Dish of the Week: Leftover Turkey Carnitas

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re turning a Thanksgiving leftover on its side with turkey carnitas.

Its name meaning “little pieces of meat,” carnitas is a Mexican staple made with pork that gets braised in oil or lard and shred into small pieces, similar to an American pulled pork. The process takes a few hours, resulting in a full-flavor pork that’s moist and fall-apart tender, with some beautifully browned pieces adding texture and crunch.

A popular version of the dish originates in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where warm flavors like cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and oregano are mixed with bright hints of orange. It is typically used as a filling for tacos, with a squeeze of lime and chopped onion for bite.

Usually, a heavily marbled cut of pork like Boston butt is used, but with Thanksgiving behind us, we have something else in mind.

This recipe, from Rachael Ray, uses leftover turkey (preferably dark meat) to make a spiced carnitas-style filling that’s perfect for tacos (or burritos, quesadillas and nachos, for that matter).

Turkey Carnitas

1 1/2 pound leftover cooked turkey (just dark meat or a mixture of dark and white), shredded
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 jalapeño or serrano chili, finely chopped
1 small cinnamon stick
1 orange, peel removed with a vegetable peeler in long strips (save the orange for another use)
1 large bay leaf
3 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons chili de arbol powder
Salt and pepper
12 corn tortillas
For serving: lime wedges, cilantro leaves, crumbled queso fresco, chopped red onion, corn kernels (browned in skillet), radish (cut into matchsticks)


In a small pot, add the turkey, stock, onion, garlic, chile, cinnamon stick, orange peel and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then reduce heat and keep at low boil, stirring often until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick, orange peel and bay leaf.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add oil, three turns of the pan. When the oil ripples and smokes, add the turkey, cumin, coriander and chili powder; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the turkey is browned and crispy at the edges, about 15 minutes.

Working directly over a gas flame or in a dry, nonstick skillet, cook the tortillas over high heat until they're charred in spots, about 30 seconds per side.

Serve the turkey with the tortillas and toppings of your choice.