Sweetened Condensed Milk Is The Secret Ingredient For More Flavorful Carnitas

While sweet and savory foods are becoming more and more popular, they're still often considered to be outliers or perhaps dishes meant to surprise and amuse like the barbecue sandwich with Reese's peanut butter cups that the Kansas City Royals sold at their stadium during the 2022 season. Other sweet and savory pairings, however, have a more long-standing tradition behind them, as quite a few cooks in Mexico apparently add sweetened condensed milk to their carnitas during cooking. This ingredient has long been a staple in Latin American kitchens, perhaps thanks in part to being heavily marketed in the region since the 1920s. Although it may be better known as an ingredient in desserts such as dulce de leche.

While condensed milk might seem like an unlikely add-in for carnitas, it actually does help make them taste much better, at least if you enjoy a little sweet with your meat. The sugar assists with the caramelization process, while the creamy texture makes for a thick, rich sauce. Carnitas are typically made from pork, which is a meat that's long been paired with sweet sides such as applesauce and cornbread, so adding a candy-like sauce to a pork recipe isn't quite as much of a stretch as you might think. What's more, orange and lime juice are other ingredients typically used in carnitas recipes so the slight sourness from the citrus fruits may help to temper any tendency towards excess sugariness.

Other meat-based dishes can also benefit from condensed milk

Carnitas aren't the only savory meat dish that can be enhanced with a liberal application of sweetened condensed milk. In Vietnam, a traditional Lunar New Year food called thịt kho tàu (caramelized pork with eggs) can be made with this ingredient while it can also be combined with coconut milk, soy sauce, and spices for a tasty satay marinade. Pork slices marinated in a similar mixture can also be combined with cucumbers for a Thai-style salad.

Not all condensed milk-meat dishes are strongly tied to Asian or Latin American cuisines, though. It can also be used to moisten a meatloaf or thicken chicken and dumplings. It's also an important ingredient in a Middle Eastern-inspired Canadian specialty called the Halifax or Maritime donair. The sandwich itself is made of seasoned ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions stuffed inside a pita, while the sauce is made from sweetened condensed milk mixed with white vinegar and garlic powder. Dubious about the flavor? Perhaps you shouldn't be. The donair kebab, sweet sauce and all, is such a favorite in its native Nova Scotia that it was named Halifax's official food in 2015.