Mind-Blowing Japanese Carnitas Tacos

by | Jan 23, 2013
Japanese Carnitas

Japanese Carnitas

A few weeks ago I tweeted about this dish and got an overwhelming positive response, begging me to share the recipe. I have finally acquiesced.

While it was in fact mind-blowingly delicious, I’ve been resistant to publish it because bad lighting and my trusty iPhone camera really didn’t do the dish justice in the photos. To be honest, my dislike of food photography (the taking, not the viewing) is what prevents me from posting more recipes in general.

Lame, I know.

I used to spend a ton of time styling food, perfecting the lighting, then spend hours editing in Photoshop to get that one perfect photo. It’s a tedious process, and I can’t stand it. I like to cook and eat good food, but I don’t like to fret over it. And photography is fretful. Maybe one day I’ll have enough free time to spend my days mastering shutter speeds and lighting, but in the meantime you’ll just have to believe me that this is one worth making.

I’ve been messing around with my slow cooker lately, and have made several renditions of this Japanese version of carnitas. It’s so unbelievably good. It’s basically a pork shoulder (I got mine from Prather Ranch) braised in Japanese flavors like dashi, soy sauce, and ginger. I throw some Tokyo salad turnips or daikon in with the meat as well. I serve it in little cabbage cup “tortillas” with rice, cilantro and Sriracha hot sauce.

You’ll have a better time if you find a cabbage with leaves that are easy to separate, such as Napa cabbage. Smaller cabbages make this easier as well. I used some concentrated liquid dashi broth I found at a market in Japantown, but you can make your own or use the dehydrated kind if you prefer.

This is a great, simple dish for a group, though vegetarians might want to sit this one out.

Mind-Blowing Japanese Carnitas Tacos

Serves 6



Braised Pork Shoulder


4 c. water

1 c. concentrated dashi

1/2 c. brown rice vinegar

1/2 c. soy sauce

1/3 c. mirin cooking wine

1/4 c. rough chopped ginger

1 cippolini onion chopped

1 c. coursely chopped daikon or Tokyo turnips



3.5 lbs pork butt (shoulder), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 4 large hunks



1 medium cabbage

2 c. cooked haiga rice (cook 1 hour before serving)

Fresh cilantro sprigs

Sriracha sauce



In a large Dutch oven or cast iron pan, brown the meat on each side (about 20 minutes total). A splatter guard will come in handy during this step. While meat is browning, prepare marinade by adding all ingredients to crock pot.

Add cooked pork to marinade, liquid should cover 3/4 of meat. Cover and cook on high for 6-8 hours, turning half way through, or until pork pulls apart easily with a fork.

Before serving wash and dry cabbage and cut in half. Separate leaves and place on serving platter. Leaves should be approximately the size of corn tortillas, 5-6” across. Rinse cilantro sprigs, trim the ends and add to serving plate.

To serve, separate meat with fork into smaller, but still hefty chunks. Scoop some rice onto each plate, along with a portion of pork and a few daikon pieces. Place the vegetable serving platter in the center of the table, with a bottle of Sriracha. Fill some small bowls or ramekins with a small serving of cooking liquid for dipping.

To eat, scoop a small amount of rice onto a cabbage leave and top with pork. Add a few cilantro sprigs and a squirt of Sriracha to taste. Dip in sauce as desired.



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14 Responses to “Mind-Blowing Japanese Carnitas Tacos”

  1. Hilary says:


    FYI I’ve heard that the best way to take pictures of food is by using natural sunlight 🙂

  2. Tom says:

    Did you really mean “Cover and cook on high for 6-8 hours”? That won’t boil over?

  3. Ashley says:

    Now, that. Looks. Delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  4. jasmine minton says:

    those aren’t tacos or carnitas. it still sounds good though.

  5. Jessi says:

    This looks great, I’m trying it tomorrow with some stuff I have on hand. The CSA brought us some little savoy cabbages, so I think this might be just the thing to do with them. Thank you for sharing the recipe, and the photo looks great!

  6. Diana says:

    This looks delicious and I’m almos ready to make it but…I have a question. Daikons are huge! How much of one should I use? About the size of a large radish?

  7. Monica says:

    This. Looks. Amazing. Excited to pull out my slow cooker to give it a whirl.

  8. Peggy says:

    I feel the same way about taking photos – it’s the most time-consuming part of having a food blog!

    These carnitas look AMAZING, by the way =)

  9. AJ says:

    Hi, Darya! This looks awesome.

    Also, please don’t let food photography prevent you from posting more recipes. I would still be thrilled to learn a yummy recipe based solely on written content. =]

  10. Heather says:

    I just made this and it is ridiculously delicious. I’m supposed to be serving it for dinner, but once I taste-tested it, I went ahead and ate it for a late lunch too because it is so good! Here’s how mine varied from this recipe, because of availability of ingredients: I used hondashi granules (1tsp) in 8oz water for the dashi, 5lbs of bone-in pork shoulder blade steaks, savoy and taiwan cabbage (taiwan FTW), a small yellow onion because I didn’t want to spend the $ (or mess with the little skins) on the cippollini, about 1.5 cups sliced daikon, and I’m going to make nishiki rice because I couldn’t find the haiga. Also, I planned to cook it on low for 8-10 instead of high for 6-8 because my crockpot runs hot; but when I checked it after 5 hours to turn it over, it was done and just fell right off the bones (I guess because it was cut into steaks instead of one big hunk.) So lucky me, I got to have it for lunch before everyone gets home! Now that I’ve made it once, it’ll be super easy to make it again- it’s very basic once you have the ingredients on hand. I’ll be making this forever, total keeper.

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