Since it seems that Rick Bayless' recipes yield enough food to feed a couple of villages, I scaled his authentic carnitas recipe to make about two servings. The last time I made a big batch of something, I really didn't care for it and we had copious amounts of it. I wasn't quite certain I'd like the results of pork cooked in pork fat.
Armed with a couple of pounds of pork shoulder and five pounds of lard, with my handy cochran atop stove, I ventured forth into unknown territory. Let it be known that the initial smell of pork meat going into lard must be an acquired taste. It is quite pungent. What really helped the meat smell good was the addition of the bacon pieces. I could have probably added more. Bacon smells good; lard: not so much. The funky pork smell reduces after the initial shock wave, and the bacon scent becomes more apparent. Once I put the lard away there was no more piggy smell in the kitchen or apartment.
Using a food thermometer, I kept the pork around 212°F until it easy separated. The meat gets scooped out, the lard turned up to 325°F for a quick splash to crisp up the meaty exteriors. It took about 90 minutes for the meat to slowly cook.
The result of the pork was much different than the braised carnitas I previously experimented with. The outer crispness and inner tenderness has a richer flavor--no doubt because of the lard. Yet the meat lacked subtle flavors gained by being braised using organges, spices, and such. Next time I will find a recipe that uses the oranges in the lard to see how that turns out. I know carnitas are supposed to be all about the pork, but I do like the subtle flavors that pork can carry.
Both versions of my carnitas were drier than I expected. It may be that I need to make bigger pieces of meat so that the interiors retain their moisture. Plus, I can always experiment with brines before dunking the pork into the fat bath. I'm also curious how the pork would taste if prepared according to a duck confit recipe, only using lard instead of duck fat.
So far I'd say that both versions of carnitas have their respective merits. If I can take the good from both methods and combine them into one recipe to rule them all, I'll be as happy as a pig.