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So, I've been trying for a while to mimic taqueria carnitas at home with my slow cooker. I initially tried a recipe that had you put some water in and then cook in its own juices, with seasoning; that was good, but it was a bit dry, and the seasoning all stayed on the outside. since there were multiple options for what recipe to use, I asked the folks at the tacqueria I go to which recipe they use, and they said they use oranges and milk. So I tried a couple different recipes with those properties, and they still only flavored the outside. So I tried experiments with submerging it in lard - an experiment each with spices smeared over the meat, then with them mixed into the lard. Still only flavored the outside. I tried using more of the spices; that was good, but it was emphatically not the right thing.

So for comparison, what I'm trying to reproduce - the carnitas from the tacqueria - is pretty subtly flavored, and notably, basically does not taste like pork at all. It pretty much tastes like milk flavored pork. Furthermore, it's super moist all the way through but it's as though it's moist with milk - when you cut into it, the runoff from inside looks like milk mixed with a small amount of pork fat. and it looks grey most of the way through, with only small spots of pink, whereas mine look pink in the middle.

My current hypotheses:

  • they might be using a pressure cooker or deep fryer rather than a slow cooker
  • they might be marinating it with milk
  • they might be adding the milk afterwards
  • they might be shredding it then cooking it further (seems unlikely, they often give me large chunks)
  • they might be using better meat (mine is the cheapest pork butt/shoulder I can find)
  • they might be cooking it in a smaller pot, as described as beneficial on serious eats (but I already tried packing my slow cooker with meat and nothing else and it was exactly the same)
  • they might be using a completely different spice mix than cumin and oregano (but I can hardly taste any spice in theirs at all, whereas it's always obvious in mine, so they're at least doing something to blend it in better)
  • they might be using more milk than I am (I'm using a cup for 3lbs to 7lbs of pork, they might be going as far as to submerge it)
  • they might be using a meat tenderizer
  • they might be cooking on a much higher heat
  • they might be using more orange than I'd expect, maybe marinating in orange tenderizes such that milk soaks through?

I don't have any pictures of theirs, unfortunately.

  • Whatever it is, carnitas typically are pork and should taste like pork. The pork pieces are typically cooked tender and flavorful and then fried. I tend to braise and not fry afterwards. If I do fry, lard is not on the radar. That said, we can't know the specific flavor your restaurant provides and it's very subjective. – Cindy Nov 27 '16 at 22:25
  • yeah I know, and that kind of sucks for asking for suggestions. if you have any thoughts on how to get it to saturate with milk that'd be super cool too though. – lahwran Nov 27 '16 at 23:28
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One of your possible answers is pretty close to what I think is the correct one. To flavor carnitas all the way through, put them back in the braising liquid that has been reduced since cooking the pork. You can create a kind of glaze out of the braising liquid, and toss the shredded pork in that (defat the braising liquid before reducing it).

BTW, I never fry carnitas. I may throw them on a greased grill, but I never deep or shallow fry them.

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Similar to Jolene's answer, this is what I do when I make a shredded beef filling -

The meat is slow-cooked in seasonings, spices and some liquid. The meat is removed and shredded.

The liquid is poured into a container and de-fatted. A set amount of that liquid is put into a blender with some additional spices and seasonings and mixed well. It goes back into the crock pot along with the shredded meat. It's all mixed well and kept hot.

When looking at carnitas recipes for the slow cooker, if you find a method that adds the seasoned cooking liquids back into the post-shredded meat, that's probably your ticket for distributing those flavors more thoroughly.

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It is hard to know how does the carnitas tastes in the taqueria you visit, but I live in México, about 15 minutes away from the place the carnitas were created so I can tell you something about how are they made.

You're right about cooking it with lard, that's the original way of doing it. And also about the orange juice.

You need to make a bath for the meat and first you put the lard and the orange juice and some oranges cut in quarters. Then you add very slow and very carefully water and orange soda (yes, you heard that right). like the proportion I could not tell because carnitas are usually prepared in huge quantity but I guess the problem is that carnitas are actually submerged in this boiling preparation of orange, lard and herbs such as laurel and cumin. And this results in very flavour meat and very tender texture. And the type of pork meat used is leg, tenderloin and rib so maybe you could try with them.

I definitely know that there is not milk at all.

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