Worth-It Healthier Chicken Carnitas

October 11, 2016

Just when I thought fall weather would never get here, we got a rain/cold/fog front at the end of last week. It was downright chippy Thursday (Gaaaaa, do I sound like a Grandma much with that phrasing?) We had heavy rain and thunderstorms in our area; some of the thunderclaps were so loud that it sent Mozz-man racing for cover under the bed, the little chicken.

My husband was out of town at a medical conference for a few days (funny, he was sweating his butt off in San Antonio while I was snuggling up in fluffy socks and a sweater) so I hadn’t planned on cooking much. When he’s away, I get pretty shamefully lazy in the kitchen. Truly slothful. I’m happy to subsist on salads and sandwiches and take a break from preparing meals. The weather change made me crave a bowl of soup, though, so I whipped up a quick Indian red lentil soup for dinner Thursday, which my husband was perfectly content to miss out on. He’s not a fan of lentils, so I took advantage.*

We woke Friday morning to thick, dense, spooky fog, which the girls thought was totally badass. You could barely see two feet in front of you, so when I took Mozzy for his morning walk, he nearly disappeared into the stuff. My hands were completely numb when we came indoors, even though I had light gloves on. One look at the thermometer and I could see why–it was only 33 degrees outside! I guess it’s time for me to start digging around our closets for the winter gear, because frigid mornings are coming for us.

When the weather’s cold like that, I love cooking a pot of something low and slow on the stovetop or in the oven. I love how it gradually perfumes the house with delicious smells of what’s to come, and I spend all day anticipating dinnertime. Friday, I decided carnitas were in order, because who doesn’t love a big old batch of Mexican-flavored goodness?

The only thing I don’t like about carnitas?

How deadly fattening they are. Backside Suicide. Ooof.

Carnitas are traditionally made with juicy, fatty pork shoulder, which is an extremely tasty cut of meat but not exactly health food. A serving of carnitas can set you back about 700 calories, and that’s without counting the tortillas, guacamole and all the fixin’s that go alongside them (and let’s face it, you need the fixin’s).

That’s fine if you’re a marathon runner or a lumberjack, but for most of us, we’d be better off eating something a little lighter.

The solution seems sly but is actually fairly straightforward: swap out the fat-marbled pork shoulder for much leaner boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which have just enough richness to satisfy without breaking the calorie bank.

This recipe is a bit time consuming, but truly, it’s worth the effort. Most of the time is hands-off; after searing the chicken to smithereens (seriously, you want an almost-concerning amount of char on the outside of the chicken) you add enough liquid to make a nice little hot tub and slowly braise the whole thing for about an hour and a half. The result is a flavorful, juicy batch of carnitas that work well wrapped in tortillas, as a topping for nachos (yaaasss, nachos please) or even adding heft and deliciousness to a pot of chile verde.

It’s the perfect thing for a brisk fall evening or to feed the troops on game day, and you won’t have to fret about outgrowing your favorite pair of jeans. Plus, all of that slow-braising makes the house smell awesome. Winning! You’ll tuck into a plate of these and be happy you bothered.





Chicken Carnitas

slightly adapted from Mad Delicious

serves 6


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cups sliced yellow onion

6 garlic cloves, cut in half

2 cups water

1 (12-oz.) light beer

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

To serve:

fresh lime wedges

diced avocado

salsa of your choice (I made a spicy one with pineapple and YUM)

cotija cheese

shredded lettuce

pickled jalapeno slices


Rub the chicken thighs with the salt.

In a large, heavy-duty Dutch oven, pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the chicken thighs in a single layer and cook 12 minutes, or until very well browned. Flip chicken and cook on the other side for 8 minutes or until chicken looks alarmingly brown.

Add the onions and garlic and stir for about a minute. Add water and beer and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a nice, steady simmer and cook, uncovered, for about an hour and 20 minutes, or until the liquid is about 1/4 cup from being fully evaporated and chicken is very tender.

Add the orange juice, lime juice, brown sugar and cumin. Continue to cook about 2 minutes or until chicken is nicely glazed. Remove pot from heat.

Let chicken cool 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to handle but still warm. Remove the chicken and shred with 2 forks. Return chicken to pan and warm through. Taste for salt/pepper and adjust.

Serve with desired accompaniments.

* The Indian Lentil soup will be forthcoming for you readers who like ’em!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Annie October 11, 2016 at 6:23 am

You are right, nothing is better on a cold day than filling the house with warm smells and slow cooked goodness. These will go on the menu list!


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