These crispy tender Chicken Carnitas chops are simply super fresh and ideal to satisfy your cheat-meal cravings during dieting days.
What is Chicken Carnitas?
Chicken Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish (from the Michoacán state of Mexico, to be specific). In Romanian, the word “Carnitas” means “meat pieces”.
Okay I see that you might be confused by the name, but for a country where most of the multi-indigenous languages are derived from Latin (including Romanian) like Mexico, it is no surprise that their recipes often accrue countless Latin terms.
Anyway, this dish is made by braising pork meat and then quick-frying it in its own fat or the cooking liquid. The seasonings will caramelize when on heat so the meat can reach a perfect tender texture.
But does it have to be pork?
No; I can still braise boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs and call it Chicken Carnitas, which I did and you could do the same, too. People have been doing the same for a long time – maybe even before I had stopped asking my mother what animal chicken nuggets were made from!
How to make Chicken Carnitas?
The cooking process includes braising and broiling in succession. You simply need to spread the seasoned chicken breasts (in whole pieces) out in an even layer and give them 40 minutes for oven-braising. Tear them apart in random chunks and strips after that, then put them back in 5 more minutes for broiling. It takes minor maneuvers in between, but this is nothing compared to the indescribable fulfillment you’ll experience afterwards. You can scroll to the bottom to check out my detailed instructions.
Feel free to coat this with whatever drizzle you desire. But one big note here, since I’ve seen people going big for lime juice on chicken my entire life: It’s actually still up for debate whether or not lime juice makes chicken meat too dry and rubbery.
If it was me, I would always avoid citrus juice/extract as best as I can when it comes to poultry dishes. I don’t know how far you could go with it, but my safest advice is to have lime zest as a substitute, in case you still want to have some citrusy kicks for the dish.
How long can you cook Chicken Carnitas?
Chicken Carnitas is prep-friendly with no exotic ingredients, therefore the 1 hour time of cooking is mostly the oven doing all the work for you. For what it’s worth to my waistline (and possibly yours too), an hour for a healthy dish with harmonization of flavors is totally worth it.
There’s a strong chance you can pick out your favourite toppings from the comfort of your own kitchen cabinet. The flavor combination of herbs like cilantro or red onions on tender chicken strips will be out of this world. Another viable choice for veggie toppings, in my case, is cherry tomato slices.
For sauce, I’d love to point you to Chipotle sauce and chimichurri sauce. They will work amazingly well without fail. Also, feel free to say yes to fresh crema, Parmesan cheese sprinkles or even soft Cotija cheese (or Feta cheese; based on your own taste).
What can be served with Chicken Carnitas?
Besides good dashes of Latin spices, Chicken Carnitas goes fabulously well with rolled foods like tacos, taco-like foodstuffs and so on:
- Burrito bowls
- Roasted acorn squash bowls
- Guacamole / fresh avocado slices
- Arroz verde
- Fresh strawberry or tomato salsa
- Tomato or black bean soup
Adding more proteins or carbs that everyone-loves-to-hate – that’s you choice to make.
Chicken Carnitas recipe
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 tsp kosher salt plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 cup water
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Spread sliced onions and garlic in layers on the baking dish.
- Prepare the seasoning: combine salt, oregano and cumin in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the chicken breasts so the surface is evenly coated.
- Place the seasoned chicken breasts onto the onion and garlic. Finally, add water to the baking dish.
- Cover the dish in aluminum foil, put it to the middle rack of the oven and braise for 40 minutes. The chicken meat should be cooked through and tender as braising is finished.
- Remove the baking dish from heat and start shredding the chicken meat by a fork, into medium-sized strips.
- Put the baking dish back and turn the oven on broil for 5 minutes. The chicken meat should be just browned.
- Baste the cooking liquid all over the surface so the meat is moist. Serve with tortillas. Season with ground pepper if desired.