When I think of comfort foods, I remember coming home from school activities to a house filled with the delicious aroma of roasting pork. As soon as the weather turned cool, we could look forward to roast pork with apple sauce. In those days, roast pork meant a nice tenderloin roasted in the oven. Now that I live in California, I’ve learned to make a different kind of roast pork for tacos or burritos called Carnitas.
Carnitas means “little meats” and usually refers to braised pork that melts in your mouth. Traditional Carnitas is a Mexican dish that originated in the state of Michoacan, where the pork is simmered in lard with salt, chili, cumin, oregano or Mexican oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, and crushed garlic cloves.
I’m going to share how I make Carnitas for these tacos, seasoned with a homemade tomatillo sauce. You won’t believe how easy it is to do, and how tasty it turns out! Just in time for Cinco de Mayo too! Start with a pork shoulder roast that will fit into your slow cooker or heavy covered pot. Brown some onions, add some garlic, then add the roast to the pot or to the slow cooker. Add 2 cups of water, cover, and let it cook slowly for 3-6 hours. You’ll know it’s done when the bone can be removed easily and the meat just falls apart. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pot, pour off all but about 1/2 cup.
At this point you have options. You can pull apart the meat and add a big can of green enchilada sauce that you buy at the grocery store. It will be very tasty, but you’ll have to accept that some of the ingredients are preservatives and there might even be sugar in the sauce. Your other option is to make homemade tomatillo sauce, and be sure that everything in that sauces is exactly how you want it to be.
Use 8-10 tomatillos, remove the thin dry outside skin, wash and place into a sauce pan with one jalapeño pepper. Boil them together for 5-7 minutes until they have changed from bright green to a yellowish green. (Don’t let them pop and drain their juices into the water.) Drain. Cut about 1 inch of the jalapeño pepper off the end opposite the stem and remove any seeds that might be in that piece. Place the tomatillos and that piece of pepper into your blender, adding several cloves of chopped garlic, and one tsp. salt. Blend until pureed. That’s it! You have your homemade sauce. If you want more heat, add more jalapeño.
Pour the sauce over the pork, and gently mix it in. Now you have a huge pot of seasoned carnitas to use anyway you wish! For tacos, heat small corn tortillas and melt some grated Mexican cheese on top. Spoon a little of the pork on top, add sliced avocado, fresh cilantro if you like, and pass the salsa! Or just eat the luscious meat right out of the bowl with some beans, rice, and a salad. Put the meat and beans under the salad and call it a Carnitas Bowl!
You can use different sauces to season the pork, depending on what you like. Barbecue sauce will give you traditional barbecued pulled pork. Or try my friend Erika’s Tangerine Hatch Chile Not Ketchup — the citrus flavor is outstanding and the hatch chiles give it a nice kick with no added sugar.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 3 - 5 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 pork shoulder roast 6-10 lbs.
- 2 cups water or chicken broth
- 8-10 tomatillos, with skins removed
- 1 medium sized jalapeño pepper
- 2 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Brown the chopped onion and garlic in a heavy pot in the oil.
- Add the roast and brown on all sides.
- Add the water or broth and cover the pot.
- Simmer on medium low for 3 to 6 hours, making sure that the liquid doesn't evaporate, until the bone can be removed easily and the meat falls apart.
- Pour off the cooking liquid, leaving about ½ cup.
- With 2 forks, shred the meat until it is no longer chunky.
- Remove the outer skins from the tomatillos.
- In a sauce pan of boiling water, cook the tomatillos and jalapeño pepper for 5-7 minutes, until they change from bright green to yellowish green.
- Cut 1 inch from the bottom of the pepper and remove any seeds that might be inside.
- Place the cooked tomatillos and the piece of pepper into the blender with crushed garlic and salt.
- Puree until smooth.
- Pour the sauce over the shredded pork and gently mix until evenly distributed.
- Serve with fresh salsa and/or fresh cilantro.