Hey, with my easy to make Turkey Carnitas recipe, you can cut in line and have a taco or burrito anytime!
I know there are a lot of you who have dietary restrictions against pork products, so this recipe is for you. So all my Jewish or Muslim readers can now enjoy real L.A. street tacos, right at home.
And with Christmas right around the corner, Turkey is extra cheap. And this recipe travels well if you are a designated potluck provider.
For my recipe, I use two dark meat drumsticks, that weigh in about a pound each. They are often on sale for less than a $1.50 per pound at my local Latin grocery store. For extra-tender and juicy Turkey Carnitas, dark leg meat is the way to go, you can use thigh meat or even turkey wings, too. For Thanksgiving or Christmas Turkey Carnitas the sales are on full blast!
I get my spices and dried herbs at the local Dollar Tree and 99c only Stores. I use garlic powder and dried onion, but you can use fresh veggies if you like. So between dollar store spices and meat sales at an ethnic grocery, a lot of dinero is staying in your pockets!
Click on any photo to see larger.
Latin market Turkey Carnitas
Theirs seem to be drier than my fresh made, but that could be the result of hours under heating lamps - which do give Turkey Carnitas an extra chrispy edge. To get that I just bake some cooked meat in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to get some crunchy bits.
I flavor Turkey Carnitas with typical spices and herbs that Pork Carnitas also use. The most important ones are: cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. Extra spices include thyme, bay leaf, and chopped or dried onion - so if you don't have those, it's okay to leave them out.
The trick is to slow-cook or braise the turkey legs in water and/or broth for 2 to 3 hours until tender. With Pork Carnitas, pork shoulder is used that has fatty skin and marbling. They are slow-cooked in it's rendered fat, for that luscious flavor.
My Turkey Carnitas are lean and mean, since there is little fat in turkey legs. I do leave the skin on, but you could take it off. Since turkey is much more pungent than pork, this helps make up for the extra fatty flavor you get with typical Pork Carnitas. And two turkey legs will feed the whole family!
Flour and corn tortillas are cheap these days, too. All I do is add a little oil on a pan and heat them up for a minute - stack on a plate and cover with a paper towel to keep warm.
You can use your fave jar of salsa for your taco topping. If you like your tacos gringo-style then chop some tomato, iceberg lettuce and open a bag of shredded cheddar cheese. Or kick it up a notch and click on any of the following salsa names to get my homemade recipes: Roasted Salsa Verde (tomatillo,) Red Chili (2 dried types - but same recipe,) Pico de Gallo, Mango, and an Avocado Crema.
My cheap$kate recipe is easy to make, just turkey legs and a few spices and herbs that are slow-cooked -- so all you need is a little patience, and the payoff is bigtime. And I just use dried herbs and spices, so you don't even have to chop anything.
So if you're looking for a dish to serve at your next taco party then try out my Turkey Carnitas. Let your guests do all the work and build their own. Just set out some chopped onion, cilantro and your fave salsa, oh and kick it up a notch with some sliced avocado, too.
Turkey Carnitas - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 3 minutes 10 seconds
My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.
Ingredients (about 12 tacos)
- 2 turkey legs - about 3-4 pounds total. Okay to use thighs or wings. Use a turkey breast too, although it's a bit drier to my tastes.
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano - fresh or dried.
- 1 teaspoon thyme - fresh or dried.
- 1 tablespoon dried onion - okay to use 1/2 chopped onion.
- 1 tablespoon dried garlic - okay to use 2 chopped cloves garlic.
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder - okay to substitute with paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups water or broth
Add turkey legs to a large pan or pot, over a medium heat. I leave the skin on. It renders very little fat, but okay if you want to remove it.
Sprinkle on the spices including cumin, oregano, thyme, dried or fresh onion and garlic, chili or paprika powder.
Salt and pepper to taste, or about a 1/4 teaspoon salt and half teaspoon pepper.
Pour in 2 cups of water or a favorite broth. On your stovetop, bring the cooking pot to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook covered for 2 - 3 hours until meat separates easily with a fork.
You are cooking the Turkey Carnitas so the broth reduces and intensifies and the meat becomes flavorful.
Check every hour or so, and add water or broth if it cooks out, but it's okay for the liquid to reduce by half for an intense pot liquor to drizzle over finished Turkey Carnitas.
Rotate the meat a couple times during simmering so all sides evenly cook through.
Done when meat is fall-apart tender. Use a fork to see how easily turkey flakes off the bone.
Traditionally Carnitas are fine chopped and piled into flour or corn tortillas. When you peel turkey from the bone, look for small fine bones and chewy cartilage to remove.
For serving, just take turkey pieces and chop them into small 1/4 inch pieces. You could also do the "pulled pork" method of using 2 forks to pull the tender chunks apart to shred.
You can drizzle on some of the "pot liquor" or broth if you are storing the Turkey Carnitas to serve later. Or if you are keeping it warm in the oven, make sure to drizzle on plenty, so cooked meat stays moist.
The above method is the easiest way to make Carnitas. Outdoor sidewalk vendors cook it similar in a large pot or pan filled with pork shoulder and thick skin, intestines, tongue and other parts, slow cooking for hours in the rendered fat and broth. And when you order, the cook just plucks out a hunk of meat and chops it into small pieces to pile on a warmed corn tortilla. The main difference here is way less fat and grease!
You can top Turkey Carnitas Tacos with my Pico de Gallo (recipe here,) or simply with chopped onion and cilantro. Go Americano with your favorite salsa, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheddar cheese.
For a Carnitas Burrito, add some of my Mom's Mexican Rice (recipe here) with a heated can of pinto beans, along with the above mentioned chopped veggies. If you have a favorite salsa then use that...and don't forget the hot sauce!
I've also had Turkey Carnitas with a crispy crust.
Roasting for Crispy Bits
This is a lean way. Just add the larger chunks of tender braised turkey to a roasting pan and bake about 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. To keep the Turkey Carnitas extra moist add some of the broth to the roasting pan, just enough to barely cover the bottom. You just want to lightly brown some of the turkey pieces for crunch. Don't worry about all the small boiled bits, just add them to the larger roasted pieces and chop them up altogether.