Carnitas – food to love

I had an idea that I wanted to make carnitas, a Mexican dish that is most often made of pork that is roasted or slow cooked and then served with tacos, tortillas or burritos. I wanted to make some and decided to start by doing some research first. There is no shortage of recipes and it seems that everyone has their own version. It doesn’t have to be pork but this is the traditional meat to use so I decided to stick with the pork but to use two different cuts.

The first thing I did was to go to Robsons Butchers and place an order for pork cheeks. I was going to travel so I needed to pre order them so that I could pick it up the following Saturday. The pork cheeks have short fibres and breaks down beautifully making for a rich sauce. When I arrived the following Saturday they were indeed waiting for me, thank you!

Some of the carnitas recipes suggest that you cure the meat but I didn’t have the time. At the butcher I also picked up a smoked ham hoc joint, shredded it would be perfect with the pork cheeks.

Carnitas with two cuts of pork, serves 4, oven 160C, preparation time about 30 minutes and about 2½ hr cooking time

  • 1 smoked, un cooked ham hoc joint
  • ½ kg pork cheeks
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 chilli
  • 1 leek
  • 2 bayleaves
  • paprika
  • lemon thyme
  • 1 lemon
  • 250 ml coca cola
  • water to cover the meat
  • flour for the pork cheeks
  • ground white pepper
  • salt & black pepper

  • Hot sauce to taste

Cut off the skin from the ham hoc and rinse. Place in a pan with cold water and bring to a boil. Discard the water and do it again. This is to get rid of the impurities, the protein and juices cook out and coagulate forming a foam on the surface. If you blanche the meat the stock/cooking liquid will become clearer.


Once that is done cut the vegetables very fine. I kept the seeds in the chilli.


Trim and dust the pork cheeks in flour and pan fry in oil until they are browned on all sides.


Add them to the pan together with the vegetables. The veg will add flavour and texture to the dish. Most carnitas recipes did not include any, or as much veg but it made the dish slightly lighter, helping avoid the meat sweats as well as making the meat go a longer way.

Add the spices and the coca cola, then add water until the meat is covered. Place in the oven and let stand there for 2 hour

To go with it 

  • Guacamole
  • Soured cream
  • 2 corn on the cob, boiled and the corn stripped
  • spring onion, sliced
  • cucumber
  • tomato, cut up
  • onion
  • lettuce
  • tortillas
  • grated cheese

Prepare the veg and after 2 hours take the ham hoc out to let cool. It should be cooked through and falling off the bone, if not leave it longer in the oven. Let it cool.


Whilst the meat is cooling off mash the pork cheeks, it should now become a rich, meaty sauce. When the ham hoc is cooled strip the meat, remove any excess fat and shred the meat before adding it back to the pork cheeks.


I finished the carnitas on the stove top reducing it down a bit and let it thicken. I added some hot sauce to taste, not too much, just to add a warming note. It was now rich and meaty. I was glad it had the veg in there to make it lighter.


We ate it with lots of fresh vegetables.


I made tortilla baskets and the crispy bread was delicious with the soft and rich carnitas, the soft guacamole and the crisp, fresh veg.


I loved the smokiness that the smoked ham hoc added, the pork cheeks are just so delicious and what a dish, I will do it again and again! Anyone for tacos?




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