Sweetened Condensed Milk Pork Carnitas

Carnitas should be juicy and flavoursome with well-browned caramelised crispy bits

I have to confess something. Pork carnitas—slow cooked Mexican pulled pork with their addictively crisp edges were unfamiliar to me until I tried this recipe. Which is weird, because I love pork and I love Mexican food, but never the twain had met in the gloriousness that I now know are carnitas. But that’s all going to be ancient history seeing how simple it was to make and how delicious was the resulting dish.
This recipe is the classic—with one exception. A fragrant blend of dried herbs, spices, and garlic flavours the slow-cooked pork, which gets a touch of balancing sweetness and acidity from fresh orange juice. A surprising ingredient here, sweetened condensed milk, helps the pork caramelize during cooking. Source a well-marbled pork roast for this recipe; the extra fat doubles down on the rich pork flavour.
Picture this: Mounds of juicy, tender, crispy-edged pieces of pork just waiting to be tucked into freshly made tortillas, or piled on a plate along with rice and beans. This recipe is the classic way to make them—well, almost. Being traditionally a street food many restaurants and stalls in Mexico put a whole butchered pig in a huge copper pot and let it simmer away until any liquid has evaporated. That's when the pork goes from being braised to being fried, browning in its own luscious fat. I did the same thing here, except I suggest for obvious reasons unless you are expecting a stadium full of guests using pork shoulder instead of the whole animal. And while the pork is traditionally browned on the stovetop, doing it in the oven might be even easier and more effective. Pile the result on tortillas with salsa, chopped onions, and cilantro. One word of caution, the cooking sauce will reduce quite rapidly so keep it on a low flame .The point is that the sauce evaporates to allow the pork to get beautiful caramelized crusty areas. 
Now a bit about the secret ingredient.
Opening a can of sweetened condensed milk for me  never fails to deliver a rush of anticipation and excitement. As the lid is removed, the heavy pull of the super-cooked-down sugary milk sticking to the metal surface signals its unique, rich sweetness. That lusciousness on the lid is my bonus prize, which I wipe off with a finger or spatula to immediately snack on.
Condensed milk's journey began in Europe in the early 1800s. Addressing the need to preserve fresh milk, French confectioner Nicolas Appert was the first to condense and can milk, in 1827. To improve shelf life and flavour, British civil engineer William Newton added sugar but did not commercialize his product. It wasn't until the 1850s that American innovator Gail Borden developed an industrial method for producing sweetened condensed milk. Borden's milk was a Civil War ration that became beloved to many people during and after the conflict, bolstering its popularity in America.
The European idea that hopped to America then returned to Europe, eventually finding its way to French Indochina and elsewhere by the early 20th century. It became such a Vietnamese staple during the Vietnam War that American-owned Foremost Dairy, operating in South Vietnam to supply milk products to the U.S. military, also produced the gooey deliciousness to sell to locals.
But what about this unexpected, savoury use? any traditional recipe for  for carnitas, will rely upon a pivotal smidgen of SCM to help caramelize the pork. I treated this stunningly-good recipe like pulled pork, tucking the tasty shreds into crispy baked tortilla baskets

So you see an opened can of sweetened condensed milk invites magical, multipurpose, cross-cultural cooking adventures. Explore and enjoy it.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Pork Carnitas
with avocado salsa on the side, an apple chutney, or guacamole

¾ cup water
¼ cup coarsely chopped white onion
3 medium garlic cloves
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2- to 3-inch chunks
1 teaspoon lard, vegetable shortening, or neutral cooking oil
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
1 bay leaf

Process 3/4 cup water, onion, garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, marjoram, thyme, pepper, cumin, and cloves in a blender until smooth, about 20 seconds. Set aside.
Sprinkle pork evenly with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat a casserole over a high flame. Add lard, and heat until shimmering. Add pork, and cook, turning occasionally, until pork is browned on all sides, 15 to 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add onion mixture to pork in the casserole, and let come to a vigorous simmer. Simmer, turning pork often, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice, sweetened condensed milk, and bay leaf; stir to combine. Return mixture to a vigorous simmer over medium. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Simmer, turning pork occasionally, until fork-tender, about 2 hours.
Uncover the casserole, and increase heat to medium. Simmer, turning pork occasionally, until liquid concentrates into rich brown patches and fat separates, about 20 minutes, adjusting heat as needed and turning pork occasionally to avoid scorching. (Some browning is fine.) Remove from heat; let rest 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork to a bowl or platter. Shred pork in bowl using 2 forks. Lightly season with additional salt to taste.
Make Ahead
Carnitas can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in refrigerator.


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