I have seen many versions of this recipe floating around, but I first encountered the concept after a wonderful taco dinner with our friends, Reg and Nicolette. This Mexican-inspired shredded pork is so simple, so tasty, and able to be dressed up or dressed down any way you’d like.
Prepping the ingredients the night before allows for minimal fuss the day of, which is a main benefit of slow cooking. As with most slow cooked meats, it is best to use a tougher, fattier cut of meat, such as the pork shoulder/pork butt used here. I prefer to trim the excess outer fat, as I think there is plenty of marbled fat within to keep the meat moist. Searing it further ensures that all the juices stay just where they belong. My slow cooker has a removable, stove-top safe crock that minimizes dirty dishes and makes slow cooking even easier.
Once it’s time to eat, I like to balance the richness of the pork by serving these tacos on warmed corn tortillas with a lime juice-based slaw or with a simple mix of fresh cilantro and onion and an extra squeeze of lime.
Leftovers shine on top of nachos or a burrito bowl, and freeze well, just fill a zip-top bag with meat and cooking liquid to save for a rainy day. The cooking liquid can be used again as the base for a tasty soup or flavored rice. Not a bit of this dish goes to waste!
For the Carnitas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 4-ish pound pork shoulder/butt (excess fat trimmed)
1 1/2 teaspoons adobo seasoning (such as Goya brand with pepper)
1 small yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, diced with ribs and seeds removed (or leave them in if you like extra heat)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 – 16 ounce jar of salsa verde/tomatillo salsa
1 cup no-salt-added chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the Slaw:
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey or agave
Zest of 1 lime
5 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (I opt for a bag of coleslaw mix, it’s worth every penny)
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
For the Carnitas:
- Season the pork on all sides with the adobo seasoning. If you are able to do this the night before, all the better, if not, no need to worry.
- Warm the olive oil in a skillet or your crock over high heat until it shimmers.
- Add the pork (it should give a good sizzle), turning every few minutes to brown on all sides.
- Remove the pork from the pan and put to the side on a plate for a few moments.
- Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions, garlic and jalapeno. Saute 2-3 minutes.
- Add the salsa, chicken stock and water. I like to first add the water or chicken stock to the salsa jar and shake it around to make sure to get every last bit of salsa out.
- Transfer the liquid to the slow-cooker crock and place the pork and any liquids from the plate in too.
- Spoon some of the liquid onto the top of the pork, as well as some of the onions. The liquid should cover at least three-quarters of the meat. You adjust the amount of water you use to accomplish this. A little too much is preferable to not quite enough.
- Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5.
- The pork should be fall-apart tender when done.
- Carefully remove the meat from the slow cooker and shred on a cutting board or large plate.
- Skim off any excess fat from the top of the cooking liquid, add the vinegar. Then return the meat to it until ready to serve.
For the Slaw:
- Place the thinly sliced onions into the bowl with a pinch of salt and the lime juice and zest (making sure to zest the lime first, then juice it). Toss well and let rest 5-10 minutes to let the acid in the lime juice soften the sting of the raw onion.
- Mix in the olive oil, honey or agave and ground black pepper. Thoroughly toss the shredded cabbage and half the chopped cilantro with the dressing.
- Cover and chill a good hour if you can. This will allow the cabbage to soften just a bit. You could even prepare the slaw the night before if you like…it only gets better as it sits.
- Stir in the remaining chopped cilantro and check to see if it needs salt or pepper.
Heat the tortillas by wrapping them in a cloth or paper towel and microwaving on high for 30 seconds or so. They should be warm and pliable. Pile on the shredded pork and slaw. Add any other toppings you desire. Serve and nosh.