Slow-Cooker Mojo Carnitas are an easy “set-it-and-forget-it” weeknight meal. But they’re flashy enough for a weekend dinner party!
After a long, hard winter and a final, mid-April slap-in-the-face snow dump, Wisconsin has finally decided that it can be Spring now.
May is suddenly just around the corner, and with it, Cinco de Mayo.
I enjoy posting Mexican cuisine-inspired recipes at this time of year to celebrate the occasion. Cinco de Mayo celebrates General Zaragosa’s inspirational victory at the Battle of Puebla. (Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th.) The holiday has grown into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, marked by events showcasing Mexican art, music, dance, and, of course, food.
This Mexican abuelita-inspired slow-cooker carnitas recipe is easy enough for a weeknight. However, it’s delicious and exotic enough to impress for a dinner party. You start with a boneless pork shoulder roast, which marinates overnight in mojo. Mojo is Cuban, I realize, but it produces the most fabulous results of any marinade I’ve tried. I like to make deep incisions through the meat with a filet knife so that the marinade permeates the meat.
In the morning, you plop the roast into the crockpot along with the mojo, beef broth, and some onions, then low-and-slow it for 8 hours. After that, it’s a matter of removing the fat, chopping the meat, prepping the garnishes, and setting it all out buffet-style with tortillas, sides, and condiments. Well, almost…
Slow-cooker Mojo Carnitas and Mexican restaurant voodoo
When I think of the best carnitas that I have eaten in restaurants, I have been stumped on one point: the meat nearly always has a flavorful, crunchy bark without being dried out at all. I’ve tried to replicate that delicious caramelization with a short interval under the broiler and by throwing the meat onto the grill just before serving.
The secret to sublimely pork-y, caramelized carnitas
The grill method is just too much work, so I scrapped that. The broiler method does work in achieving nice, crispy caramelization. But I found the result to be a bit dry—not to mention that it somehow missed the mark in duplicating the intense porkiness of restaurant carnitas. I think I’ve finally nailed it, and I’m going to share my hack with you.
NOTE: Slow-Cooker Mojo Carnitas will be delicious even if you choose not to do the optional step I’m about to tell you.
I’m convinced that this—or something very close to it—is the bit of voodoo that Mexican restaurants do to make their carnitas taste so good.
They take their lovingly slow-cooked pork and reheat it in a hot skillet with lard.
To recreate this magic at home, go for a good-quality, rich-tasting lard. I’ve used the kind I found in a local Mexican grocery. I’ve also made my own by rendering pork fat. Then, I strained and stored it in an airtight container in the freezer. The latter method is fairly laborious, but the flavor was fabulous. (That’s a worthy weekend cooking project.) But Mexican grocery-variety lard produces results that are only slightly less amazing.
The resulting meat has caramelized, delectable, crunchy bark. Toss it with a little of the mojo juices and serve DIY taco bar style. Buffets in the Frank house feature warm tortillas, charred green onions, Fiery Mango-Habanero Salsa, Pico de Gallo, or Salsa Verde, sour cream or Mexican crema, cheeses, limes, and a side of rice and/or beans.
Leftovers are delicious in enchiladas and quesadillas. Or, just have more tacos. If you want more Latin American-inspired recipe ideas, check out my Mexican-Inspired Recipes for Cinco de Mayo!
I’m sharing my Slow-Cooker Mojo Carnitas recipe with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share, hosted this week by Everyday Healthy Recipes.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
Slow-cooker Mojo Carnitas
FOR THE MARINADE
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- zest of 1 lime
- zest of one orange
- 4 garlic cloves - peeled and crushed
- 1 cup cilantro - leaves and stems, chopped
- 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 jalapeno - thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ancho chile powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE MEAT
- 3 lb boneless pork butt roast
- 1 yellow or white onion - sliced into thick rings
- 3 cups beef broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp rich-tasting lard - see Recipe Note #1
- Carefully rinse the pork butt roast with cold water. Pat dry with paper toweling. Trim excess fat from the roast. Stab the meat with a filet knife all over the roast to create deep pockets for the marinade to penetrate.
- Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a zip-top bag. Add the roast. Marinate overnight.
- Add the roast and marinade to a slow-cooker along with the onion, bay leaves, and broth. Cook on low for 8 hours.
- Remove pork roast and cut into bite-sized pieces (or pull the pork, if you prefer). Remove bay leaves and onions with a skimmer; discard.
- Heat the lard in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork to the skillet and fry until a brown, caramelized bark develops on the edges of the meat (but don't burn!). Toss with a few tablespoons of the juice from the crockpot and serve (see Recipe Note #2).
- Frying the pork in lard is an optional step that creates a caramelized bark on the outside of the meat and intensifies the porky flavor. You can skip this step altogether, or set the meat under a broiler until it browns up. Then proceed with the remaining steps.
- Make sure not to overcrowd the skillet: it may be necessary to fry the meat in small batches to get the caramelization you're after.
- I like to serve the pork as part of a taco bar, with warm tortillas, charred green onions, sliced jalapenos, rice, cheese, and condiments.
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