I've wanted to make homemade carnitas, but I have an aversion to lard. Hot lard smells unsavory to me*. So when I came upon Kenji Alt's recipe for carnitas made without lard, I was anxious to give it a try.
I prepared the meat following the recipe, making some changes according to my preference and ingredients available.
The cooking process of carnitas struck me as being similar to the preparation of duck confit. Confit is a process of cooking a meat in its own fat to preserve the meat. It is cooked "low and slow". Traditional carnitas are cooked in lard at a low temperature. Then prior to serving, the meat is cooked a second time in the lard but at a higher temperature to make it crispy.
My concern about the recipe I used is that there was the chance the pork would braise instead of be cooked in its own rendered fat. Only time would tell what exactly would happen. I let the meat work its magic over 5 hours. It smelled wonderful while cooking.
I removed the pork pieces and shredded, then placed them on a cookie sheet and popped it under a 500°F broiler to crisp up the meat. Judging by the texture and dryness of the meat, I think it mostly braised. The liquid left in the pan seemed to be a juice/fat mixture. While the meat wasn't as moist as I'd have liked it to be, it is still very tasty. The pork has a subtle flavor of orange and cinnamon.
I'd like to try cooking the meat in oil to have a comparison. I am not sure if I will use lard or a different oil. It depends on if I can get some true leaf lard. If not, I think I will use peanut oil.
*The bad smell of the lard may have been due to having some that had gone bad. Good lard will go rancid quickly if not properly handled.