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. Below is how we built a meal with chicken carnitas.
Chicken Carnitas Recipe
- 16 oz skinless boneless chicken thigh
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 3 cup cooked medium-grain rice equals to 1 cup uncooked
- 4 oz canned black beans
- 4 oz sweet corn
- 4 oz baby tomatoes chopped in half
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 oz jalapeno chopped
- Side together with guacamole in one plate.
- Marinate the chicken thighs with paprika, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground black pepper, salt, white wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to combine.
- Let the chicken sit for 30 minutes.
- On a cast-iron skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken thighs in.
- Fry the first side of the chicken for 10 minutes, and the second side for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Transfer the fried chicken thighs onto a cutting board, let them cool down for 5 minutes.
- Slice the fried chicken meat in thick strips.
- Assemble the chicken strips on a large plate (can also put them on a shallow skillet if you don’t have any plate large enough) together with hot cooked rice, black beans, sweet corn, baby tomatoes, and Greek yogurt.
- Add guacamole together onto the plate to side along.
- Sprinkle chopped jalapeno on top. Serve immediately.