange juice and milk from burning in the pan. Continue to fry meat for about 5-10 minutes or until there are some crispy pieces throughout. After tasting the fried meat, decide if you want to add more orange juice or not.
- To assemble tacos, heat up corn tortillas on a griddle with a tiny bit of bacon grease. For a sturdier taco use two tortillas per taco. Add meat, chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice, more salt if desired, and salsa for garnish.
- Adjust measurements of seasonings, orange juice, and milk according to your desired preference.
* * * * *
Tell me, where is your favorite place to eat carnitas? What other kinds of tacos do you drool over?