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Week 6 - Carnitas and a Corn Tortilla Story

Carnitas on a taco is one of life's simplest pleasures.  Like the mestizo culture of Mexico, it's a plateful of native and European influences dancing together to create something uniquely Mexican, and simply wonderful. 

Dishing Up Mestizo culture

Carnitas taco, topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo

Carnitas taco, topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo

Mexican food, like its people, is a blend of native and European influences.  This is different from the United States, where native American culture has always remained quite distinct from mainstream American culture. In Mexico, the two have blended together to create something new.  This blended culture is called "mestizo," and it can be seen in the food of Mexico as well as in its people.  

A Carnitas taco, topped with guacamole and pico de gallo, is an edible example of mestizo culture at work.  Corn tortillas, avocado, tomatoes, lime and chiles are ancient native foods, while pork (and the cilantro in the toppings) arrived with the Spaniards. Put it all together, and it's authentically Mexican - a delicious blend of both worlds.

A Corn Tortilla Story

The humble corn tortilla is the perfect playground on which native and Spanish foods should mingle.  It played a starring role in the very beginning, at the first meeting of these two cultures, a meeting which would change the course of history.

This painting shows the artist's idea of what it might have been like when Cortez first met Aztec Emperor Montezuma.  The Spaniards wrote that Montezuma walked on "gold-soled sandals" and his servants swept the street in front of him as he went!

This painting shows the artist's idea of what it might have been like when Cortez first met Aztec Emperor Montezuma.  The Spaniards wrote that Montezuma walked on "gold-soled sandals" and his servants swept the street in front of him as he went!

In 1519, the first Europeans arrived in Mexico, led by led by Hernan Cortez.  The native people had never seen anyone like these strangers before.  They wore imposing armor made of iron, and the ships they arrived in were so gigantic (compared to their native canoes), that the Aztecs called them floating mountains. Perhaps strangest of all, these men had light skin, and some of them had eyes of blue or green!  Were these new people humans?  Or gods?
Emperor Montezuma gathered his wisest thinkers, and they decided to give these new strangers a test.  They sent emissaries to greet the strangers and offer them two types of food:  the food of the gods, covered with blood; and the food of humans, including turkey, avocados – and soft corn tortillas. Which would they choose?
The Spaniards chose the human food and ate the tortillas.  And Mexico would never be the same again.

When you want to eat like a real Mexican (or Spanish Conquistador, for that matter), don’t serve tacos in those pre-formed taco shells you find in supermarkets.  Instead, choose soft corn tortillas.  They are authentic and easy to prepare.

Buying and Preparing Corn Tortillas

Throughout most of Mexico, when you hear the word “tortilla” they are talking about tortillas made of corn, an ancient and sacred food in Mexico for thousands of years.  Click here to learn about "flour tortillas," which are made of wheat flour and eaten only in the northern states of Mexico.

When buying corn tortillas for Mexican food, read the label carefully!  For authentic Mexican food, the first ingredient should be corn and/or corn masa, and there should be no wheat or other flavorings added, such as chile or spinach or tomato (“trace of lime” is ok).  Americans love to innovate and make lots of different versions of packaged foods, but authentic Mexican tacos are served on plain, humble corn tortillas without the added flavors.

In the New York/New Jersey area, we recommend the brand Maria and Ricardo’s (available at Whole Foods Markets).

Tortillas should be found in the cold section and refrigerated.  Those that do not require refrigeration contain preservatives and hydrogenated oils, which make them a less healthy (and less authentic) option.

Click here to learn how to warm tortillas for tacos.

Corn tortillas, used in most of Mexico for many dishes including tacos.

Corn tortillas, used in most of Mexico for many dishes including tacos.

Flour tortillas, used mainly in the northern states of Mexico, but not for tacos.  Click here to learn more about these.

Flour tortillas, used mainly in the northern states of Mexico, but not for tacos.  Click here to learn more about these.

Making Carnitas

Carnitas is so delicious, it is frankly astounding how easy it is to make.  Just three ingredients:  pork + salt + water. Seriously, that's it.

Start with boneless pork shoulder

Start with boneless pork shoulder

Cut it into strips

Cut it into strips

Ms. Lynley points out the fat on pork shoulder - all that fat adds flavor to the finished dish.

Ms. Lynley points out the fat on pork shoulder - all that fat adds flavor to the finished dish.

Carnitas is one of those dishes that is super easy to make for a party, and leaves a huge impression on your guests.  With almost no effort, you can make a big batch ahead of time, then warm it up just before your guests arrive.  Served on soft, warm corn tortillas with pico de gallo and guacamole, it is packed with flavor.

Adding guacamole and pico de gallo to carnitas tacos

Adding guacamole and pico de gallo to carnitas tacos

I think he liked it!

I think he liked it!


Carnitas taco, topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo. Made in the Adventure Kitchen in June, 2015.

Carnitas taco, topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo. Made in the Adventure Kitchen in June, 2015.

Carnitas

Carnitas is one of the easiest things to make, and also one of the most delicious. Serve it on a warm, soft corn tortilla topped with avocado slices or guacamole and pico de gallo. Mexicans may consider this to be snack food, but when you serve it alongside frijoles de la olla, rice and a salad, your guests will consider it a feast!

Click for the Carnitas recipe....

 

Final class Next Week:  Mucho Mango Tart!