The name of this dish translates to “bitter little meats.” Carnitas are a pretty standard protein in Mexican food, and why wouldn’t they be? It’s pork slow cooked in spices until it falls apart then is fried in its own fat. Sounds pretty great, right? We’ve made carnitas too many times to count. They’re easy, they keep well, and they also lend themselves to an incredible amount of quick and satisfying dinners. There are so many recipes for this, and it’s pretty hard to go wrong with carnitas, but we wanted to make something that stood out among the rest. So Nate had the great idea of making it taste more complex by enhancing a flavor profile that is often underrated but present in them already: bitterness.
Initially, I was dubious. Classifying anything bitter right off the bat is often a turnoff for many. However, after he made me a first batch, I was hooked, and we’ve made them the same way ever since. Cuts of pork shoulder are coated in salt and cocoa powder then seared in a pan, then cooked in their own juices with onions, garlic, some spices, and whole lime. The result is a tasting experience in two definitive stages: fatty and salty followed by a hint of bitterness, almost even floral.
- 2 lbs pork shoulder
- 1 tsp. cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled, whole
- ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 lime, halved
- 1 tbs. Mexican oregano
- 1 bay leaf
Preheat oven to 350.
In a small bowl, mix the cocoa powder and salt together, then rub mixture over the pork. In a hot pan on medium high heat, sear all sides of the pork.
When the pork is done searing, place it in a dutch over or clay pot (something with a cover) along with the garlic, onion, lime, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf. Cover and bake for about 2.5 hours, or until the pork is tender and falling apart. Remove from the oven and discard the lime and bay leaf. Tear the pork apart with a fork until it becomes stringy, then transfer everything in the clay pot into a hot pan (ideally the pan you used at first) and cook off all the liquid while crisping up the meat a little bit. Taste test for salt, then the carnitas are ready for use.