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I’ll try to keep from drooling all over the place when I tell you about this recipe for oven-roasted pork carnitas with orange slaw. I’ve been counting calories and eating a lot lighter for the past two weeks.
Hang on, let me grab a napkin…
Ok, where was I? Oh yeah…
What are Carnitas?
If you are not familiar with carnitas, you may be a little curious as to what the heck “carnitas” means. carnitas is a Spanish word that translates to “little meats” in English.
Typically, carnitas are a Mexican dish made by braising or roasting pork in a rich flavorful broth, until it is so tender it nearly falls apart. The pork is then shredded and cooked in lard or oil until it becomes crispy and caramelized.
The deeply flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth oven-roasted pork carnitas are perfect for filling tacos, burritos, or placing on top of nachos with a crunchy, refreshing orange cabbage slaw full of refreshing bright flavors.
This is not the first time we have made pork carnitas, but this is the first time I have made oven-roasted pork Carnitas.
The first time I made them was several years ago. I used a crock-pot to slow cook the pork all day while we were at work. Another time we made Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas when David smoked a pork shoulder on his water smoker. The meat was deliciously kissed with applewood smoke.
This time I wanted to try something different. So, on our only snow day this winter, I decided to help keep the house toasty and warm by slow-cooking pork in the oven all day.
The Slow-Cooking Method of Carnitas
Slow cooking is crucial to creating flavorful tender bites of goodness when making pork carnitas. Even in this busy world we live in, with instant-pots and pressure cookers, the key to cooking Mexican pork carnitas is to cook the pork low and slow. For this recipe, I used a large 5-quart cast iron dutch oven.
You could certainly use a crock-pot or slow cooker, or even an instant pot. I just love the way a good cast-iron dutch oven cooks in the oven. I prefer the dutch oven over crock-pots and slow cookers because the dutch oven does not create as much steam and moisture. When slow-roasting in an oven the meat cooks much as it would on the stovetop. Except the heat is indirect and more distributed surrounding the pot.
Flavoring the Carnita Braising Broth
Fire-roasted poblanos are much more flavorful and were a great addition to help flavor the carnitas.
Another great thing about making these oven-roasted pork carnitas on our snow day was the fact that we could roast the poblano over the flames of our wood-burning fireplace, using the same roasting stick we use for hot dogs and s’mores. This roasting stick is a must-have for open fire cooking when camping or at home over your firepit.
(To get a roasting stick, click HERE)
Coffee and chicken broth add even more depth of flavor to the carnitas. When used in a braising liquid, the coffee breaks down and tends to caramelize, adding a delicious bittersweet richness to the carnitas. I like to put coffee in my chili too. I love cooking with coffee and haven’t even begun to unleash the power of the coffee bean.
The Orange Cabbage Slaw
For this recipe, I used a small head of regular green leaf cabbage and the zest of an orange. The orange zest gave the slaw even more citrus flavor. One of my favorite things about this slaw recipe is that it uses honey to sweeten the bitterness of the cabbage naturally.
Prepare the orange cabbage slaw no less than 20-minutes before serving the carnitas. The trick to this slaw is to allow it to sit at room temperature, tossing every now and then so that the dressing coats it well. The dressing tends to settle in the bottom of the bowl. You will be amazed at how bright and crisp this slaw is. It’s fabulous with the oven-roasted Pork Carnitas.
Just look at that orange zest glisten!
Shredding The Oven-Roasted Pork
After 3 ½ to 4 hours the pork is pull-apart tender, and that is a little bit of an understatement. In fact, the pork butt was so tender it literally fell apart before I could get it out of the pot.
Use caution, because if it falls back into the juice from too high up, it’s going to splash, which will make a mess and possibly burn you.
Once the pork is removed you want to reserve the cooking liquid for broiling the meat. To do this, I ladled it through a strainer to remove the solids. Allow it to rest while shredding the pork. Not all pork is created equal; if the pork renders a lot of fat, the fat will settle at the top. If there is too much for your liking, you may want to skim off some of the excess fat from the cooking liquid.
Broiling the Pork Carnitas
Finally, use the broiler to concentrate the flavor of the carnitas. By the stage of the process, it was really tempting to omit this step. After smelling that pork cooking all day we were beyond hungry, but I am so glad we held out a little longer. Once the shredded oven-roasted pork carnitas goes under the broiler they start to caramelize. In the end, all those brown bits within the pork carnitas are where rich concentrated flavor hides.
A bit of advice, don’t get really crazy with lots of toppings. These oven-roasted pork carnitas need to speak for themselves. I served them with, lime wedges, cilantro, and tortilla dipping chips topped with a bit of the orange cabbage slaw and a Dangerously Good Margarita!
Oh my goodness, I’m drooling again…
How much longer before Cinco De Mayo rolls around?
Oven-Roasted Pork Carnitas With Orange Cabbage Slaw
- 3 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil for searing the meat
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 roasted poblano cut into strips
- 1 ¼ cup chicken broth
- ½ cup brewed coffee can be leftover from morning brew
- 2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno slices
- 1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno juice
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 onion quartered
- 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- fresh lime juice from one lime divided
Orange Cabbage Slaw:
- ½ cup orange juice fresh squeezed + zest of one orange
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 small head of cabbage thinly sliced into shreds
- 1 small red onion thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- lime wedges
- fresh cilantro
- corn or flour tortillas or tortilla chips
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 300 degrees.
- Preheat a large heavy skillet, over high heat (see notes). Sprinkle a drop or two of water onto the pan to test the heat. The water should sizzle and jump around. Next, add the oil to the pan and allow it to warm, but do not let it burn. When you start to see ripples in the oil, carefully add the meat to the pan. Be careful the hot oil may spatter!
- Once the meat is in the pan, do not move it. Let the meat sear for a few minutes. When the meat releases from the pan and is browned, using tongs, flip it over and sear the other side. Then roll it over on each side to brown all the way around. When the meat is browned on all sides, the inside will still be raw. Place it in a large dutch oven and combine all the carnitas ingredients in a large Dutch oven, with the juice of only half of the lime. Cover the Dutch Oven, transfer to the oven and cook until the pork falls apart when prodded with a fork; about 3 to 4 hours.
- Remove the pork from the oven and turn on the broiler. Prepare a large jelly roll pan, by lining it with aluminum foil; set aside.
- Transfer the pork to a large cutting board to cool, reserving the liquid in the pot. Pour the reserved liquid and vegetable solids into a bowl through a strainer. Discard the vegetable solids. Allow the liquid to settle. Using a spoon, skim off excess fat and discard, if needed.
- When pork is cool enough to handle, shred with two forks. Spread the pork out on the foil-lined jelly roll pan and broil for 5 minutes, or until the meat is crispy. Remove from the oven and pour about a ¼ cup of the reserved cooking liquid onto the crispy pork and toss. Place the pan back under the broiler for 5 more minutes or until the meat is crispy. Pour an additional ¼ cup liquid over the crispy pork. Serve immediately with lime wedges, fresh cilantro and corn or flour tortillas. Get some tortilla chips for the best nachos you’ve ever eaten!
The Orange Cabbage Slaw:
- Chop the cabbage, onion, and cilantro and put them in a large mixing bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, zest, vinegar, and honey until combined.
- Pour dressing over cabbage, onion, and cilantro, then season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Toss the cabbage, onion, and cilantro in the dressing; coat well.
- Allow the slaw to sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, tossing now and then, to keep the cabbage coated.
- The pork can be browned using the dutch oven you will be roasting the pork in. I realized this after I had already used a skillet to brown the pork. To get the brown bits off the bottom of the pan I poured the chicken broth into the hot pan to deglaze the pan. I scraped up the brown bits with a spatula and got all those brown bits of flavor into the dutch oven with the pork before roasting.
- The Orange Cabbage Slaw can be refrigerated for a couple of days, but after that, the veggies start to wilt too much.
- The pork can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
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