Ducking Around with Carnitas


By Daniel Meyer 

Carnitas is (are?) one of my all-time favorite foods. Pork shoulder braised, pulled, and crisped in its own fat; a pile of tortillas, a higher pile of beers. It doesn’t get much better than that.  

Last week it almost did. I used duck instead of pork; it stood to reason in my head that braising and frying a duck couldn’t possibly be a bad idea. It wasn’t. I used half a duck and veered away from traditional Mexican spicing. I browned the duck, then braised it in a mixture of scallion, carrot, celery, soy sauce, mirin, and an infusion of chamomile (in other words, I steeped fresh chamomile in boiling water). The duck cooked in a covered pot in a 250-degree oven for about 2 hours; I flipped it once so both sides had equal time in the liquid. When the duck was tender (the leg very much so and the breast totally adequate) and cool, I pulled the meat apart with my fingers, chopped the skin into strips with a knife, and set the bird aside. 

I strained the braising liquid, froze it, plucked the fat off the top (saving it for the frying step), and reduced the stock into a glaze, stirring in a squeeze of honey at the end. Now comes the best part; the part that sputters and crackles and sounds as good as it looks and looks as good as it tastes. I melted the duck fat in a cast-iron skillet, scattered in the duck, and let it go. It took 10 to 15 minutes, medium-high heat, occasional stirring, the glaze drizzled in at the end; crispy, chewy, fatty, sweet-salty shreds of duck. 

I piled it on a platter with some cherries, beets and ginger that had been soaking in a rice-wine vinegar brine overnight; enough of a pickle to impart a little bite, but not to wreck the flavor of a perfectly good cherry. In the end, not quite as good as real pork carnitas, (beets and ginger aren’t really passable substitutes for tortillas and beer), but pretty close. 

Posted in Mexican

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