Functional Food Friday: Dutch Oven Carnitas

We love Mexican at the Stone Household!  Nothing beats a good guacamole and Carnitas is another favorite. Carnitas, literally translated is “little meats” which probably derives from the fat that the meat is broken up into smaller pieces. What really defines a good Carnitas is a mixed texture of succulent softness and caramelized crispiness. Carnitas is traditionally made using the heavily marbled, fat-rich pork shoulder, also known as ‘boston butt’ – typically around 7-10lbs which is braised and slow roasted at 160 to 180 °F for 8 to 12 hours. This long, slow cooking with moisture will enable the hydrolytic cleavage that will break down the meat and collagen to enable the pork to be easily pulled apart with just a fork and spoon. The meat will be succulent and flavorful. The final step before serving is to incorporate the ‘pulled’ pork with the remaining liquid from the cooking process in a large shallow pan to allow for just a thin layer of pork which is then roasted on high (375 to 425 °F) for a short period of time to produce the crispy texture on the outside.

There have been some reservations expressed about whether pork should be part of a healthy nutritional plan and there seem to be somewhat valid concerns like the fact that pork can often be contaminated with parasites or pathogens and is high in Omega 6. If you’re interested in digging into this, there is an extensive 3-part blog series on perfecthealthdiet.com and an article on the Weston Price site that discuss the possible pathogens and health effects.. The conclusion we came to is that as with most things – traditional wisdom appears to be the way to go. Traditional pork preparation includes marinating, pickling and curing to produce bacon, hams and sausages and appears to render pork safe for consumption by killing parasites and bacteria that may cause food poisoning and preventing the inflammatory and blood clotting effects. The fermentation of the meat also enriches the flavor.

All domesticated pigs originated from the wild boar and when the first domestication occurred is still uncertain but some believe there was intensive pig production as early as 4300 B.C. in China and early archaeological records (c. 7000–5000 B.C.) show domestication of pigs concentrated in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. Christopher Columbus brought the first pigs to the Americas on his second voyage in 1493 pigs were put on board ships bound for Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and all the islands in between. The first pigs in America arrived from Cuba around 1540.

Large traditional pork-raising cultures are found mostly in Asia and Europe. In the Materia Medica of ancient Chinese medicine, pork is considered to have medical properties. Indeed Pork is the most common meat consumed in China, indeed throughout Asia but it typically marinated in vinegar before cooking or pickled. Asian preparation of pork has typically included marinating in an acid medium like vinegar but also fermented fish sauces (Vietnam, Thailand & China) or wine and Indian preparation includes marinating in yogurt.

Our ancestry is centered in Europe and so we were most interested in the European methods where pork was traditionally used to produce hams, bacon and savory sausages or cured meats like salami, pastrami, prosciutto and pancetta. This was done to preserve the meat before refrigeration was available. Curing is done with salt and spices. Sometimes the meat is also smoked.

We recently shared our favorite Carnitas recipe with our friend Naudi over at Functional Patterns for the Functional Food Friday series so watch the video and get our recipe – Functional Food Friday – Carnitas!

An essential accompaniment to Carnitas is a good guacamole – here’s our Chunky Guacamole recipe with Cailin helping Dad out in the kitchen.

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About the Author:

Candice is a certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach living in sunny San Diego, California with her husband and seven year old daughter. She is passionate about nutrition and holistic health and sharing what she has learned and continues to learn with others who want to achieve health and vitality.