What is it about carnitas that makes us want to gather and celebrate? I’d like to think it’s the labor of love. Maybe it’s what we love about BBQ and slow cooked stews. It demands we stop and take time to enjoy. Here at No Takeout we want to provide you with all the tips and tricks to make it easier for you to eat your favorite foods without leaving home. If you can make the same great flavors and textures even easier, we want to know about it and we want to share it. That is one of our core values.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have time for the process and just need the miracle now. So, like all other Instant Pot meals that defy the cook times we’ve always known, here’s carnitas tacos on the quick.
In this tutorial we provide you a recipe for making carnitas that taste just as authentic as you’d expect to get in Mexico.
What Makes Authentic Carnitas; Flavors
We have been lucky to work with, and have in our group, folks who were raised around authentic Mexican and southwest cooking styles. From bringing the heat to spending days on a meal, we’ve been luck enough to share the vast array of flavors and textures that result. There are three main aspects of the flavor profiles that we have learned define authentic carnitas. We understand that similar to say, spaghetti, there is a vast array of flavors to explore, and we are not the ‘be all and end all’ here, but this is an excellent summary of the flavor goals.
This is the most forward of the flavors in carnitas along with the meat. But we don’t want an extremely sharp citrus, so you generally do not want lemon in your mix. Orange juice, fresh limes and the zest of orange peels bring a bright flavor that makes carnitas pop.
Cumin and Oregano
Cumin and lime are a match made in heaven, and like ‘five spice’ to Asian cuisine, cumin brings an instantly recognizable nutty and sweet taste to southwestern cuisine. We highly encourage actual Mexican oregano. It too offers a distinctive flavor, full of earthy overtones and nicely pungent, it is not as sharp as European oregano.
There is a kitchen truism; “Fat is flavor”. One of the defining characteristics of French cooking is based on what fat was local; butter to the north and east, pork to the west, and olive oil on the southern coast. Fat defines many cooking styles and is the absolute best vehicle to carry flavors, think garlic butter or truffle oil. And unlike water, it doesn’t evaporate, it sticks around to enhance the textures of your food as well. The richness of pork fat and lard are part of what we are seeking.
What Makes Authentic Carnitas; Processes
Quickly looking at history, a piece of meat was stuck on a stick suspended over a fire to slow cook until done. Pots and such came along, and the process was similar to stew simmer and braise foods over time with lower heat levels. In its basic form the carnitas dish is slow cooked pork, just like a tasty pot roast or pulled pork.
To also take a quick look at science, knowing why this works is of value. Tough cuts of meat are fibrous with connective tissues and collagens throughout the meat. Breaking these down is the main goal of a slow cooking process. Hit them with high heat and they tighten up to become even chewier. The pressure of an instant cooker allows water to get over 212 degrees and forces it into the food causing a faster breakdown of the connective tissues releasing the collagens, but not reaching the high heats that cause it to get tougher.
High Heat – Pan Searing
Stay with us here, the low and slow is coming, but you do want to start with high heat. Briefly. Without getting way out there geeky (it is hard to control) there is a process called the Maillard reaction, which explains the browning and caramelization of foods. It delivers exceptional flavors. In meat it is the sear of a steak or browning of a chop. In this case we quickly brown the chunks of pork in a skillet before the actual cooking begins.
Low and slow, or with pressure
This step is more about texture as we have discussed. It is far too easy to make a great tasting piece of meat that is too chewy to enjoy, or you call your mistake jerky, you get the point. This part of the process is much more about texture than flavor. Using dry heat for low and slow will bring some extra flavor components, but you will still go to the next important step.
High Heat – Broiling
Don’t be shocked, we are back to high heat, mostly for flavor, slightly for texture. Remember that geeky Maillard thing? It works here too. Get the meat tucked right under a high heat source and you get the richness of browning the meat and the slight add to texture with some little crispies all around, similar to cooking a burger in a hot skillet and all those fund brown flavors and textures that result.
Carnitas Instant Pot Recipe
- 4 – 5 Pounds Pork butt/shoulder
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ Teaspoon Black pepper
- 1-½ Tablespoons Lard
- 1 Cup Beef broth divided
- ¾ Cup Water
- ½ Cup Agave
- 1 White onion medium size, coarsely chopped
- 6 Garlic gloves
- 1 Teaspoon Dried marjoram
- 1 Teaspoon Dried thyme
- 1 Teaspoon Black pepper
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cumin
- 4 Whole cloves (without stems)
- 2 Teaspoons Crushed dried Mexican oregano
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
- 2 Oranges zested in thick strips
- 1 Cup Fresh squeezed orange juice
- 2 Tablespoons Lime juice
- 3 Tablespoons Whole milk
- 2-3 Bay Leaves
- Cube pork meat into 3 to 4 inch pieces leaving the fat on the meat
- Toss the meat with ½ teaspoon each, salt and pepper
- Add the following to the blender and puree until smooth; water, ½ cup beef broth, agave, onion, garlic cloves, marjoram, thyme, black pepper, cumin, cloves, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt
- Pour puree into Instant Pot, add orange zest, and set to low heat
- Once Instant Pot comes to a simmer, allow to cook for 6 minutes, then add OJ, lime juice, milk, and bay leaves
- Preheat a heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat
- Add lard, once shimmering, add the cubed pork in two or three batches, do not crowd pan
- Brown on by letting each side sit for about 1 – 2 min before flipping
- When browned, transfer meat to Instant Pot, repeat until all the pork is browned
- Once all meat has finished browning and been added to the Instant Pot, deglaze the pan with ½ cup beef broth and add to Instant Pot
- Add additional beef broth (or whatever liquid. water, beer, chicken broth, etc.) as needed to ensure meat is mostly covered
- Seal pot and vent, set to pressure cook high for 50 minutes
- Open vent and let steam release until depressurized
- Preheat oven broiler to 500/high
- Remove pork chunks, break into smaller pieces
- Broil pork until edges are crispy, 10-15 minutes
- Shred pork into dish, nap with broth from the Instant Pot if desired
- Warm up the corn tortillas, add meat and toppings, have a margarita and enjoy!