Monday, August 22, 2022

Mexican Cola Turkey Carnitas - Recipe for Tacos & Burritos

My latest recipe is a lighter version of Mexican-style Pork Carnitas. I often look for Pork Carnitas being slow-cooked by street vendors, like Leo's Taco Truck, in a Los Angeles alley or sidewalk. I just pull over and get in line for a luscious Carnitas taco after being on the town late at night. Hey, with my easy-to-make Mexican Cola Turkey Carnitas recipe, you can cut in line and have a taco or burrito anytime!

I flavor my Turkey Carnitas with orange lemon juice, too. So make sure to reserve some of the simmering sauce to pour on the turkey meat just before serving. 

I know there are some of my visitors who have dietary restrictions against pork products, so this recipe is for you. So all my Jewish and Muslim readers can now enjoy authentic L.A. street tacos, right at home.

For my recipe, I use two dark meat drumsticks, that weigh about a pound each. They are often on sale and as cheap as chicken. For extra-tender and juicy Turkey Carnitas, dark-leg meat is the way to go, you can use thigh meat or even turkey wings. For Turkey Carnitas during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays, the sales are on full blast!

This recipe is made with a bottle of Mexican cola. You can use any cola really, but I would stay away from diet - what you are looking for is the cola flavor with real sugar sweetness. And use freshly squeezed, pasteurized, or frozen orange and lemon juice.

I use garlic powder and dried onion, but you can use fresh veggies if you like. I get my spices and dried herbs at the local Dollar Tree and 99c only Stores. So between dollar store spices and poultry sales that's a lot of dinero staying in your pockets!

Click on any photo to see larger.

I first noticed Turkey Carnitas in cafeteria-style heating bins in the deli section of my local Latin market. And they are not cheap at about $7 per pound, so I decided to just make some myself.

Latin market Turkey Carnitas

Theirs seems 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 crispy 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 the water and/or broth for 2 to 3 hours until tender. With Pork Carnitas, pork shoulder is used which has fatty skin and marbling. They are slow-cooked in their 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 to a pan and heat them up for a minute - stack them on a plate and cover with a paper towel to keep warm.

You can use your favorite jar of salsa for your taco topping. If you like your tacos gringo-style then chop some tomato, and 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 the same recipe,) Pico de GalloMango, 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 big time. And I use dried herbs and spices, so you don't even have to chop anything. Hey, if you don't like sugary cola then leave that out too!

So if you're looking for a dish to serve at your next taco party then try out my Mexican Cola 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.

Mexican Cola Turkey Carnitas - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 3 minutes 44 seconds

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.

Ingredients (about 12 tacos)
  • 2 Turkey Legs - about 2 to 3 pounds total. Okay to use thighs or wings. Use a turkey breast too, although it's a bit drier to my taste.
  • 1 Mexican Cola - 12 ounces. Okay to use any bottle or can of your favorite cola.
  • Orange Juice - 1/2 cup store-bought, frozen, or fresh-squeezed. 
  • Lemon Juice -  juice of 1 whole lemon.
  • Oregano  - 1 teaspoon dried or fresh.
  • Dried Onion - 1 tablespoon.  Okay to use a 1/2 chopped onion.
  • Dried Garlic - 1 tablespoon. Okay to use fresh chopped garlic.
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

Add turkey legs to a large pan or pot, over medium heat. I leave the skin on. It renders very little fat, but it's okay if you want to remove it.

Pour in orange juice and Mexican cola (or a regular cola.)

Sprinkle on the dried oregano, onion, and garlic. 

Salt and pepper to taste, or about 1/4 teaspoon salt and half teaspoon pepper.

Add the juice of a lemon or lime.

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, orange juice, or Cola, if it cooks out, but it's okay for the liquid to reduce by half for an intense "pot liquor" to drizzle over the finished Mexican Cola 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 chopped or shredded 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.

Drizzle on some of the "pot liquor" or broth if you are storing the Cola 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 similarly 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 Cola 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 Cola Turkey Carnitas Burrito, add some of my Mom's Mexican Rice (recipe here) with a heated can of pinto beans or my Homemade Mexican-style 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!

Roasting for Crispy Bits
This is a lean way. Just add the larger chunks of tender braised turkey to a roasting pan and bake for 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.

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