Carnitas with Roasted Corn Salsa

Even if Mexican food isn’t your thing, you have to love carnitas. What are carnitas, you might ask? Think something akin to a Mexican twist on pulled pork–juicy, tender, but paradoxically crispy and crunchy at the same time, all served on a tortilla, in this case, with a freshly made roasted corn salsa.

Carnitas with Roasted Corn Salsa

There are many approaches to carnitas out there, but I think they can pretty much be divided into two categories: semi-healthy using braised pork, or, as is the case with this recipe, a more traditional, heart-stopping approach on account of slow-cooking the pork in roughly a pound-for-pound equal amount of lard (like a confit).

Your reaction to that statement will go one of two ways: (1) holy shit awesome! (I agree 😮 ) or (2) grossed out and almost off-handedly ruled out as insanely unhealthy. If you’re in the latter group, slow down now and hear me out! After all, its not like you’re ultimately going to ingest all of that lard and we all eat deep fried things (e.g. french fries), so its not like this is something so crazy. Plus, while the braising in water or Dr. Pepper approach probably tastes nice, I really don’t think it can compete with the richness of this approach, and honestly, how often are you eating this? Not often at all, so splurge and give this a try! Trust me, you’ll get over your apprehensions very quickly. 😉

Given how amazing carnitas taste, making them is surprisingly simple. You begin with a good-sized, well marbled hunk of pork (e.g. butt or shoulder, I used butt) and you slow cook it in lard with a few other flavorings (e.g. cilantro and orange), so you get the benefits of slow-cooked, tender meat and the juicy, rich infusion of lard and citric flavors. This is then shredded (a la pulled pork) and then briefly roasted, caramelizing and crisping the exterior of the meat while keeping the inside of each shred stunningly juicy and tender, which in a word, is delicious!

I chose to pair this with a salsa which I chose to center around roasted flavors–garlic, shallot, corn, tomato, peppers, etc–all of which were individually roasted so that they would each take on individual complex flavors before coming together for something sweet, spicy, smokey, and just plain tasty. All together, this was quite a meal and is a great way to ring in Cinco de Mayo!

  • 2 lbs lard (do not even think of substituting this out)
  • 2.5 lbs. boneless pork butt (or shoulder)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ground cumin
  • dried oregano
  • 1 navel orange (peel and wedges)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Roasted Corn Salsa
    • olive oil
    • 2 shallots
    • 1 head of garlic
    • 2 ears of corn
    • 5 on-the-vine tomatoes
    • 2 poblano peppers
    • 3-5 jalapeño peppers
    • 1 red bell pepper
    • 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves
    • salt (to taste)

Melt the lard

Begin by melting the lard over low-medium heat in a big, sturdy pot (I used a Dutch oven). I did this outside on my grill so as not to smell up the house, and, just in case there’s a spill, the last thing I want to clean up is that much lard.

Dice large chunks of pork

While the lard is slowly melting down, prep the pork. Cut it down into good-sized chunks (roughly 2 inch cubes) and rub this with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Also peel an orange (don’t worry about finely dicing the zest–big strips are fine), saving both the peel and the wedges (but discard the pith and any seeds). Also coarsely chop up some cilantro, and feel free to include the stems.

Slowly and gently cook the pork, orange, and cilantro in melted lard

Once the lard is totally melted down, carefully put all of the spiced pork, cilantro, orange wedges, and orange peels into the lard, ensuring that they are totally submerged (if you can’t make that happen, you need to melt down and add some more lard so that it does).

Now, let this continue to cook for about 2 hours on medium-low heat. The meat should not brown right away, and if it does, drop the temperature a bit. After about 30 minutes or so, it might start browning and the lard might start gently boiling, and that’s fine. Apparently, this is due to the moisture of the orange wedges which lowers the temperature of the lard, but once cooked out, it warms up to boiling.

Gather the veggies for the salsa

While you’re waiting, now is a great time to work on the salsa. I decided to roast every component of my salsa separately because I’m not a huge fan of having raw chunks of tomato or other pico de gallo styled salsas. Plus, each of these flavors roasted becomes something really tasty. So begin by husking the corn, chopping off the upper 1/4 of a head of garlic and shallots. Rub everything with olive oil and wrap each kind of vegetable separately and tightly in tin foil (so you have all of the poblanos in one, the garlic in another, etc).

Roast each kind of vegetable separately, allowing to steam and cool off for 10 minutes before you skin, deseed, and break them down

Roast everything for about 40 minutes (except for the corn, which only gets about 20 minutes). This is where using the grill was handy since it was already warm and had plenty of room to spare. Once time is up, unwrap each package just a bit so they can steam a little and let them cool for about 10 minutes. Then, clean each one up–squeezing the garlic cloves and shallots out of the papery casing, peeling the skins off of the peppers and tomatoes, removing the stems, ribs, and seeds from the peppers, and finally cut the kernels off of the corn.

Mix the roasted veggies, cilantro, and season to taste–tada, roasted salsa!

With everything roasted and ready, throw the cilantro and the roasted veggies into the food processor and give it a few quick pulses to bring things down to a more manageable size (but don’t puree!). At this point, the salsa is done, so sample a taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (e.g. salt).

By now, I’ll assume that the pork is done cooking in the lard, so carefully remove from the lard and drain well. At this point, the meat is cooked, flavorful, and incredibly juicy. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Once done deep frying and drained, shred and pull the pork

Once sufficiently drained, shred the cooked pork with two forks and spread this out in a thin layer over the bottom of a roasting pan (or some other such flat surface). Transfer this to the oven for 15 minutes. This will crisp up the outside of each little shred of pork while still keeping the inside juicy and tender.

Roast the shredded pork briefly to crisp up the exterior

At this point, everything is ready to go, so prepare yourself a plate of whatever you think goes with this. I enjoyed my carnitas in a briefly toasted tortilla with some of the roasted corn salsa on top with sour cream (Mexican crema is preferable), black beans, and avocado on the side. Enjoy!

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30 Responses to “Carnitas with Roasted Corn Salsa”

  1. Jan Says:

    Wow – I must say it sounds and looks yummy but I am worried about that lard LOL

  2. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) Says:

    Between the lard and the pork (I’m not a pork eater), this recipe is pretty much off limits for me. But I am drooling… it does look wonderful!

  3. kittie Says:

    Well, I started thinking ‘yulch…’ but was drooling by the end!

    As long as we’re not eating it every day, I reckon everyone deserves a treat – which this most definitely is!


  4. cakewardrobe Says:

    Your introduction totally sucked me in! Crunchy, crisp and fresh!.

  5. grace Says:

    not only does the lard-laden pork sound delicious, but your corn salsa has enticed me as well. nice combination.

    is it strange that i’m completely american yet cinco de mayo is my favorite holiday? :)

  6. Ivy Says:

    Although I never cooked with lard before it sounds delicious and coming to think about it before the refrigerators they would preserve meat in lard and used some of that lard for frying and nobody had cholesterol those days. Other factors are to blame as well as fat.

  7. Chef Erik Says:

    Wow, this looks delish. I’m a veg head so I will try this with some seitan. My brother will like it with the beef. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  8. Peter Says:

    Mike, as said in cards…”I’m all in”! Lovely pieces of butt and slow, pulled and carnitas are almost pornographic but we’re talking food here..delicious!

  9. noble pig Says:

    Oh. My. GAWD. This is exactly my kind of food and would be just dandy with my margarita’s. Sigh.

  10. pam Says:

    I am all about splurging when the urge hits me. And this would be a great way to do it!

  11. Kevin Says:

    Your carnitas look good. I made carnitas a while ago but I braised the pork in salsa verde. I really like the crispy yet moist and tender texture. I need to make it again soon.

  12. Marie Says:

    MIke, I’ve never made carnitas but I always order them when out. Your step by step and explaination, will be very handy when I attempt to make this. Perfect for Cinco de Mayo!!

  13. RecipeGirl Says:

    Lard??? Yikes. I don’t think I could do that. I’ve done carnitas before, but they were done in a crockpot. I’m sure yours are better!

    We like our carnitas tucked inside a burrito or taco. Yummy!

  14. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy Says:

    Holy crap! That meat is a truly beautiful sight! I love carnitas, but I’ve only ever made them in a crock pot. I’m making my husband set up the Big Green Egg this weekend and this is the first thing I’m making!

  15. aforkfulofspaghetti Says:

    Wow… way to go. I’m loving the look of this…

  16. Helen Says:

    Holy shit that’s awesome!

  17. anticiplate Says:

    I have NEVER cooked with lard, but I KNOW i love it. This might be one of those situations where I eat lard, but will never be able to cook with it:) I think I need to get over that.

  18. Sarah Says:

    Mmm..I can never have enough avocado! Great photos!

  19. Ivy Says:

    Hey Mike, I am back again. You have been tagged but feel free not to participate if you don’t want to.

  20. Susan from Food Blogga Says:

    You mean there are actually people for whom Mexican is not their thing? 😉

  21. nina Says:

    Holy crumbs, Mike it looks delicious, but this will send a heart surgeon into orbit…. Love looking grub.

  22. Pixie Says:

    lol at what nina said

    I’m not sure I’ve ever tried this- looks great and I don’t fear lard.

  23. Jeff Says:

    Have I told you I love you today? Lard and fatty shoulder meat. :drool:

  24. Kristen Says:

    If I could just mentally get past the whole lard business, I would be all over this meat. Maybe, if someone made it for me I could pretend like I didn’t even know! It sounds really, really delicious.

  25. Holly Says:

    Oh, be still my heart!! I LOVE carnitas. They are my absolute favorite! I love your salsa idea! I’ve been meaning to post my version soon. Oh, amd I am fully on board with the lard method (shortening works too). Yum!!

  26. Kim Says:

    Wow, now that is mind kind of meal. Love mexican food. Good job!

  27. Deborah Dowd Says:

    My old boss had a walnut ranch in CA and he used to rave about the carnitas they had at their harvest party. You’ve almost talked me into it (with a lot of fish oil on the side!)

  28. leslie Says:

    I do basically the same for the port but deep fat fry in peanut oil—then after the 2 hrs or frying transfer to a pot containing 24 or of coke and 12 ozs of orange juice–simmer this for another 2 hrs then shred and place in oven till crispy–I use the coke/orange juice leftovers and thicken it to make my citrus sauce and serve with mashed potatoes—lip smacking fantastic

  29. Tricia Says:

    Made this tonight – delicious!! The corn salsa was perfect with the carnitas!

  30. Eleni Says:

    Love it! I want to try some of that salsa looks delicious. I ralely need to learn how to can did it take a bit upfront investment of stuff (I see the the big display of stuff at Target and get nervous)

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