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.
1kg pork shoulder, cut into 4-5cm (2 inch) sized chunks
1 heaped tsp. cumin
1 heaped tsp. oregano or Mexican oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Spanish white onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Red Chile Sauce
10 dried New Mexico chiles
2 dried Cascabel chiles
3 cups chicken stock
1 Spanish white onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
sea salt to taste
juice of 1 clementine
corn tortillas (ideally blue corn) to serve
lime juice, roughly chopped coriander, sour cream to garnish if desired
Begin by dicing your pork shoulder into appropriate-sized chunks. Then, using your hands (which will help the flavours to combine), 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!
In a blender add half of your chiles, along with half of the stock and blend until relatively smooth.
In a saucepan over a medium high heat, add a tsp. of oil to the pot and gently sweat your finely diced onion until translucent, before adding in the minced garlic and continue to cook until softened and fragrant. Pour in your freshly blended chile sauce, and lower to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Repeat the process with your second batch of chiles and remaining stock, pouring it into the saucepan as well. Add the juice of one clementine and continue to cook for a further 10-20 minutes, or until sauce becomes thick enough to coat a spoon, but will still drip off. Remove from heat and reserve.
Preheat your oven to 150C/300F
In a large heavy bottomed casserole dish or dutch oven, over a medium high heat, 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. Using the remaining oil left in the pot from the pork, add your thinly sliced onions and cook until softened before adding in your garlic. Once both have softened and cooked, add back in your pork shoulder, stirring once or twice before pouring your red chile sauce over the entire mix and stirring well.
Cover your dish and place it into your preheated oven, cooking covered for 1 hour, and then uncovered for a second hour, checking periodically to make sure you haven’t over reduced your sauce. 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.