Slow-Cooker Carnitas Dinner Party (+ Pickled Onion & Habanero Salsa and Mexican Black Beans)

Hello hello, all you wonderful people! Before we get into the meat of this post (ha, ha), let me take this opportunity to remind you that this month, I am hosting Our Growing Edge, a monthly community challenge and link-up group. The group is collecting some wonderful things this month, and I would love to see what you come up with. Get creative and let’s cross some items off our foodie bucket lists! For more information, please see my last post and this post from the event’s creator, Genie. Links to your posts can be added here when you are ready.

January, it seems, is a time usually reserved for relaxation and rejuvenation after the busy holiday season. It’s a time that people spend away from others, recharging, once again getting used to their everyday routine, and quietly working off the pounds gained during the months of gluttony. At least, this is what “normal people” do. And if you all have any sense of who I am by now, you will know that I am not “normal people.”

No, after months of constant family gatherings, lots of traveling, and an over-packed schedule, the first thing I thought to do in the new year was throw a dinner party. Crazy, right? And before you all shudder and turn away in disgust, let me explain that these recipes — carnitas, pickled onion and habanero salsa, and Mexican black beans– will make you want to throw a dinner party, too. It may just be the easiest dinner party you have ever thrown, because it can all be put together in advance.

Carnitas, Black Beans, Pickled Onions

Yes, you heard me right. All in advance. No futzing over the stove in your nice party outfit. No being stranded in the kitchen while your guests mingle outside. And no wondering hopelessly if your entrée has been fully or overcooked. Plus it is all stress-free! Or at least, I experienced about the amount of stress cooking for this dinner party as I experience cooking for my roommates on a regular basis.

Carnitas is a Mexican pork dish in which pork is cooked into submission in a tangy cocktail of citrus juices and broth. In addition to being almost stupidly easy, they are also tender, juicy, and flavorful. The addition of the pickled onions adds a perfect zesty tang that freshens up the dish, and the black beans are a saucy and hearty side. Plus, the pork is done in a slow cooker which means that you can wander away from it while it’s doing its thing. You can even leave your apartment! Could this recipe even get more perfect?

You (and your guests) will absolutely love these carnitas. And if you’re not throwing a dinner party, and just want carnitas and the fixin’s for yourself? That is perfectly fine, too, and I promise you that it will be an excellent party for one.

Note: the recipes are listed more or less in the order you would make them for your dinner (party) and include tips for minimizing your work day-of. Where the steps overlap– like the carnitas and beans– I’ve added a marker to point out about when you should start the next item.

Slow Cooker Carnitas & Pickled Onion and Habanero Salsa

Pickled Onion and Habanero Salsa

From Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Small Plates by Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Malfy

1 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 8 limes)

1 tablespoon finely chopped habanero chile (about 1 chile)*

1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a nonreactive bowl or jar, stir together the onion, lime juice, chile, and salt. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 3 – 4 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Taste a little of the pickling juice and adjust the amount of salt, then serve. If making in advance, close the jar tightly and refrigerate for up to one week. Remove from the fridge about an hour before guests arrive so that the onions are room-temperature when served.

Slow Cooker Carnitas with Pickled Onions and Mexican Black Beans Carnitas

Adapted from this recipe at Five Heart Home.

3 1/2 to 4 pounds** boneless pork butt^ roast

1 cup chicken broth

1 onion, peeled and quartered

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoon dried cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

Juice from 1 orange, seeds discarded and spent halves reserved

Salt & pepper to taste

For Serving:


Fresh cilantro

Sour cream

Lime wedges

Pickled onion & habanero salsa

First, sear your pork. You can do this in a pot, but in order to save the time and energy needed to clean another cooking implement, I seared it right in my slow cooker insert. To do this, remove the ceramic insert from the mechanical part of the slow cooker and place it right on your stove top as you would any other pot. Put a bit of oil– I used olive oil– in the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking and heat over a medium-high flame. Once the oil is hot– if you put a tiny drop of water into it, it’ll sizzle– add the whole roast to the pot. Leave it on each side until browned, then rotate, browning all sides.

Once the roast has been browned, turn the heat off on the stove and add the slow cooker insert back into the mechanical part of the device. Pour the broth, lime juice, orange juice, onion, garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and juiced orange halves into the pot with the pork. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Cook the pork on low for 8 – 10 hours or on high for 4 – 5 hours.

[Just before the pork is done, start on the black bean recipe below. If you’re making the pork before the day of your party, continue up to the broiling step and then refrigerate. Before your guests start to show, start the beans and then broil the baking sheet with pork and juices until brown and crispy.]

Once the pork is tender, remove from the slow cooker and put onto a large baking sheet.

Discard the onion, orange halves, and bay leaves from the pot. Skim the fat from the top of the liquid, noting that while leaving some will keep the pork moist, leaving all of it can make the pork greasy. Once skimmed, strain all remaining solids from the liquid and place in a medium pot on the stove. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the amount of liquid has been reduced to about 1 – 1 1/2 cups.

While the liquid is reducing, adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the broiler. Trim any remaining fat from the pork and discard, then, using tongs and a fork (or two forks), shred the pork. Once it has all been shredded, spread it in an even layer on the baking sheet.

When the cooking liquid has reduced, taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Gently pour over the shredded pork, making sure to coat the meat relatively evenly.

Broil the meat for 5 – 10 minutes, or until it starts to brown and parts turn crispy. Remove the pan from the oven and stir the pork, trying to expose the underside, then broil for another 5 – 10 minutes to continue crisping.

Serve warm with tortillas, cilantro, lime, and, obviously, the fixin’s– pickled onions and black beans.

Mexican Black Beans Mexican Black Beans

Adapted from this epicurious recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

1/2 generous teaspoon ground cumin

2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 14.5-ounce can of low-sodium chicken broth

Fresh lime juice

Chopped fresh cilantro


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, chili, and cumin, and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the beans and broth and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors meld. Mash some of the beans with a potato masher– this thickens the dish.

Let the dish simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring when you can. If you get stuck working with the pork, don’t fret– cooking this for longer just allows the flavors to continue mingling.

Season to taste with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with fresh cilantro, and serve.

*A note from the authors of this book: “Habaneros are extremely hot… when you work with habaneros, wear gloves, never touch your eyes or mouth, and wash your hands immediately afterward. We have been known to wrap our hands in plastic wrap or cover them with plastic bags when gloves were not available. This is one fierce chile!” (p.22)

**My butcher recommended about a half pound of pork per person at your party. If you want more or less pork, feel free to adapt!

^Pork butt is actually the upper part of a pig’s shoulder, and I have absolutely no idea why it is called the butt. In supermarkets it is also sometimes called Boston butt. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at (or for), ask your butcher!

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by me, Francesca, at Fearless Kitchen! For more information, check out this page.


4 thoughts on “Slow-Cooker Carnitas Dinner Party (+ Pickled Onion & Habanero Salsa and Mexican Black Beans)

  1. Yum! I love in advance dinner parties. If I’m planning one during the week, it’s gotta be something like this. I always use shoulder for slow cooked pork, though we actually call it shoulder here and not butt. Whoever misnamed it as pork butt has some explaining to do!

    I love serving this with lime wedges and a bottle of hot sauce to use as you please. Oh also sour cream 🙂

    The salsa you made looks gorgeous!

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Genie! The onion salsa turned out to be quite photogenic in addition to delicious. I agree with you on the butt/shoulder situation– it’s entirely too confusing!

  2. Pingback: Our Growing Edge – January 2015 Round-Up | Fearless Kitchen

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