Thursday, January 19, 2012

4 Ways to Cook Carnitas

Mexican food has the reputation of being nothing more than a heavy amalgamation of meat, beans and cheese that sits in your stomach for hours. Anyone who has had authentic carnitas can tell you that the stereotype only applies to cheap drive-through, but not everyone is able or willing to devote several days to the dry-rub marination, oven-browning and lengthy braising that produces the delectable meat. Enter prepackaged carnitas. Available from your grocery store, these tubs of shredded meat are ready to eat. All the work has been done, and you don't even have to heat it up if you're impatient. That said, there are several ways to cook it if have a few minutes.


Microwaving packaged carnitas is the desperate act of a very hungry person. The package is usually microwave-safe, so you don't even have to dirty a dish, and two minutes on "High" gives you a piping-hot taco, sandwich or burrito filling. If you care to get fancy, mix in your favorite barbecue or hot sauce prior to heating. The microwave heats your carnitas, but premade sauces are your only opportunity to add flavor, and heating for too long may dry out the meat. Check every 30 seconds or so to be safe.

Stove Top

The stove top isn't as quick as the microwave, but it offers more opportunity to spice things up. Saute onions and garlic in oil, then add the carnitas and simmer until heated through. Add oregano, chili powder or mojo if you like. The whole process only takes about 10 minutes, but you've elevated the tub of meat to something closer to authentic. Be sure to keep the liquid level sufficient to prevent the meat from drying out, and keep the heat low to avoid scorching. Experiment with broth and fruit juices to add an extra level of flavor.


The way you use the oven for your carnitas depends upon what you're making. Carnitas begs to be in a casserole, topped with onions, beans, peppers and plenty of cheese. For deep dishes, it's best to heat the carnitas before assembling the casserole, and then only bake until the cheese is golden. Otherwise, the cheese finishes long before the center of the casserole gets warm. An alternative is to sprinkle carnitas over a pizza, with Colby-Jack cheese and peppers. In this case, the meat is used in a thin layer on top of everything else, so no preheating is necessary. If your crust is very thick, add the meat toward the end of the baking time so it doesn't dry out.

Slow Cooker

For the truly patient, the slow cooker offers the opportunity to reproduce true carnitas flavor by cooking the meat for hours in liquid. Keep the heat on "Low" or "Warm," and use enough liquid to cover the meat completely. Slice onions to cover the base of the bowl before you add the meat; if the meat stays in contact with the ceramic for hours, it could toughen or scorch. Use fruit juices, broth or undrained canned tomatoes for the liquid, and add plenty of vegetables that release water during cooking, like peppers and onions. Don't leave it for the whole day -- remember, the meat is already cooked -- but two or three hours results in melt-in-your-mouth meat.

Design by Free Wordpress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Templates