Tender, juicy, flavorful, crispy caramelized chicken carnitas of your dreams! This is an award-winning chicken carnitas recipe that your taste buds will fall in love it. Oven, stove top and slow cooker methods included!
Okay, so the award was given by my Salvadorian better half, which really should count for something, right…? But If there was a carnitas award out there, this recipe would take it home. It is that legit!
So today we are going to learn how to make chicken carnitas!
What are carnitas ?
Little shredded pieces of meat, originally from Michoacán Mexico, and traditionally made out of braised pork shoulder then quickly fried in its own fat/lard (confit in chef’s lingo) for that caramelization to happen.
We are going to use dark meat chicken instead and caramelize them under the broiler flames, clean, healthy, easy and delicious! I won’t lie you guys, I cheated and had a few small bites myself. So darn delicious I could barely handle not diving into the pan.
Tough they are fabulous in tacos, I served mine inside of perfectly roasted acorn squash bowls. This combination is divine! I made sure to season the inside of the squash really well with similar Latin spices as the carnitas. Dreamy to say the least!
I braised organic boneless skinless chicken thighs, with the juice from the first 2 oranges from the tree ( you can also use beer), and a good dash of Latin spices I mixed together. Cover tightly with a lid, and cook them slowly in the oven until they fall apart when touched with a fork.
Now for the secret sauce!
You need to save all that gravy that forms from the chicken cooking in the orange juice and the spice mix. As soon as it comes out of the oven you use two forks to shred it right in that same pot you cooked it in.
Then you transfer everything to a broiler proof dish, secret sauce and all, and give it a quick drizzle of wild honey. This is how we are going to achieve the nice caramelized edges under the broiler, while keeping the carnitas moist and tender at the same time.
I mean, I might just throw this together for Thanksgiving you guys, such a non involved recipe that delivers like a Boss!
Want more reasons why I’m stoked about this recipe?
I can literally fill my cast iron dutch oven with it and make 5 different dinners for the BatMan. I mean taco night just got a carnitas makeover for realzzzz! Are you with me ?
If you want to give them an Asian spin, just add 1/4 c of low sodium soy sauce to the mix and sprinkle sesame seeds on top before broiling. So good!
What to serve with carnitas:
- make burrito bowls
- these Tacos de Carnitas with a a chive pesto drizzle
- salsa verde
- strawberry salsa
- refried beans, guacamole, and arroz verde
- fresh tomato salsa, cilantro and crema
- on tortillas drenched in chimichurri sauce
The most tender, juicy, flavorful, crispy caramelized edges chicken carnitas recipe of your dreams!
- 3 lb chicken thighs boneless skinless
- 2 oranges juiced ( may be replaced with beer)
- 3 strips orange peel
- Juice from 1 lime
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1/4 c pepitas toasted
- 1/3 c cilantro leaves + edible flowers for garnish
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- 3 acorns squash for serving optional
- 2 tsp sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp oregano
- 2 tsp cumin + more to taste
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
Preheat your oven to 325”F.
In a large cast iron dutch oven add 2 tbsp of olive oil and layer the chicken thighs on top. Sprinkle with the chicken carnitas seasoning: sea salt, garlic and onion powder, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and chili powder. Add the garlic cloves and orange peels.
Pour the orange and lime juice over the top and give everything a good toss to coat. Cover with a tight lid and transfer to the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours until the chicken i tender and falls apart when stabbed with a fork.
Use two forks to shred the chicken in the same pot you cooked it in then transfer it to a broiler proof baking sheet or dish. Drizzle the carnitas with the honey all over the top and broil for a few minutes until caramelized at the edges. Make sure to keep a close eye on the carnitas so they don’t burn.
To cook the acorn squash, preheat oven to 400”F.
Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut a thin slice off of the bottom of each acorn squash half so it sits flat during baking.
Rub the inside of each acorn squash with a little olive oil and sprinkle generously all over with sea salt, red pepper flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and cumin. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour until tender and caramelized around the edges.
Serve the carnitas inside the roasted acorn squash bowls, sprinkled with the pepitas and garnish with the cilantro and edible flowers if available. Serve with lime wedges, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sour cream.
Follow all of the above steps and finish the braising process on the stove top on low flame, until the chicken falls apart, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to a broiler proof dish together with the juices and caramelize under the broiler following the instructions above.
Add the chicken thighs together with the carnitas seasoning, orange juice, lime juice and orange peel to the bowl of your slow cooker. Toss to combine well. Cook for 7-8 hours on low or about 5 hours on high, until the chicken is fork tender.