For tender yet crispy carnitas, each piece of pork is individually browned and caramelized to intensify flavor and crisp the edges, and braised with a savory mixture of smoky roasted chiles, sweet mango juice and tangy Mexican beer. It can be made up to three days in advance and slowly re-warmed for tacos, Mexican salads or huevos rancheros. Use either Mexican-style lard from a butcher shop, or Manteca by Farmer John. —Lynda Marren
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe was great -- warm toasty heat to the carnitas without the spice overpowering and the mango juice infuses the carnitas with a hint of sweetness. The technique works just as described, but being the lazy shopper and cook that I am, I would alter a few details. First, there's enough pork fat in the recipe that I don't think it's worth the hunt for lard. You could easily use canola or olive oil instead. Similarly, there is one superfluous step: after slow cooking the pork, you're supposed to separate the meat from the juices, pat the meat dry and then fry it in yet more lard to crisp it. While, yes, it's true that real carnitas often have crisps bits, I don't think these benefits outweigh the frustration of having to brown the meat after you've cooked it for hours! Isn't the whole point of slow cooking to make your life easier? Lastly, the recipe doesn't mention that you should do this but after the slow cooking is done, my pot had about half an inch of fat on top. I skimmed off as much as I could before proceeding with the recipe. Oh, and I couldn't find New Mexico or guajillo chiles, so I subbed in pasillas. With these tweaks, I'd call this a keeper! —Amanda Hesser
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
+1 teaspoon ground pepper, divided
boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3-inch cubes
Combine 2 tablespoons salt, 3 tablespoons pepper, and chile powder in a small bowl. Use a paper towel to pat pork dry. Rub spice mixture all over pork, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Toast dried chiles over medium heat in a large, dry cast-iron skillet until lightly darkened and puffy, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, remove seeds and stems, and discard.
Warm ¼ cup lard or oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add seasoned pork in batches. Don’t let pork pieces touch in order to ensure the most caramelization and flavor. Turn with tongs to brown on all sides. Transfer seared pork to the bowl of a large slow cooker.
Add onion wedges to skillet and cook over medium heat until soft, about 6 minutes.
Add dried chiles, garlic, bay leaves, mango juice, beer, 1 tablespoon salt and chipotle chile powder to skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add juice-mixture to the slow cooker, and return skillet to the stove.
Cover pork and cook on High for 3 hours, until pork begins to break apart. Alternatively, cook on Low for 6 to 7 hours.
While meat cooks, add chopped onions and 2 tablespoons lard or oil to skillet. Cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork from the slow cooker to 2 baking sheets and pat dry with paper towels.
Transfer 1 1/2 cups braising liquid to a gravy separator or glass measuring cup, and skim the fat off the surface. Set the liquid aside.
Once meat cools, use a fork and knife to remove visible fat from pork. Discard fat. Shred pork into uneven 1-inch pieces.
Optional: to finish pork and crisp edges, heat remaining 2 tablespoons lard or oil in skillet over high heat. Add a few chunks of pork at a time, and cook until crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cooked onions. You will have about 8 cups of meat. .
Taste carnitas. If desired, add reserved braising liquid 1/4 cup at a time. Cook until liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a serving platter.
Serve carnitas with warm tortillas, crumbled queso fresco, pickled onions, guacamole, pico de gallo and lime wedges.