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No Ordinary Cup of Joe: Slow Cooker Beef Carnitas with Coffee and Cumin

Using coffee in the kitchen shouldn’t just be for the requisite morning fuel. Though it is my lifeblood, coffee is also quite useful in sweet and savoury dishes. Adding cold coffee to chocolate cake ensures a depth of flavour like nothing else, and a splash of espresso works wonders in creamy custards and puddings. We all know that coffee is fantastic with cream and sugar, but it can work its magic with beef and onions too. Coffee might just be that secret ingredient that’s been in plain sight on your kitchen counter all along.

Coffee beans, the good arabica ones, are roasted, which means they already have oodles of depth and complexity built in. When ground, or brewed, they impart these characteristics to whatever you’re cooking. If you’re needing to make gravy but don’t have good beef broth, add a splash of coffee.

Beans and coffee are simply a match made on the ranch. Baked beans love a good glug of coffee, as does a pot of chili. The flavour deepens, adding richness instead of bitterness. Coffee is also one of those ingredients that pulls all of the other ingredients it's paired with along for the ride, and makes them stand up straighter. You feel it all, in one bite.

Thanks to its acidic composition, coffee shines in a braise, as it breaks down the toughest cuts of meat, allowing you to cut it with a spoon, if you choose. Lamb shanks and beef short ribs are cuts of meat that need the low and slow attention of a good braise, and adding coffee (about 1 cup (250 mL) will do) to the braising liquid ensures melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and out-of-this-world deliciousness.

Coffee’s acidity is also quite terrific in a marinade, especially when paired with soy sauce and garlic; it works wonders on flank steak. And, we can’t talk about coffee without talking about barbecue. Ground coffee is terrific in dry rubs, as its sweet, earthy, smoky flavour is so good when rubbed on ribs; its bitterness adds a robust contrast to the typically sweeter barbecue sauces.

Carnitas are one of my favourite things to make, and for this recipe, I swapped out the typical pork shoulder for beef chuck roast, with great success. And, I used coffee in a couple of ways. It not only acts as flavour booster to the spice rub, but as a key figure in the braising liquid. The sweetness of the brown sugar in the rub helps to temper the bitterness of the coffee, while the range of spices can always be tweaked to your liking, but I quite like the coupling of coffee and cumin.

This is the perfect meal for busy weeknights, as the prep takes only 10 minutes, and your handy-dandy slow cooker does all of the work. Carnitas are wonderful because everyone can assemble them as they see fit, and everyone walks away happy. Coffee will do that to you!


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