Carnitas tapatias is a classic Mexican pork dish originating from the state of Jalisco. It consists of slowly braised pork that is then fried to give it a crispy exterior. The pork is seasoned with traditional Mexican spices and flavors like garlic, oregano, cumin, orange, and lime. When done right, carnitas tapatias delivers tender, juicy pork with crispy bits on the edges that are full of incredible depth of flavor. It’s no wonder it has become a popular Mexican staple both in Mexico and abroad.
What does “carnitas tapatias” mean?
The name “carnitas tapatias” literally translates to “little meats from Tapatía”. Tapatía is a nickname for the city of Guadalajara, which is the capital of the state of Jalisco in Mexico. So the name refers to this being a specialty pork dish hailing from the Jalisco region, with its origins specifically tied to the city of Guadalajara.
There are a few key characteristics that set authentic carnitas tapatias apart:
The pork is slowly braised for hours until extremely tender and juicy. This breaks down the fat and connective tissues, resulting in pork that is melt-in-your-mouth soft. The long braising time allows the seasonings and spices to really permeate the meat as well.
After braising, the cooked pork is transferred to a frying pan and crisped up by frying. This gives it that crispy, golden exterior with slight charring that provides incredible texture.
The only seasonings used are simple salt, garlic, oregano, cumin, and citrus juices like orange, lime, or lemon. This allows the natural pork flavor to really shine through.
Use of high-quality pork
Top-notch carnitas tapatias are made from high-quality, well-marbled pork. The traditional cut used is pork shoulder or Boston butt. This has the perfect balance of fat and meat that yields tender, juicy pork.
Origins and history
Carnitas tapatias has its roots in the state of Jalisco, with ties to the capital city of Guadalajara:
It originated in the small rural towns of Jalisco. Families would braise pork in large copper pots over open fires and wood burning stoves. This slow cooking method allowed the pork to cook gently for hours.
Increase in popularity
As more people moved from rural areas to cities like Guadalajara, carnitas tapatias grew in popularity. Street food vendors (called carniceros) began selling tacos and other antojitos (small snacks) made with carnitas.
Iconic dish of Jalisco
Over time, it became one the most iconic dishes of Jalisco and a prized specialty of Guadalajara. Locals treat it as the definitive pork dish of the region.
In the later 1900s, its popularity spread beyond Jalisco as migration and tourism increased. It is now a classic Mexican dish found everywhere from street food stalls to upscale restaurants both in Mexico and globally.
Carnitas tapatias requires just a few main ingredients:
– The traditional cut used is Boston butt or pork shoulder. It has the right amount of fat.
– Can also use pork butt or picnic ham.
– Avoid very lean cuts like loin.
Spices and seasonings
The citrus adds a subtle brightness. Many recipes also add onion and bay leaf.
There are a few keys to the cooking method:
Low and slow braising
– The pork is brought to a gentle simmer and then braised for 2-4 hours.
– Cooking time depends on quantity of pork.
– Allows meat to become very tender.
Frying at the end
– Once cooked through, the pork is fried in its own fat until crispy and browned.
– Provides incredible texture contrast.
– Meat that is melt-in-your-mouth tender inside with crispy, browned exterior and edges.
– The seasonings have penetrated throughout.
There are many classic ways to serve and enjoy carnitas tapatias:
– The most common way to eat carnitas tapatias is stuffed into warm corn tortillas.
– Garnish with diced onion, cilantro, salsa, lime.
– Carnitas tacos piled into crusty rolls make for amazing tortas (Mexican sandwiches).
– Heaping piles of carnitas with tortillas, beans, salsa, guacamole, and condiments.
– Add to pozole, menudo or other Mexican soups.
– Pile carnitas on top of crispy tortilla chips and melt cheese over top.
– Stuff between two tortillas with cheese and griddle.
– Carnitas and eggs make an incredible breakfast taco filling.
There are some regional differences in carnitas tapatias recipes:
– Uses “cueritos” – stewed pork skin along with the meat.
– More robust use of oregano and garlic in braising liquid.
– Splash of sour orange juice instead of lime.
– Annatto seed added for reddish-orange color.
– Cooked in rendered pork lard instead of water.
– Avocado leaf added to pot for flavor.
– Tomato added to the braising liquid.
– Thyme and bay leaf used.
So while the core technique stays the same, ingredients vary by region. But the end result is always incredible pork.
Why is it so popular?
There are several reasons carnitas tapatias has become so popular:
The braising followed by frying gives the pork an incredible depth of flavor. The seasonings permeate throughout.
Juicy and tender
The long cooking time ensures the meat ends up extremely tender and juicy.
Frying at the end yields delicious crispy, browned bits that provide great textural contrast.
Carnitas can be used in so many different dishes – tacos, soups, nachos, and more. It’s extremely versatile.
Satisfying yet simple
It’s satisfying, crave-worthy comfort food made using simple ingredients and techniques.
Here is the nutrition breakdown for a 3 oz (85g) serving of carnitas tapatias:
As a fatty, protein-rich pork dish, carnitas tapatias are high in calories and fat. But the frying stage allows much of the fat to render out. Going easy on any extra oil, lard or sauce keeps it from being too heavy.
Substitutions and variations
There are ways to put a spin on the classic:
– Chicken thighs
– Beef chuck roast
– Lamb shoulder
– Mexican oregano, cumin, garlic + orange juice/zest
– Jamaican jerk seasoning + lime
– Indian masala spice blend + yogurt
Additions to pork:
– Chiles – chipotle, ancho, guajillo
– Fruits – pineapple, mango, peach
– Veggies – bell pepper, onion, garlic
So while the traditional pork carnitas are amazing, don’t be afraid to experiment with substitutions and mix-ins!
How to make authentic carnitas tapatias
Ready to make incredible carnitas tapatias at home? Follow this simple process:
– 3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into chunks
– 1 onion, quartered
– 6 cloves garlic, peeled
– 2 oranges, juiced
– 1 lime, juiced
– 2 bay leaves
– 2 tsp oregano
– 1 tsp cumin
– 1 1⁄2 tsp salt
– Lard or oil for frying
1. Combine pork, onion, garlic, citrus, bay leaves, oregano, cumin and salt in a large pot. Add enough water to just cover meat.
2. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Partially cover and cook for 2-3 hours until very tender.
3. Once cooked, remove meat from liquid and shred using two forks.
4. Heat 1⁄2 inch lard or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
5. Fry pork in batches until crispy and browned, about 2-3 minutes per batch.
6. Drain on paper towels and serve. Enjoy in tacos, tortas or on a platter.
Where to find the best carnitas tapatias
Some legendary spots for savoring incredible carnitas tapatias include:
In Guadalajara, Mexico:
– Tacos Tapatios
– Carnes Magras Garibaldi
– Taqueria Los Altos
In Mexico City:
– El Hidalguense
– El Califa
– Los Tolucos
In Los Angeles:
– Leo’s Tacos
– Carnitas El Momo
– BS Taqueria
– Carnitas Uruapan
– Birrieria Zaragoza
– Taqueria Los Comales
From street stalls in Mexico to restaurants abroad, you can find phenomenal versions of this iconic pork dish if you know where to look.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about carnitas tapatias:
What cut of pork is best?
Pork shoulder or Boston butt is ideal. It has the right balance of fat and meat.
Is it better fried or oven baked?
Frying provides that incredible crispy texture contrast. Baking won’t get the same effect.
Can it be made ahead of time?
Yes, you can braise the pork 1-2 days in advance then fry right before serving.
Can I use a slow cooker or Instant Pot?
You can braise the pork in a slow cooker or Instant Pot on low for 4-6 hours then fry after.
How long does it keep refrigerated?
Leftover carnitas will keep refrigerated for 4-5 days. Reheat gently before serving.
Carnitas tapatias is a beloved Mexican pork dish with incredible depth of flavor achieved by slow braising followed by frying. When made with quality ingredients using traditional techniques, it delivers pork that is wonderfully tender and juicy inside with crispy, browned bits on the outside. This satisfying yet simple regional specialty has earned its place as one of Mexico’s most crave-worthy culinary exports. Whether enjoying it in authentic restaurants in Jalisco or making it yourself at home, quality carnitas tapatias is a pork lover’s dream come true.