Mmmm, carnitas. I absolutely love it. If it’s on the menu anywhere, I will order it without fail. There’s something pretty magical about biting into something that is meltingly tender on the inside, but also has delightfully crispy bits on the outside. Usually, carnitas is made using pork shoulder, but it seemed to me that all the glorious fat in pork belly could produce some extremely flavorful carnitas without having to add any additional lard to the pan at the end when it came to the crisping stage. Happily, I can report that I am right! This Pork Belly Carnitas is heaven on a plate and simple to make. It’s one for the weekend, what with the marinating step and the slow cooking needed, but has very little active hands on time. Plus, Pork Belly Carnitas will make you many, many friends. Trust me.
How to cook Pork Belly Carnitas
There are four steps to making this Pork Belly Carnitas perfectly tender on the inside and yet crispy on the outside. The best part is that the first three really don’t require any effort on your part!
- First, you need to marinate the pork belly for at least an hour, or even overnight, in either unsweetened apple juice OR unsweetened pineapple juice and some seasonings.
- Then you need to add all the marinade to a large dutch oven. Lay the cubes of pork belly out in a single layer and add UNSALTED chicken or pork stock. If the stock has salt in it, you will need to reduce the amount of sea salt in the marinade considerably, or leave it out altogether. Put the lid on the dutch oven and cook the pork belly at 350 F for two hours.
- Once two hours are up, remove the lid from the dutch oven and continue to cook the pork belly for another hour. This will cook off any extra stock and liquid from the pan and finish rendering the pork fat.
- Lastly, you need to continue to cook the pork belly in its own rendered fat until it is brown and crispy at the edges. The first time I did this, I simply transferred the dutch oven to the stove top and continued to cook it there. However, that made my pan a difficult to clean mess! I highly recommend that you instead transfer the pork belly cubes and the rendered pork fat to a large skillet instead, avoiding scraping up any solids from the dutch oven. Then you can crisp up the Pork Belly Carnitas without burning any leftover marinade onto the bottom of the pan. Yay!
I served this paired with my own Mango Guacamole and Slim Palate’s grain free Cauliflower Tortillas. Mr Meatified thought he’d gone to Mexico and said he wanted a Margarita to go with his Paleo “street tacos”!
(If you need an incentive to make this recipe, here it is: Food52 dubbed this recipe “The best damn pork we’ve ever eaten.” Now if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what can beat it!
- 2½ lbs skinless pork belly, cut into 1½ inch cubes
- 2 cups either unsweetened apple juice
- 2 tbl garlic powder
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tbl ground cumin (omit this for AIP)
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 2 tbl dried oregano leaves
- 1 tbl sea salt (reduce or omit if using stock with salt in it)
- 2 cups unsalted chicken or pork broth
- In a container or large freezer bag, combine the apple juice / unsweetened pineapple juice, garlic powder, cinnamon, ground cumin, bay leaves, oregano and sea salt (if using). Add the pork belly and refrigerate while it marinates, for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
- Remove the pork belly from the fridge an hour before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Tip the marinade into a large dutch oven and spread the pork belly pieces in a single layer in the pan. Pour over your stock. Cook for 2 hours with a lid on.
- After 2 hours, remove the lid and cook the pork belly for another hour. This will cook off the remaining liquid and finish rendering the pork fat.
- Remove the pork belly from the oven. Transfer the pork pieces to a large flat bottomed skillet. Spoon off as much of the fat as you can from the dutch oven and add it to the skillet with the pork belly pieces. Avoid any solids from the bottom of the pan as these will burn!
- Over a medium heat, continue to cook the pork belly in its own rendered fat. The pan should be bubbling but not spitting. Flip the pork belly pieces so that they brown evenly on all sides. This should take about 30 minutes.
- When all sides are brown and crispy, remove the pork belly from the pan and drain on some paper towel. Shred the meat with two forks and enjoy! This is especially good paired with Mango Guacamole!
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