Carnitas was big news last month when Chipotle instituted rolling blackouts for the item after learning one of its pork suppliers didn't meet its standards for responsibly raised meat. On any given day, carnitas isn't offered in one-third of the restaurant's locations.
While media coverage centered on Chipotle's enforcement of its animal welfare expectations, one of the most interesting tidbits to emerge from the episode was how few customers ask for carnitas. The meat figures into a measly 6 percent of the burrito chain's orders.
Religious dietary restrictions could account for the lack of interest in carnitas. But it's also possible some eaters don't fully appreciate what they're missing.
The word “carnitas” literally means “little meats” in Spanish. In the context of Mexican cuisine, though, it refers specifically to hunks of seasoned pork shoulder, simmered or braised until meltingly tender.
Like French confit, carnitas is cooked in fat. Lard is the most common medium, although cookbook authors have come up with a range of workarounds, including water, chicken broth and orange juice. Regardless of the liquid, the seasoning almost always includes cinnamon, garlic, bay leaves and oregano.
Traditionally prepared in a copper pot, carnitas is not considered done until the outside edges are crisped to a deep, dark crackle. (Or, if you want to take it a step further, until it's pulled, tucked into a corn tortilla and spritzed with lime.)
Minero (Carnitas taco with chicharron, salsa verde and chilmole, $3.50)
Carnitas is best when it's still warm and dripping with fat, so if you're not craving a commercial kitchen's version, you're best off shopping for pork shoulder and making supper from scratch. Just make sure you have a few hours to spare.
Anywhere tacos are sold. Carnitas is on the menu at Zia Taqueria, Taco Boy, La Hacienda and Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, but if you don't require a full-fledged restaurant, carnitas is an excellent reason to stop by La Taqueria Espres, a truck stationed on Ashley Phosphate Road.