Crispy Pork Carnitas and Pico de Gallo

I actually enjoy cooking for crowds. Well. Not huge crowds, but optimally the number of people that can sit comfortably around my table, which with a little squeezing would be 12 people. At my last house move I insisted that my table went along with me. This table was previously custom made at a time when we had difficulty finding really large and long tables and we ended up asking our carpenter to make one. And when we moved house, the next challenge was how to get it out of the apartment into the lift and into the moving truck. There was a lot of head shaking by the men who moved it, but it is a testament to their can-do attitude that got the table into the lift with 1-2 inches all around to spare, and transported without a scratch to our next apartment.

I do feel rather sentimental over this table – there have been a lot of good meals served on it and many friends around that table. I recently was chatting with a friend who had to entertain people she didn’t like and who also had the gall to criticize her cooking. I was grateful that I was always fortunate in the company around my table and the kindness of people sharing my food. Over the past 7-8 years of this table’s service the fun for me has been to experiment and try out new recipes and put different ones into guinea pig test-role. 

I think over the years I’ve become a more relaxed cook. I still make my lists and if doing a big event, I will write out a time line to make sure all the dishes come out at the right time. But I’ve become less worried about what I serve and I’ve slowly learned to make things simpler for myself. I always say that the Instant Pot has made me a lazy cook and it is really true – throwing things into the pot and walking away now seems like the norm. I’ve gotten in a lot of TV watching while cooking of late!

One of the easiest things to make in the Instant Pot is pulled pork or pulled beef. The wonderful thing about this is that the large portions of pulled meat is a universal crowd pleaser and can easily be the center focus of a large meal. I’ve tried different versions of pulled pork and this is my favorite one here. 

Recently I had been making a lot of yogurt and the whey had been collecting in the fridge. Like a typical Chinese cook I cannot bear to throw anything away and that is why I decided to use the whey as a meat brine. I think it gives a richer tone to the meat but of course this is not essential if you don’t have whey around.

And the best-est part of the dish is the crisping up of the pork in a cast iron skillet! With goose fat. I usually keep a tub of goose fat around for moments like this. The rich, gamey moorishness of the fried meat is to die for. This is probably one of the most flavourful meals (perhaps even my favourite dish) I’ve churned out of my Magic Instant Pot.

Crispy and fragrant skillet-crisped pulled pork.

Crispy Pork Carnitas and Pico de Gallo

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print


Pork carnitas 

  • 2 kg pork shoulder
  • 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 medium white onion, quartered
  • 1 L acid whey (from making yogurt)
  • 1 whole orange
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp crushed red peppers
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp goose fat
  • 1/4 cup home made yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 heads of butter lettuce
  • 2 large lines, cut into wedges

Pico de Gallo 

  • 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp chopped jalapeño 
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt


  1. Cut the pork shoulder into large 2-3 inch chunks.
  2. Place into a bowl with the crushed garlic cloves and pour the whey on top. Refrigerate overnight. (This is optional if you don’t have whey. The other alternative is to rub the salt and cumin over the pork pieces and marinate overnight.)
  3. Drain the pork and garlic and place into the Instant Pot.
  4. Peel the orange and put the large pieces of orange peel into the pot. Try to avoid removing too much of the white layer under the rind. Squeeze the orange and also add this to the pot.
  5. Add the water as well as the onions, bay leaf, salt, cumin, oregano into the pot. 
  6. Put the pot into sealed position and do manual high pressure for 35 minutes, then allow natural pressure release.
  7. Remove the pork pieces and shred and set aside. 
  8. Remove the orange rind and bay leaf and put the pot into sauté mode and reduce the sauce. With a hand blender, blend the sauce. Set the sauce aside.
  9. For the Pico de Gallo, mix the onions, cherry tomatoes, avocado and coriander together. Add the lime juice and salt and chopped jalapeño and mix well. Cover the bowl with clingwrap and refrigerate till ready to use.
  10. Just before serving, crisp up the pulled pork. Heat a cast iron pan and then add the goose fat and heat well. Add the pork into the pan and press down slightly. With a spatula, flip over the pork to be browned on the other side as well. Put in a large bowl for serving.
  11. To assemble, top a large butterhead lettuce leaf with the crispy pork, followed by the Pico de Gallo and a dollop of yogurt. Squeeze a little lemon juice over this and drizzle some gravy from the carnitas over this. Enjoy!

Note: I realize that not many people have much whey on hand unless they are avid yogurt makers. For this recipe if you don’t have whey, you can skip the marinating step and just sauté the garlic and onions in the Instant Pot, then add the pork and orange juice and spices in and pressure cook instead. The flavours are still pretty awesome!


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