Healthy Chicken Carnitas

I’m on a health binge this year, like a real one. I just want to be better for myself, and Frankie has graciously decided to join me in this effort for personal betterment (as did Tuggs, in his own way)! And if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I. Love. Mexican. Food. Like woah. Not the healthiest cuisine, but that’s the great thing about cooking! You can always adjust a recipe and make substitutions (like not adding so much cheese and instead go onion, cilantro, and a place of lime).


The first time I had Mexican food, albeit fake Mexican food, I was maybe five, and it was at the Taco Bell Express station inside the Speedway across the street from our Homewood Road tutor. Yes, I know, fake, horrible Mexican fast food, not even food, but that’s when I fell in love with the idea of Mexican food. The flavors, the textures, the fun in eating it. It was always something I went to get with babysitters, and I always enjoyed the crunch of a hard shell taco (American Mexican, again, I know) between my teeth, the messy way the filling would fall onto the paper I had spread out neatly, a table bib that I would slightly fold and raise to my mouth so I could make sure I got every last bit of food into my mouth, into my belly. And while I can’t, and don’t, ever, eat Taco Bell anymore, I loved it so much and found myself addicted to eating as much as I could as often as I could. Disgusting, I know, but I was a kid growing up in small town Mariemont, Ohio…what in the world did I know about Mexican food? Nothing. Taco Bell was my end all be all, until I met iCaramba!, located on a little side street of Hong Kong’s SoHo, just north of main Central downtown.


Inside, bright blues, beach yellows, grapefruit and pomegranate  pinks, steamy and sticky (because Hong Kong was humid naturally and stuck to everything that ever existed and lived there), but you could smell the earthy black beans boiling in the kitchen with chilies and cumin, almost taste the crispness of homemade chips, fresh from the oven, oily salt on your fingertips, and there was a never ending sizzle of meats and vegetables in woks and cast iron skillets. That was the first real Mexican meal I have ever had, where I learned what a tamale and quesadilla was, and how diverse the interpretations could be, not to mention how much I love peppers and a little kick, the differences between them all in heat and structure, what they can stand up to in terms of flavor and use. Salsa never came from a jar again, and I learned that tomatillo’s and green tomatoes are NOT the same thing, and that each holds a key stone flavor for their respective cuisine. (Please remember, I was ten and have learned a LOT more since then.) It is what I still strive to obtain when I make Mexican at home, which I do a lot because I’m still trying to get the spices just right, the way I remember them.


Which brings me to this Chicken Carnita recipe. Yes, carnitas are meant to be pork, but it’s still a spiced meat, and when you always have something chicken in the fridge, I just went with it. And boy, oh boy did it turn out delicious!!!


The spices sing on your tongue when you place the tender fork pulled meat in your mouth, your fingers so lickable, and your craving suddenly insatiable. I had to actually stop myself from eating everything off the pan. The orange and lime are the perfect amount of citrus to keep the whole dish light and heighten the natural earth spices of cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, and that extra dash of pepper flakes because, WHY NOT? And while, I’m one of those blasphemous cooks who prefers chicken breast over chicken thighs (I know, I know), this was by far my favorite way to eat it.


The chicken is so tender from oven braising, and that caramelization from the broil? I mean, come on, how beautiful is that?! (I did not use honey, which the recipe calls for, because I didn’t think it needed it). Just, wow. Best Mexican chicken recipe and it was so easy to make! Not to mention that they weren’t heavy in the way some tacos done wrong will make you feel overly full after two bites, and were a great healthy way to make my most favorite dish, chicken tacos (since I’m also on a health binge with my man this year)! I would have tried the hallowed acorn squash, but that is not a favorite of my beloved, so I opted for the taco route instead, though I’d gladly just eat it plain as well. I will include the Pico de Gallo recipe I used as well below!


Chicken Carnitas from Ciao Florentia

Pico de Gallo

Serves 4

  • 2-3 roma tomatoes (dependent upon how much tomato you like)
  • 1/4 large red onion, diced finely (if you want to add more, add more)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped finely (or 1/4 – 1/2 jalapeño if you want to leave in the seeds)
  • 1/4-1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely (to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Toss diced tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and garlic in a bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, and pepper (to taste). Store in fridge, eat with chips, and use with tacos, fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc.!

Note: For the beans, I used some water on canned refried black beans (because you know what, when you work full time and just can’t think far enough ahead of your dog and man to soak and cook and puree the beans yourself, there’s nothing wrong with canned goods). BUT I think the seasoning needed something more, cumin and garlic powder maybe, even diced chilies just to give it a little more of the one noted flavor it came with. I also want to try chicken/veggie stock or broth instead of water to bump up the flavor a little more too.


Until next time food lovers!


Cooking Maggie out!


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