The best tacos I’ve had recently were in San Francisco, where we made our way to the Mission District to visit the very popular Taqueira El Farolito. While there, I enjoyed their classic carnitas taco and a couple weeks ago, Mr. Chuckles put together our own version.
Usually made using the heavily marbled boston butt or picnic ham cuts of pork, the traditional version of carnitas is cooked in a copper pot with lard. We went with the sous vide technique, which produced a rich, tender meat and was a lot easier for clean up.
Adapted from Serious Eats.
Servings: 8-12 | Prep time: 30 minutes | Ready time: 8-24 hours
- 4 pounds (1.8 kg) boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch thick slabs
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 1 stick cinnamon, broken into 3 to 4 pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 medium orange, peel intact
- Kosher salt
Charred salsa verde
- 1½ pounds tomatillos, husks removed, split in half (about 10 medium)
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and split in half (about 6 ounces)
- 2 to 4 Serrano or Jalapeño chilies, split in half
- 10 to 15 sprigs cilantro, tough lower stems discarded
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- Warm corn tortillas
- Lime wedges
- Chopped white onion and fresh cilantro leaves (pico de gallo)
- Sour cream
- Avocado, sliced or prepared as guacamole
- Black bean salsa
- Smoked morita salsa
1) Combine pork, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves in a large bowl. Split orange into quarters and squeeze juice into bowl before adding rest of orange. Season generously with kosher salt and toss to combine.
2) Transfer contents to a vacuum bag and seal.
3) When ready to cook, set sous vide cooker to the desired temperature. We cooked at 185°F (85°C) for 8 to 16 hours to produce a traditional texture with meat that shreds naturally. For moist meat that shreds easily with your hands or forks, cook at 165°F (74°C) for 12 to 24 hours.
4) Add bag to sous vide bath and cook for recommended time as above. Make sure to top water up occasionally as it evaporates, and keep bag completely submerged.
5) When meat is cooked, remove from water bath and transfer contents of bag to a large bowl. Pick out chunks of meat with a set of tongs and transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet. Discard aromatics and excess liquid, or reserve liquid and blend it in with your salsa. When it is cool enough to handle, shred meat roughly using 2 forks or your fingers. Spread evenly over baking sheet.
6) When ready to serve, adjust an oven rack to 3 inches below the broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place pork under broiler and cook, using a spoon to flip pieces occasionally, until meat is browned and crisp on most sides, about 10 minutes total.
Prepare charred salsa verde
7) Adjust oven rack to 4 inches below broiler and preheat broiler to high. Place tomatillos, onion, and chilies on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until darkly charred and blackened on top and tomatillos are completely tender, 6 to 12 minutes
8) Transfer vegetables and their juice to a blender, food processor, or the cup of an immersion blender. Add half of cilantro. Blend in pulses until a rough puree is formed.
9) Heat oil in a medium saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Pour salsa into the hot oil all at once (it will steam and sputter). Immediately start stirring and continue to cook, stirring, until salsa is darkened and thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
10) Finely chop remaining cilantro and stir into salsa. Season to taste with salt. Let cool before serving.
Prepare for serving
11) Warm corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet. Serve with carnitas, charred salsa verde, and additional toppings as suggested.
👨🍳 Notes from Mr. Chuckles
You can prepare these carnitas in the oven as outlined in this alternative recipe, but the sous vide produces a super moist, evenly cooked meat that makes the tacos even tastier.
We have owned the Sansaire sous vide for a couple years and it has served us very well. The concept of the immersion circulator is that it allows food to be cooked at a tightly controlled temperature which retains moisture and ensures an even cook inside and out.
For adequate vacuum sealing, we use the FoodSaver FM2000-FFP which came with a starter pack of their BPA free bags, safe for use in the sous vide.
As for the corn tortillas and extra toppings we listed in our recipe, Mr. Chuckles stocked up at a little grocer called Manotas located at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. Maybe our next task is to figure out how to make our own tortillas!