When Maxence and I moved back to Paris after living in California, one of the things we missed most sorely was Mexican food. Sure, there were a couple of Mexican restaurants in the city, but there was something a little dusty and unexciting about them. They lacked the freshness, simplicity, and fun that we’d come to expect from our favorite taquerias back in the States.
Fast forward a few years, and we were positively thrilled to see Mexican food in general, and tacos in particular, become the new “it” cuisine among hip Parisians, with new spots popping up on the map at a rapid pace (though not as ridiculously so as burger places).
It’s one of those incredibly simple, incredibly rewarding recipes that have you braise the meat for hours with no human intervention, until you have exceedingly tender meat that pulls apart into gloriously moist shreds and caramelized bits.
Not all of them got it right, but we happily tried as many as we could — up until the recent opening of a new El Nopal location in our neighborhood, just off Place Pigalle, when we declared ourselves content. It’s a tiny, corridor-like shack where the team is friendly (and actually Mexican; the owner is from Monterrey), everything is super fresh, and we find ourselves going practically every week, tasting our way through their different taco fillings — asada, carnitas, deshebrada, tinga, cochinita… the list goes on.
Believe it or not, this has not sated our hunger for Mexican food, and I’ve taken to making my own carnitas so we can have taco nights at home every once in a while. It’s one of those incredibly simple, incredibly rewarding recipes that have you braise the meat for hours with no human intervention, until you have exceedingly tender meat that pulls apart into gloriously moist shreds and caramelized bits. (For a detailed discussion on the ins and outs of making carnitas, read this food lab piece.)
I’ve occasionally made my own corn tortillas (I actually own a tortilla press, that’s how committed I am) but for a quicker preparation, pliable lettuce leaves from a crisp head work beautifully. Place a few simple toppings on the table — finely diced onion, chopped cilantro, avocado slices, lime wedges — and you’re in business.
The recipe uses a whole pork shoulder, which you should get from a good butcher so it’s not pumped with antibiotics, and it makes quite a bit, but carnitas freeze well, so you can stash away any extra meat for a super easy dinner you’ll be grateful for sometime down the road.
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Are you a fan of Mexican cuisine? Do you have a local taqueria you love? What’s your favorite Mexican recipe to make at home?
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- 1 bone-in pork shoulder, about 2 kilos (4 1/3 pounds)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground chili pepper
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 200 grams (7 ounces) sliced bacon
- 4 cloves garlic, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 organic orange (optional)
- Corn tortillas and/or lettuce leaves
- Fresh cilantro
- Finely diced yellow or red onion
- Sliced avocado
- Red or green salsa or just Tabasco
- Rub the meat with the cumin, oregano, chili pepper, and salt, and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
- Line the bottom of a Dutch oven with the sliced bacon. Place the pork shoulder on top, along with the garlic and bay leaves. If using the orange, squeeze its juice over the meat, cut the peel into four pieces and add to the pot.
- Cover and place the Dutch oven in the oven. Set the temperature to 120°C (250°F) and let the meat cook for 6 to 8 hours, basting it every hour or so, until fork tender and nicely bronzed.
- Remove the orange peels and bay leaves from the pot, and shred the meat using two forks. Discard the bone.
- Serve with corn tortillas and/or lettuce leaves to wrap into tacos, with a sprinkle of cilantro and onion, slices of avocado, a squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of salsa.
- On the first day I serve it straight from the pot, but on subsequent days I like to spread the leftovers on a baking sheet and place for 6 to 8 minutes under the broiler of the oven to reheat and crisp up.
Any extra can be frozen.