So after reading the several recent threads on this topic, I couldn't take it anymore and had to try making carnitas for myself. Toronto is a wasteland when it comes to Mexican restaurants, so the thought of replicating the carnitas I've had in Chicago and the southwest was too tempting. I read through all the posts and ended up combing several recipes/techniques. I used the Epicurious recipe linked to by one poster and added bits and pieces from other posters.
Went to my butcher and he didn't have any pork shoulder. Ack! Said that there wasn't enough demand for it from his customers. But after describing what I was making, he cut a 4 lb. boneless roast from the "other end of the ribs" (not sure what cut it actually was). I was a bit dubious, but he'd never let me down before. I expressed some concern about not having enough fat, so he cut me several strips of fat and gave that to me along with some of the fattier bones he had cut the roast from.
Once home, I cut up the roast into large chunks (about 5" x 4" x 2"), tossed them into a 7-quart calphalon skillet (damn thing is huge). I also added 8 cloves of garlic, a cut up onion, some sea salt, pepper and a couple of teaspoons of cumin. Covered the whole shebang with orange juice, chicken broth and water. Brought to a boil, simmered covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for a couple more hours until the liquid boiled away (I did add a 1/4 cup of brandy during this period -- from the Epi recipe). Now, during this whole process, I was getting a bit concerned. Boiled pork is just not a pretty sight. Not only was it that unlovely gray color, it wasn't looking very "fall apart" tender. Stress.
Well, I waited as the liquid boiled down. During this process, I pulled out the garlic cloves and the onion bits (all mush at this point) and stirred them into the pot of black beans I had simmering on the stove. I also pulled out the extra bits of fat and bones. So all that was left in the pot was the meat and the last of the liquid. Still not pretty. But then, lo and behold, the liquid boiled away and the fat was left behind and all those unappealing gray chunks of meat browned and crisped up, forming the most succulent looking caramelized crust! I couldn't resist stealing a nibble... and almost swooned. The meat was moist and shredded beautifully, and had an incredibly rich flavor with just a hint of sweetness from the OJ and the caramelization. I immediately shredded the rest of the meat in the pot to expose as much surface area to the fat!
Served the carnitas simply with black beans, mexican rice, shredded lettuce and tortillas. I had made salsa, but the flavor of the meat was so wonderful that hubby and I agreed that we didn't want to mask it with the salsa. This might sound silly, but this may have been the best meal we've made at home, ever. Hubby and I usually fight over the crispy bits in any recipe, but there was such an abundance of good stuff that we were both satisfied!
BTW, we ate the entire 4 lbs. of carnitas in 24 hours... it was that good. In sandwiches, in tortillas, with rice, and just cold out of the container.
Next time, I may cut the meat into smaller chunks so that I get more "crust". And I think I'll try throwing a couple of chipotles into the liquid to add some smokiness and zip.
Bottom line: even if I never take anything else off of this board other than the carnitas and the Zuni cafe roast chicken, it won't matter. These two items have brought bliss into my kitchen (and tummy!). So thanks, Chowhounds, for all the great recipes, tips and reviews! I'm looking forward to much more culinary yumminess!