I first experienced proper tacos carnitas in New York City where my uncle treated us to a feast from his favourite taco truck. Having experienced only flour tortillas and various ‘tex mex’ style dishes over the years, the soft corn tortillas used were a revelation. Even today despite the rise of Mexican restaurants around Scotland, it can be difficult to find authentic soft corn tortillas. I order mine from Cool Chile who make fresh tortillas daily – they are beautifully soft and flavourful and are perfect for making tacos. Tortillas that are a few days old can be warmed in a little oil or fat to make tostadas, or cut into triangles and fried for home made tortilla chips, perfect for nachos. Of course, if you’re really serious about your tortillas, you can purchase some masa harina and a tortilla press to make your own from scratch.
Authentic carnitas (‘little meats’) is made with slow cooked pork. Traditionally cooked in large copper pots in lots of pork fat, the meat simmers for a long time, becoming deliciously soft and tender. As the liquid reduces, the fat begins to sizzle and the pork crisps up a little. This variation on that dish uses pork shoulder steaks, cooked in just a little pork fat and chicken stock. Pork shoulder steaks are inexpensive, easy to find in supermarkets and will make the perfect topping for your taco night.
- 700 grams pork shoulder steaks
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon lard or pork fat
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/4 onion roughly chopped
- 100 ml light chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 6 12" soft corn tortillas per portion
- taco toppings (fresh coriander, finely chopped onion, sliced radish, pico de gallo, pink pickled onions, salsa verde, hot sauce etc)
In a bowl, add the pork shoulder steaks, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika, smoked paprika, Mexican oregano, sea salt, black pepper and sunflower oil. Mix thoroughly. Cover and set aside in the fridge for at least 2 hours, up to 24 hours.
Heat a pot over a medium-high heat. Add the pork far or lard and heat for 1 minute. Place a marinated pork shoulder steak in the pan and allow to sear for 2 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Set the browned pork steak aside on a plate and repeat until all of the steaks are browned.
Return all of the seared pork shoulder steaks to the pot, add the garlic, onion, light chicken stock and fresh lime juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer the pork for 1 hour and 40 minutes, turning the steaks once or twice during this time.
Use tongs to remove the pork meat from the cooking liquid – it should be very tender and easy to pull apart. At this stage, the meat can be served immediately or set aside to cool completely and stored in the fridge for 2 days or in the freezer for 3 months (see notes for cooking ahead / reheating advice).
Warm your tortillas and layer them (2 small tortillas per taco) on a serving plate. Top generously with the pork and add your favourite combination of toppings and / or hot sauces.
If preparing ahead of time, I like to let the meat and the cooking liquid / fat cool down and then store them together. The fat will set in the fridge and the meat will resemble a terrine – you can simply slice the desired quantity of meat / fat and slowly reheat it in a pot with a little water for 10-12 minutes until the pork meat is fully heated through.
Mexican oregano is from a different plant family from the oregano you know and love on your favourite pizza. Native to Mexico, it has a very desirable citrus flavour.
If you like this tacos carnitas recipe, you might be interested in buying my book: The Street Food Secret: The World’s Most Exciting Fast Food in Your Own Kitchen is packed full of over over 120 street food recipes and is available to buy in kindle or paperback form here.