Side Orders: Pork carnitas can feed your holiday crowds

Side Orders: Pork carnitas can feed your holiday crowds

December 6th, 2017 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment
Anne Braly

Anne Braly

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The holidays are a time for family gatherings, but so often we stick to the same old meals when it comes to feeding a crowd. This year, put a little south-of-the-border kick into dinner if you're needing a recipe that will serve many without much trouble.

I found this recipe for pork carnitas a couple of years ago and have made it several times — once for a party and again last Christmas when the kids came home and I needed something that would fill the stomachs of hungry grown children. I have three daughters, so I never really knew how much guys could eat until two sons-in-law joined the family. The recipe really did the job of making it an easy meal for a crowd with unbelievable flavor, plus it was fun to serve buffet style with bowls of toppings — salsa, sour cream, avocados and cheese — along with sides of Mexican rice and refried beans, which I'd simmered on the stove for several hours. If you've never made refried beans, they're well worth the extra work as they taste so much better than those from a can.

There are quite a few steps to make pork carnitas, but the beauty of it is that every one of them is very simple. You can even do a couple of steps one day, then come back the next and finish it up. Once the pork has cooked and become fork-tender by simmering it in the oven for a couple of hours, it only takes minutes to finish it off under the broiler to become crispy and caramelized. While the fork is cooking, prepare whatever toppings you may want to serve alongside, as well as any side dishes.

This pork carnitas is as almost as authentic as any I've had on trips to the Southwest. I always serve it as a filling for 6-inch tortillas — soft-taco style. But it's also the perfect topping for nachos or filling for burritos. But as I mentioned earlier, it's wonderful for serving a crowd, because once you've set everything out, your family and other guests can make their own — and those men can fill themselves up to their heart's content. Feliz Navidad!

Pork Carnitas for a Crowd

1 (4-5 pound) boneless pork butt, fat trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 onion, peeled and halved

2-3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 cups water

1 large orange, juiced and keep the spent halves

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat to 300 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a large Dutch oven, including the spent orange halves and juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered. Once it simmers, cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook until the meat falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven, and turn on the broiler. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pan and place it on a large foil-lined baking sheet. Remove and discard everything from the pot except for the cooking liquid. Place pot over high heat on the stove and boil until it thickens and gets syrupy, 20 to 30 minutes. You should have about 1 cup of liquid remaining when it is finished.

While the liquid is reducing, use two forks to pull each cube of pork into two or three pieces, taking care not to shred the meat completely. You want small chunks of meat. Once the liquid has reduced, gently fold the pieces of pork into the pot. Try not to break up the pork any further. Taste, and add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Spread the pork back onto the foil-lined pan, and evenly spread the meat around so there is a single layer of meat. Place the baking sheet on the lower middle rack of the oven, and broil until the top of the meat is well-browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5-8 minutes. Keep an eye on the oven so the meat doesn't burn. Using a wide metal spatula, flip the pieces of meat, and broil the other side until well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5-8 minutes. Serve in soft tortillas with all your favorite toppings, such as sour cream, avocados and salsa.


And this winter sangria is an excellent drink to serve before, during or after your south-of-the-border holiday dinner. It's from Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva.

Sangria for the Holidays

1 large orange, sliced

1 large ripe pear, chopped

Seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 (750 milliliter) bottle chianti

4 cinnamon sticks

Add fruit to a large pitcher. Top with chianti. Place in refrigerator for about an hour before serving, allowing all the flavors to blend. Spoon fruit into glass before pouring wine. Garnish with cinnamon stick. Add ice to top (optional).

Contact Anne Braly at