Carne Adovada and thoughts about authenticity

What does the word ‘authentic’ really mean these days, when it comes to both culture and cuisine? I think we often misuse the term ‘authentic’, to mean better or real when it’s not always the case.

As a former student of dance anthropology, authenticity was something I spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing with my peers. As consumers of other cultures (that’s basically what anthropologist are aren’t we) how do we define the very important line between appreciation and appropriation? What does the word authentic really mean, and why do we somehow assume there is one room for one version of this answer (rather than a variation) whenever we ask the question?

There are many professions in the world whose focus on preservation, in order to pin a dish or a dance to its history, knowing that the tides of time will always bring change. Record keeping makes sense. But equally, just because a tradition moves on does not make the new practice any less authentic, real, valid or worthwhile (which is what I think many people really mean when they use the word authentic to describe something).  As a student of anthropology we learn that it is often times it is the diaspora, the group of people that move away from their homeland, that become more entrenched in, and attached to static traditions of their culture, much more so than those who never left. It is human nature after all- to hold on dearly to the things that bring us comfort and remind us of home.


That said, in light of all of this questioning of authenticity, it is equally important to pay attention to who it is that decides when a recipe, or dance or representation of any kind is considered to be authentic, and who has the authority to move the representation forward. The fear of appropriation is a forever looming cloud that hangs over me whenever I reference another cuisine or culture, reminding me that it is imperative to do my research properly, and to speak from my own experiences rather than a culture that is not my own, especially if I am attempting to showcase my work through an attempt at representing somewhere or someone else.

I have spent a good bit of time recently retracing my steps, and how I got to this particular moment in time. I keep circling back to my years spent in New Mexico, and just how formative they really were. It is a piece of the world and of myself I am keen to share with my family, but living so far away from it makes it hard. The easiest way I have found to do so is to begin with the food.


Carne Adovada is a relatively mild chile dish, and a backbone of New Mexican cuisine. Chiles are so prevalent in the cuisine from this region that years ago, when I was preparing to move away, I heard quite a few cautionary tales of others who had left the state and consequently suffered through depression, as chiles are known to help boost  serotonin levels and therefore biologically help make us happier. Between the amount of sunshine and the chiles, New Mexico practically breeds happiness.


I did a fair amount of research when I decided I wanted to make this particular dish, worried that if I toned down the heat too much I would be taking away from the spirit of the dish. I consulted nearly a dozen recipes from a variety of sources, before landing on these ingredients. I feel I have kept the integrity of the dish through my choice of ingredients, as well as the spirit. As it is considered to be one of the milder dishes of New Mexico I felt at liberty to tone down the heat of my own dish my using less chiles, in order to be able to introduce my children to it in a positive light. Admittedly, the four year old wasn’t too keen but my six-year old couldn’t get enough of it, it made her (and therefore me) noticeably happier with each bite she took. If you wanted to bump up the heat, just throw more chiles into your sauce, the ratio for everything else can remain the same.

Carne Adovada

Serves 4-6

1kg pork shoulder, cut into 4-5cm (2 inch) sized chunks

2 heaped teaspoons cumin

2 heaped teaspoons Mexican oregano, or Italian if you can’t find Mexican

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 Spanish white onion, thinly sliced

5 cloves garlic, minced

vegetable oil for cooking


Red Chile Sauce

10-12 dried New Mexico chiles

2 teaspoons chile de pasilla powder

750ml (3 cups) warm chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon local honey

2 tablespoons white vinegar

juice of ½ lime

corn or flour tortillas to serve

Garnish: lime juice, grated cheese, roughly chopped coriander, and sour cream to garnish if desired

Begin by dicing your pork shoulder into large bite-sized chunks. Then, using your hands (which will help the flavours to blend), add the spices to the pork and mix to combine. Leave to marinate whilst you make your red chile sauce.

To make your red chile sauce, start by toasting the dried chilles in a dry fry pan over a high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until fragrant. Once toasted remove, cool and remove seed and stems. Make sure not to touch your eyes or face when handling chiles! Whilst your chiles are toasting, gently heat your chicken stock or water.

In a blender add your chiles, along with hot stock or water and let sit for up to 30 minutes before adding honey, vinegar, additional chile powder and lime and blending. Taste and adjust for a blend of spice, acidity and sweetness.

In a heavy bottomed casserole dish or dutch oven over a medium high heat, add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the pot and brown all sides of your pork shoulder- this will probably require cooking it in two batches so as not to overcrowd your pan, resulting in grey unappealing meat. Tip cooked pork onto a plate to reserve for further use.

Then in the same pot, add a further 1 teaspoon oil, followed by your sliced onion and gently until translucent, before adding in the minced garlic and continue to cook until softened and fragrant. Tip your browned pork shoulder in, pour in your freshly blended chile sauce and bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer. Keeping the lid off of the pot, gently simmer your pork in red chile sauce for up to two hours, stirring occasionally.

The result should be tender, well-coated meat, an earthy, slightly citrusy mild dose of heat, and a sauce thick enough to coat and bind but thin enough to still pour.

Should you wish to intensify your flavours you can make the red chile sauce in advance, and marinate the pork shoulder in the sauce in the refrigerator overnight. To cook, bring the pork up to room temperature before adding to a heavy bottomed pot, bringing to the boil and simmering for the same length of time until tender.

The result should be tender, well-coated meat, an earthy, slightly citrusy mild dose of heat, and a sauce thick enough to coat and bind but thin enough to still pour.



About The Author


Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

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