carnitas

Meaty thoughts for Mardi Gras, the culmination of Carnival, today: not the fasnachts of my Pa. Dutch childhod, delights of sugar-coated fried dough, but the slow-cooked pulled pork of Michoacán.

It started with an aside in my 3/2 posting “fried chicken waffle Benedict”

for me carnitas Benedict — I’m fond of the dish — is still subsective, even if the dish has guacamole in the middle and salsa verde along with the hollandaise on top, but I suspect that some people wouldn’t be willing to go that far down Benedict Road with me [but would, instead, treat carnitas Benedict as a resembloid compound].

Reading this, Juan Gomez was much taken with the idea of a carnitas Benedict, which was a new food to him — but he and I share an enthusiasm for carnitas. We wondered whether the dish was regularly available in Palo Alto, and the answer to that turned out to be a gratifying yes: at least, at Bill’s Cafe, 3163 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto (at Loma Verde Ave.), the P.A. outpost of a San Jose breakfast restaurant, where it’s called the Mexicali Benedict. On the menu:


(#1) Served here with a side of hashbrown potatoes

“Toasted English Muffin, pulled Pork Carnitas, Tomatoes, Avocados, Poached Eggs, topped with freshly made Salsa”

All carnitas Benedicts have carnitas as the meat layer (in place of a slice of ham), but can diverge from the most canonical eggs Benedicts in other ways. The one in #1 has the usual English muffin as the bottom, bread, layer (though there are  other possibilities, including hasbrowns). An extra veg layer is also common, especially with sliced avocados and/or tomatoes in it (as above, which has them both). In my experience, nobody messes with the egg layer. But in addition to or instead of the canonical hollandaise sauce, a carnitas benedict might have salsa roja (as above), salsa verde, or guacamole.

Carnitas are a form of pulled or shredded pork.

[Digressions. For pork, the modifier is almost always pulled — as it is for lamb similarly treated in cooking — though for chicken, shredded is a common alternative to pulled; and for beef, shredded seems to be the dominant modifier, with pulled as a less common alternative. In any case, we also get lamb carnitas, chicken carnitas, and beef carnitas. The default carnitas, in unmodified carnitas, are pork carnitas, however.]

From my 9/19/17 posting “I like pig butts and I cannot lie”, a bit from Wikipedia:

Pulled pork is a method of cooking pork where what would otherwise be a tough cut of meat is cooked slowly at low temperatures, allowing the meat to become tender enough so that it can be “pulled”, or easily broken into individual pieces. Pulled pork is found around the world in a variety of forms [in Mexico, as carnitas and cochinita pibil].

Carnitas are made by cooking pork very slowly with a big pile of seasonings (which infuse the meat with a dark brown taste and create a crispy outside layer) and then pulling it apart in shreds. From Wikipedia:

Carnitas, literally meaning “little meats”, is a dish of Mexican cuisine originating from the state of Michoacán [west of Mexico City]. Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pork in oil or preferably lard until tender. The process takes three to four hours, and the result is very tender and juicy meat, which is then typically served [as a meat dish] with chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) and diced onion, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, and refried beans (frijoles refritos) [or used as an ingredient in another preparation].

Pork carnitas are traditionally made using the heavily marbled, rich boston butt or picnic ham cuts of pork. The 6–16 lb (3–7 kg) sections are usually cut down to a workable (6–10 lb) size and seasoned heavily before slow braising or deep frying.

The traditional way to cook carnitas is in a copper pot (or any thick-bottomed pot), which disperses the heat evenly in a process similar to confit. Lard is used to cover the dish in proportion to the amount of meat being cooked. Once the lard has melted, pork and flavorings are added (usually salt, chili, cumin, oregano or Mexican oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, and crushed garlic cloves). Traditional carnitas are then made by a process of simmering the meat in the lard until tender over a very low heat. Once appropriate tenderness is achieved, the heat is turned up and the outside of the pork begins to crisp. At this stage, the collagen in the meat has broken down sufficiently to allow it to be pulled apart by hand or fork or chopped with a cleaver. The meat can then be used as an ingredient in tamales, tacos, tortas, and burritos [or served as a main dish, as above].

In the modern world, slow-cooking devices are a natural for making carnitas. The results: from the Food Network site, “Pork Carnitas” made in a slow cooker, on their own:

(#2)

and from the Simply Happy Foodie site, “Instant pot pork carnitas”, in tacos:

(#3)

Children of the carn. From my 2/18/18 posting “Putting the carnal in Carnival”, mostly about men’s bodies and mansex:

Latin caro, carn– ‘flesh’ [or ‘meat’] in carnal and in Carnival ‘Shrovetide” < ‘putting away the flesh’ [abjuring meat for Lent]

Together in gay porn (with the Portuguese spelling of Carnival) by Kristen Bjorn:


(#4) If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like

In this context, carnal and Carnival also evoke English meat (and beef and pork) used  to refer to the penis.

And then meaty carn– also in carnitas in Mexican cuisine. And in chili con carne (often referred to as just chili, the meat literally going without saying), a dish originally of Mexico and the American Southwest, hence the Spanish name (though chili is now a pan-North American thing, and chili con carne has been fully anglicized, as /čɪli kan karni/).

The adjective carnal preserves its metaphorical connections to the body:

relating to physical, especially sexual, needs and activities: carnal desire. (NOAD)

As for the noun carnival, it finally loses all connections to flesh, meat, or the body, even the fragile associations of Carnival with the renunciations of Lent — as in senses 1b, 1c, and 2 from NOAD:

1 [a] a period of public revelry at a regular time each year, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries … [b] a public event or celebration, typically held outdoors and offering entertainment and exhibitions: he helped judge the ice-sculpture contest at the college’s winter carnival. [c] an exciting or riotous mixture of something: the whole evening was a carnival of fun. 2 North American a traveling amusement show or circus.

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