I have a wonderful memory of going to an authentic and cozy Mexican restaurant with my hubby many years ago and tasting carnitas for the first time. He was already a lover of them, but at the time, they were new to me. We asked the server to bring us as many of the different “house” sauces that the kitchen had (the spicier the better) so that we could gently dab each melting bite of the succulent pork in a different spicy-tangy, mini-bath of popping flavor; and wow, was I hooked. Frankly, I get goose bumps just reminiscing about it now. The delectable pieces of meat were gorgeously caramelized and slightly crispy on the outside, yet completely fell apart and sort of dissipated from within coating my mouth with a glossy and rich viscosity. Quite amazing; and quite difficult to stop eating, truth be told. What a perfect combination of flavors it was to take a warm tortilla, spoon in some of the succulent carnitas, sprinkle over top the heavenly and simple combination of fresh, grassy cilantro and sharply sweet onion, and finish everything with a healthy drizzle of smoky, spicy and tangy salsa verde. Mmm, mmm. I mean, for me, it just doesn't get more simple, fresh and delicious than that, my friend. And when a food contains those favorite elements of mine — those elements of savory, spicy, fresh and slightly saucy — then good luck prying it out of my messy little hands, in whatever form it happens to take.
Certain foods just need time; time to get to their perfect state of culinary bliss, time to develop the perfect texture and flavor, and time to just simply luxuriate in the process of becoming what they were meant to become: utterly delicious. And slow-roasted pork carnitas are no exception. In a “low & slow” oven, the seasoned meat enticingly sputters and occasionally gently hisses along on its way to becoming the perfect treat to enjoy directly from fingers to mouth. And though slow-roasted pork carnitas are absolute perfection on a tortilla, they slide ever-so-easily down in “slider” sandwich form, with a homemade salsa verde, cilantro and onions, plus a kick of chipotle mayo. What an utter treat this little twist on the traditional pork carnitas presentation these sliders are, one that slowly and seemingly magically melts away in the mouth leaving behind only a wisp of savory flavor on the tongue and a smile that goes from ear to ear. It's pork carnitas bliss on a mini bun.
Tasting those delicious pork carnitas at that little Mexican restaurant with my husband all those years ago, I knew that I would occasionally long to take the time to revel in preparing this scrumptious meat so that we could enjoy our own home-cooked version of it. These slow-roasted Pork Carnitas Sliders are a little tip-of-the-hat to all of the mouth-watering carnitas I've eaten over the years at this point; they're my little sandwich version of our beloved pork carnitas in taco form, complete with all of those divine little elements that make them perfectly delicioso.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Slow-Roasted Pork Carnitas Sliders with Homemade Salsa Verde, Fresh Cilantro, Onion, and Chipotle Mayo
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(Serves about 4-6)
3-4 pound pork butt
2 teaspoon salt
1 teapsoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus extra for drizzling
12 Hawaiian rolls (if serving 4 people)
• Chipotle Mayo (recipe below)
• Homemade Salsa Verde (recipe below)
½ onion, thinly sliced
½ cup cilantro leaves
-Place the pork on a large platter or in a large bowl; in a ramekin, combine the salt with the rest of the ingredients through the canola oil, and mix to form a paste/marinade; rub this paste/marinade all over the pork very well, cover the pork with plastic wrap, place into fridge and allow the meat to marinate for at least 4 hours, or ideally, over night; once ready to prepare the meat, take it out of the fridge and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour before roasting.
-Preheat your oven to 300°; line a baking sheet with foil, and place a wire rack on top of the baking sheet; once the oven is heated, place the pork with the fat-side up onto the wire rack, and drizzle lightly with oil; if you have an oven-safe thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat, and place the meat into the oven to roast for approximately 3½ – 4 hours, or until the thermometer registers 170° and the meat is pretty much “falling off the bone”; remove from oven and allow it to rest for about 10-20 minutes, or until it's cool enough to handle.
-Once slightly cooled, pull the meat apart and shred or chop it into bite-sized pieces, and add it into the drippings from the roasting process, and toss the pork to coat; place the pork into a bowl or onto a platter to hold, covering with foil to keep warm. (*You can prepare the recipe up to this point if you're doing it ahead; just cover the pork and keep in fridge until you'd like to enjoy the sandwiches, then just heat some oil in a skillet, add some of the meat in, and caramelize it a little bit until hot and crispy; then assemble sliders.)
-To prepare the sliders, spread some of the Chipotle Mayo on the buns, add about 2 ounces of the pork to the bottom bun, drizzle with the Homemade Salsa Verde and top with some of the sliced onion and fresh cilantro leaves; serve 3 sliders per person. (*Alternately, you can also use the larger-sized Hawaiian sandwich buns, or other slightly “sweet” type of bun such as brioche, to make a larger-sized sandwich instead of sliders; just use about 4-6 ounces of meat in that case.)
Chipotle Mayo ingredients:
1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 chipotle peppers (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers tin)
• Pinch salt/black pepper
-Place all ingredients into the bowl of the food processor and puree until smooth and creamy; store in a covered container in fridge until ready to use.
Homemade Salsa Verde ingredients:
1 – 1 ¼ pounds tomatillos, husks and stems removed, and quartered
2 long, green chili peppers (Anaheim, Banana, Hungarian), halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 onion, paper removed and quartered
4 cloves garlic, papers removed
• Olive oil
• Black pepper
½ cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons honey
3-4 tablespoons water
-Preheat your oven to 450°, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-Add the tomatillos, the green chili peppers, the jalapeno, the onion and the garlic to a large bowl, and drizzle in about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and add a couple of good pinches of salt and black pepper; turn the veggies out onto the foil-lined baking sheet and roast them for about 40 minutes and until slightly charred; allow to cool.
-Add the cooled veggies, along with all of their juices, into the bowl of a food processor; add the cilantro leaves and the honey, and puree the mixture until smooth and silky; if the mixture seems a little thick, add the 3-4 tablespoons of water to thin it out slightly, and check to see if additional salt is needed to round out the flavor; pour into a container and cover, and keep in the fridge until ready to use. (*This salsa is also great on eggs, breakfast burritos, chicken, beef—a lot of other things; so enjoy any left-overs in creative ways.)