Taking on carnitas is one of the most rewarding and tasty kitchen projects you can undertake, and it's a project that can require quite a few resources. Homemade carnitas don't just require a big cut of pork shoulder; to make them right you need aromatics like bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, oranges, and a lot of cooking fat. The fat, whether it be traditional lard or something like vegetable oil, is particularly essential, because it's what gets you that perfectly juicy, shreddable meat overflowing with porky flavor. It's so good when it's done right that you don't want any of that work to go to waste. Thankfully for cooks everywhere, J. Kenji López-Alt devised a trick that lets you squeeze every single ounce of flavor out of your carnitas.
López-Alt recognized one simple thing when making carnitas: The pork shoulder itself is already full of enough flavor that it doesn't need additional lard. By densely packing chopped hunks of pork shoulder into a tight baking dish, the pork will render out fat as it cooks and be close enough together to cook in its own drippings. As López-Alt notes, the rendered fat doesn't just mean less lard waste, but the fresh pork fat is actually more flavorful than store-bought lard. Best of all, the fresh juices released by your pork shoulder can do extra duty as a basting liquid and as a base for a tasty salsa topping.
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Pack Pork Shoulder Tight To Render Out Fat For A Delicious Salsa
After you've cooked your pork and rendered out all the tasty fat and juices, you'll want to strain the liquid into a separate container to make further use of it. Once you shred the pork you can spoon some of the liquid back on to deepen the flavor and keep it juicy, while the rest can be used like stock to make other accompanying sides and dishes. To make salsa for topping your carnitas, cook the ingredients for fresh salsa verde or roja in a cup or two of the leftover cooking liquid, which will add a deep, meaty flavor to the condiment.
While you can use this trick with tomato and tomatillo salsas, it will also taste great using poblano peppers or green chiles, which are often paired with pork as a topping. You can even use a few splashes of the pork juice in an avocado salsa to deepen the flavor if you want something creamy. When a fresh salsa is not what you want with your pork, try using the cooking liquid in a recipe for red chile sauce instead. The fatty umami will add an extra dimension to the sauce, while the smoky, spicy chiles are a great complement to pork. That rendered carnitas fat is a perfect liquid enhancer, and you can use it to infuse every bite of your meal with the most flavor possible.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.