Carnitas, Cumbias & Craft Beer: Mexico by Way of Bend, Oregon

A portrait from Mexico and Oregon

The evolution a family recipe for carnitas, spanning 3 generations, across 3 locations in 2 countries, and a playlist that follows the same trajectory.

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Evolution of a Family Recipe

This portrait showcases her family’s carnitas recipe, and how that preparation has changed over time and space, across 3 generations and 3 locations (Mexico, where M’s mom grew up eating her own mother’s carnitas, Connecticut, where M grew up eating her mom’s version, and now, Oregon, where she perfected the recipe for her own family’s tastes. 

It captures the evolution/expression of the superstitions surrounding the preparation of of the dish, and also includes a playlist of the songs that would accompany both the cooking and eating, along that same timeline and trajectory (from what my friend would call “the Mexican Frank Sinatra”) to the electro cumbia music she now has on while she cooks carnitas.

tortillas with carnitas, lettuce, cotija cheese and salsa verde

Here’s what M tells us about carnitas, and the story surrounding the preparation:

Carnitas can get a bit time consuming, but my mom has this old Mexican superstition and tradition that all good food takes a bit of patience, love and general happiness while cooking. She says that at the start of any meal, her mother would tell her to make sure that you’ve had a nice strong cup of coffee if you’re cooking in the morning or “una tequilita” (a shot of tequila) and rid yourself of any negative feelings/anger/frustration before the start of your meal prep because that energy gets passed on into your food, leaving a bad taste or a poorly cooked meal.

The best way I know how to do this is by pouring myself a solid whiskey or a pint of beer, throwing some happy electro cumbias on my Spotify [playlist ready for you here!] and popping my headphones in while I get to work.

I would recommend you do the same, because ultimately, that’s the way my mom’s version goes. 🙂

-M, American of Mexican heritage.

Having tasted this succulent, flavorful carnitas several times now, we 100 agree that her playlist should be loud while cooking to ensure proper deliciousness.  Below you’ll find not only the playlist but a time lapse that captures the cooking and playlist in a one minute video.

Bonus

Time Lapse ASMR

Here is a sneak peak of all the experience, pulled into a brief, time lapse video video that captures the 4 hours of cooking – and the accompanying playlist on repeat – summarizing it in less than a minute. Have a look and listen: watch the meat go from raw hunks to succulent pieces falling off the bone, and hearing it sizzle right along with the music. If only you could taste it, too.

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Bomba Estereo

As noted above, music is an important ingredient in the preparation of M’s carnitas, as it was for her mom and grandma before her.  This playlist includes sampling of sounds from all three generations.  It starts off with my personal favorite song I came across as a result of this Cultures Capsules, just to get things morning, then follows the arc of music that would have played in the homes of her mom and grandma before her. 

A few years ago, when we stayed with them in Bend, Oregon for a few days, they introduced us to Bomba Estereo who have since become a family favorite. It’s not too often that a new song becomes a favorite to each one of us, but “To My Love” sure does. 

M also gave us a bit more info about the music her family enjoys and how they fit in.

Note that these notes below can also be found in this Pre-trip homework: Mexico.

  • Cumbias – Cumbias my dear. Cumbias. We love them… salsas, merengue, bachatas, are all music we love dancing to.
  • Merengue – Elvis Crespo is a popular merengue singer.
  • Tejano – Selena  was an incredible American born singer and was loved by all of Mexico.  Her music is a mix of Tejano, Mexican cumbia, ranchera, mariachi style and contemporary R&B.
  • Traditional Rancheras – Vincente Fernandez sings Rancheras… more in line of what you hear mariachis sing. He is an influential icon in Mexico, similar to Frank Sinatra in the States.  Juan Gabriel, omg. My mom loves Juan Gabriel, and many of my memories of my mom come back to me when I hear songs like “El Noa Noa” or “Amor es Amor” and “No Vale la Pena.”
  • Electro-Cumbia – So many but we really love the blended stuff, more of the electro-cumbia type. Listen to Bomba Estereo (they’re more Columbian) but we love them all the same, Mexican Institute of Sound and Systema Solar are also great.

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Drinks

Certainly, special beverages have been part of these virtual dining experiences, yet I’ve not added them as integral part until this post.  The thing is, for this meal, if we are imagining dining with these friends (which we have done in NYC and in Bend, OR), good beer will be involved.

The best way to approximate having some good, fresh, west coast brew with them was to let them choose a growler from a local Brooklyn Brewery.  So, I took a walk down to Other Half, texted our friends a photo of the board (below), and asked them to choose (preferably something with a star that we could take home in a growler).

other half board, low resolution

The text message response was, “Always & Forever sounds tasty, Go With the Flow, Triangle Test would all be our picks.”

We went with a 64oz growler of Always & Forever, and while it was filling, I had a taste of the 10% triangle test (YUM).  And just to make sure I kept the same mojo going, I also completed this post from their taproom the following week, fueled by a Cream Get the Honey and one more Always & Forever, and the above playlist on the earbuds.

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The Menu

Carnitas: unless you are having a big dinner party, you will thankfully, and wonderfully, eat for several meals from this recipe.  Our family, (including 2 kids) at it for 5 meals, over 4 days, without complaint: 4 taco dinners, and one Huevos Rancheros twist for brunch.  I wanted to try it in a ricebowl or quesadilla but after making our own corn tortillas, we couldn’t break away from that deliciousness.

The Salsa Verde recipe is just our adaptation of what we found online.  Our friend M has said she’d consider sharing her mom’s salsa verde recipe, but first I have to find a coveted, secret family recipe that she’s interested in so that we can trade! 😉

We will never buy Corn Tortillas again.  Fresh is TOO good, and very easy.  The recipe and tips for a home-made tortilla press is below.

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Carnitas

carnitas redy to eat: in a homemade tortilla, with radishes and other half to wash it down

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Spicy Salsa Verde

salsa verde, cotija cheese, cilantto and black beans ready for carnitas tacos

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Tortillas

Once you taste your own freshly made tortillas, you won’t want to get store bought ever again.

The hardest part is finding the correct flour (Masa is corn flour treated with lime!). The hack “tortilla press” is just a heavy book covered with a ziploc bag. Helps the tortilla go from a ball, to a neat flat circle, instantly.

If you have extra hands in the kitchen, it’s lots of fun and makes the task go that much faster.

rolling tortilla dough into balls to squish. homemade tortillas!
step 2 of tortilla making : roll into a ball
step 2 of tortilla making" squish with a plastic-covered book
nice round home made tortilla, flattened by a plastic-covered cookbook
homemade tortillas cooking
carnitas for a pop-up picnic at the bandhsell for Bomba Estereo live at the prospect park bandshell
carnitas for a pop-up picnic at the prospect park bandshell for bomba estereo, live! bomba estereo is required listening for this recipe, so it was *perfect* to enjoy the carnitas while listening live.
carnitas for a pop-up picnic at the bandhsell for Bomba Estereo live at the prospect park bandshell
talk about tasting the music! eating carnitas while bomba estereo, played live in brooklyn summer 2019

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Provecho!

Though we never actually ate carnitas around the same table as M and her family, we feel their presence and memory every time we sit down to enjoy carnitas.

“Provecho!” we say, just as M. told us us to, as we begin our meal. 

Its essentially “bon appétit” in Spanish, but if you want to know more, there is a handy, detailed guide of when to say it (and when not to), here.

Thank you Marisabel & Mamacita!  Provecho!