Sous Vide Carnitas

ChefSteps.com’s Cooking Sous Vide: Beyond the Basics class has a lot of great ideas. The one that grabbed me was Tough Cuts: Transformed, where the ChefSteps guys sous vide a whole pork shoulder for 24 hours, ice it down, slice it into steaks, and sear the steaks. The long, slow cooking results in pork shoulder steaks with the consistency of pork tenderloin.
Also, check out their amazing Map of Sous Vide Cooking. I’m a habitual map looker, so this is perfect for me.

Pork shoulder is one of my favorite cuts of meat, so I had to try this recipe. But, after the pork shoulder was sealed in the vacuum bag, I had an idea. What if, instead of steaks, I cut the pork into cubes and made carnitas? Light bulb!

In Mexico, carnitas are made by frying cubes of pork shoulder in lard. (Yes, lard.) The pork is simmered in lard until it is golden brown on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The ChefSteps technique gives me tender pork; a quick sear gives me golden brown.
Not that I have anything against lard per se, but… wow, I need a LOT of lard if I want to deep fry a pork shoulder.

I upped the heat a bit in my water bath, aiming for a shreddable texture, then plunked in the bagged pork shoulder. 24 hours later, I was ready to go. An ice bath, some slicing and dicing, a quick fry in my cast iron skillet, and I had a taco night that the kids are still raving about.

Recipe: Sous Vide Carnitas

Adapted from: ChefSteps.com, Tough Cuts: Transformed

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 24 hours

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pound boneless pork shoulder roast (about 4 inches thick; 1.1kg/10cm thick)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (10ml)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (or, to be authentic, lard; 50ml)

Suggested accompaniments:

  • Tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Diced onion
  • Shredded cabbage (or shredded lettuce)
  • Sour cream
  • Pickled jalapenos
  • Minced cilantro

Directions

1. Sous Vide the roast for 24 hours

Put the pork roast into a gallon/3.79L cooking pouch and vacuum seal. Set the sous vide to 149°F/65°C, submerge the bag, and cook for 24 to 48 hours.

2. Quick chill the roast, then slice into cubes

Make an ice water bath in a large container – use as much ice as you can, and top off with water. Plunge the bagged pork pork shoulder in the ice water bath for an hour. (This firms up the roast for easier slicing.) Once the roast is cool, remove it from the bag and wipe it with paper towels to remove the layer of congealed gelatin and fat. (The downside to cooling it is the gelatin that is released from the pork will turn into jello). Move the roast to a cutting board, slice the roast into 1 1/2 inch cubes, then sprinkle evenly with kosher salt. (I cut it into 2 inch thick steaks, cross-cut the steaks into 2 inch thick strips, and cross-cut the strips into 2 inch cubes.)

3. Sear the pork cubes

Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil, and wait for the oil to start shimmering. (I preheat my cast iron skillet on medium heat for five minutes, then turn the heat to medium high and add the oil.) Add the pork in a single layer – don’t crowd the pan; sear in two batches if you have to. Sear the pork to well browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip the pork and sear on the other side until browned, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pork to a platter, leaving behind as much fat as possible.

4. Serve

Serve immediately; put the platter of carnitas on the table with all the accompaniments and let everyone build their own carnitas tacos. Put a couple of cubes of carnitas on a tortilla, top with the accompaniments, fold the tortilla over, and dig in.

Notes

  • Make ahead version: Finish step 2 (cook the pork, chill it, slice it into cubes, and salt it). Then, vacuum seal the cubes in another gallon cooking pouch in a single layer and refrigerate for 2 days, or freeze for up to 6 months. Reheat the bag of cubed pork at 131°F for 1 to 2 hours (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 if frozen), then continue with searing in step 3.
  • If you want to double this recipe, buy a second boneless pork shoulder roast – a bigger, thicker one will take longer to cook through. (Or, if all you can find is a big roast, cut it in half to make two thin roasts.)

What do you think?

Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts

48 Hour Sous Vide Short Ribs
Sous Vide Pork Shoulder Steaks
Sous Vide Rack of Lamb With Dijon Bread Crumb Crust

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2 Comments

  1. mike [www.bootstrappedcook.com /

    Looks delicious. Do you think pre-searing would make a difference? And if you’re cubing and frying instead of shredding, do you think it’s worth brining the pork?

  2. Aaron Friedman /

    I saw Rick Bayless do a similar thing for his restaurant. He puts the pork shoulder, with lard, into the water bath. Then he shreds the pork, packs it into a container, weighs it down to condense it, and refrigerates it. After that, he slices it into cubes and fries it. It looked amazing.