I feel terrible. This recipe has taken me FOREVER to share on the blog. I came up with the idea for turkey carnitas at least four Thanksgiving leftover seasons ago, if not more. I always remember it after everyone is beyond Thanksgiving though, so the timing just never worked in my favor.
After making turkey carnitas tacos a few weeks ago, however, I just knew it had to be done – and you all said as much when I asked you on my Instagram stories! And judging by how many of you have made my One Pot Mexican Casserole, I think you’ll love this recipe just as much!!
Turkey Carnitas | Leftover Turkey Recipe
So, turkey carnitas. My husband yearns for greasier, more scrumptious recipes at home. I crave pretty much the opposite. Usually we veer more toward my tastes (I am the one doing the cooking after all), but I do occasionally like to indulge him. So, with Thanksgiving Turkey leftovers in my fridge, I concocted the crazy idea of pan frying the shredded meat for some homemade carnitas (a dish I would never otherwise make or order). Pan fried in a bit of olive oil, mixed with the right seasonings, and we had deliciousness on our hands.
I should make this recipe throughout the year with shredded chicken, I just never think about it. I love making turkey carnitas with the leftovers, however, because the oil helps with any dryness and it’s a great way to use up what’s left of the white and dark meat.
Fast, Easy Carnitas Recipe (i.e. not in a slow cooker)
This recipe for carnitas is far from traditional. Low and slow (often in a slow cooker) is the authentic, scrumptious way to cook traditional pork carnitas. This is the quick and easy weeknight meal version that everyone loves.
I mentioned above (and below in the recipe) that it’s best with a mixture of white and dark meat. I’m a white meat person, but the bit of fat in the dark meat really makes it all work together.
I should also note that since everybody cooks the turkeys and chickens with a varied amount of salt and other seasonings, you may want to play the salt by ear in the recipe. I’ve made it before with turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving and afterwards it needed salt.
The last time I made it, the smaller bird that I bought at the market apparently had a lot of salt, because they were on the saltier side (nothing sour cream and avocado didn’t fix)! And we made nachos this time – with salty chips, so that’s another level of salt. If you’re serving carnitas tacos, I think the recipe is great as-is. Turkey carnitas nachos, however, might very well benefit from less salt for starters.
LEFTOVER TURKEY CARNITAS
One year, my husband and I brought a crazy amount to turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving home with us. Looking for a fun way to mix up the familiar flavor, I decided to "fry" them in oil and my favorite fajita seasonings. What transpired were these turkey carnitas! You can use chicken instead of turkey and enjoy them in whatever Mexican dish you enjoy most!
- 2 cups shredded turkey or chicken preferably a mix of white and dark meat
- 5 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground garlic not garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 cup shredded cheese cheddar, pepper jack, or mix
- 1 recipe fajita veggies
- sour cream
- green onions
- hot sauce
- turkey carnitas
In a medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Make sure oil is hot before adding turkey. Test by adding one piece of meat. Oil is ready when meat sizzles with little bubbles around the outside. Add turkey. Top with seasonings. Stir to coat.
When much of the oil seems to be absorbed, add remaining 2 tablespoons.
Cook turkey until turkey is crisping and most of the oil is absorbed (15-20 minutes).
Spread chips on four plates. Divide shredded cheese between plates. Microwave each plate for 30 seconds to melt cheese. Top with fajita veggies, carnitas, and desired toppings!