easy mexican cooking

Luscious, crispy-edged, flavorful carnitas are (guess what!) super-easy to make

I have one word for you: carnitas. Think about it: those super-flavorful, crispy-edged morsels of tender pork would be absolutely heavenly wrapped in a warm, handmade corn tortilla with a good dose of salsa verde. 

Here's the easy way to make those tortillas. And you have the recipe for zippy, deep-flavored roasted salsa verde. Just one thing missing. Where's the meat?

It probably seems as though great carnitas would be tricky or complicated to make, but it's actually a snap: You can make killer carnitas with very little effort – or expense. 

For years I was married to Diana Kennedy's recipe, the one in her classic cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico. It's easy, and I love the technique: Cut up a fatty piece of pork (I use pork shoulder) into smallish strips, cover it with salted cold water, simmer it till the water evaporates and the pork starts to brown in its own fat, brown the pieces all over, and that's it. Beautifully simple: just three ingredients, about an hour and ten minutes and very little work.

The thing is, done that way, the carnitas are very good – I've made them a million times. And they're definitely easy. 

Carnitas from Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico

But they're not crazy-good. The smallish morsels do have that nice crispness, but last time I made them I found myself wanting more lushness, more tenderness.

What to do? Lots of carnitas recipes, especially cheffy ones, call for one large cut of pork that you roast for hours in a Dutch oven, then pull apart with forks to serve. Nice, but a giant commitment, and you don't get so many crispy edges. Also, I'd rather not turn on the oven for three or four hours on a hot summer day. 

I wondered if maybe I could split the difference. If we started with medium-sized pieces of pork rather than smallish strips, we should get more textural contrast – caramelized crispness on the outside, and the kind of tender meat you can pull apart with a fork on the inside.

So that's what I did. I cut a pork shoulder into three-inch chunks, covered them in water and simmered them on the stove, then fried them in their own fat. 

Carnitas heaven!

The compromise works brilliantly. The carnitas, which cook about 15 or 20 minutes longer than the Kennedy way, get lots of crispy edges and caramelized flavor, but they're tender and luscious inside. Adding a few sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and pieces of orange zest to the water doesn't add much work, but it definitely add complexity.

Here's the recipe:

And of course you'll want to make some corn tortillas.

And some roasted salsa verde:

I know what you're thinking: guacamole would be great in those tacos, too. You're right. It's not necessary, but it does send them over the top.

OK! Definitely let us know how this one goes.