I wrote a short article on the beloved cafecito to complement an audio piece on a restaurant that was selling cafecitos for 3 cents a cup.
Article I wrote here
Original article, here check out the audio link at the top of the page:
I wrote a short article on the beloved cafecito to complement an audio piece on a restaurant that was selling cafecitos for 3 cents a cup.
Article I wrote here
Original article, here check out the audio link at the top of the page:
Upon first glance you might think “what’s this, Esloppy Yo’s?” or even “Ah yes, i’ve made this before… como se dice… Hamburguesa Helper”. To you I say: “Prepárate.”
Picadillo is beloved by many and aside from lechon asado, is as close to a Cuban national dish as there is. Picadillo is versatile, as evidenced by the awesome empanadas and pastelitos you can make with it on days 2 and 3. It is also eclectic, how often do you eat a savory dish that features olives, pimentos, peas and raisins?
However, In the world of Cuban food, Picadillo gets the short end of the palo. Is it the relative ease of preparation? Is it the pedestrian main ingredient (ground beef)? Perhaps it’s a victim of it’s own ubiquity.
I will admit that prior to developing this recipe my gut reaction to Picadillo was that it was low brow and lacking in sophistication. But I must say that I’ve a new found appreciation for Picadillo and in case you think of it as I did, I’m asking you to cast aside these negative preconceptions and give it another go.
Too much tomato
Be it actual tomato pieces, tomato paste or tomato sauce, a good Picadillo is subtle with it’s tomato flavor. This is an important distinction–Picadillo is not a tomato sauce with meat. Go get yourself a red and white striped long sleeve, a gondola and a can of Ragu if that’s what you’re looking for. O sole mio… molto pomodoro!
Tastes like… not much
Aka, it’s not meaty tasting. Most of the time, this has less to do with the recipe and more to do with the raw ingredient. Remember that ground beef can come from any part of the steer and what it tastes like depends entirely on what the butcher or processing plant decides should go into it. No matter, even if the ground beef is kinda blah, I have come up with a little trick to overcome the issue.
This one irks me the most because it is easily corrected by a) not covering the pan when you cook it and, I know this may be hard to grasp, b) adding less liquid.
Eeeeew, it’s got raisins
Mira chico, if they’re good enough for Marvin Gaye, they’re good enough for you. I know this because I heard it through the uva vine.
Place a large sauce pan or a dutch oven over medium-high heat and allow it come to temperature, about 5 minutes. Add the oil, wait 30 seconds or so for the oil to get hot and add the onion, bell pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is soft. Add a sprinkle of salt and then the ground beef and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, mix the ground beef with the sofrito vegetables. The main goal here is to break up any large clumps of the meat. Also, when stirring, make sure you are lifting from the bottom as you do not want the meat to burn (it will get dry and tough). Stir continuously, the meat will release a lot of liquid and fat and this is a good thing. If you have to make do with fattier ground beef, use a spoon to skim some, not all, the fat off the top. Do that now.
Once the meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes, add the remaining ingredients (bay leaf, tomato paste, cumin, dry sherry, beef bouillon water, olives, raisins and salt). Bring this to a boil and reduce to medium-low heat and cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally. You want this going at a slow simmer so adjust your heat accordingly.
The end product should be evocative of sloppy joe’s in texture, mostly meat with a wee bit of liquid in the form of tomato-ey, oily goodness. Taste for salt, adding a 1/2 teaspoon at a time and stirring. Once you are satisfied with the flavor, add a splash of dry sherry (about 1 tablespoon) and cover for at least 10 minutes. Serve with white rice and some fried plantains. Black beans are not required but, as usual, always welcome.
Years ago, I worked at a small technology consulting firm in Miami. We did hardware, software, technology presentations etc. I enjoyed the work and got along well with the staff of whom there were about a dozen. Not surprisingly (it’s Miami, yo) there were 3 Jose’s on the payroll. Actually, we all worked in the same 20′ x 20′ office. For the sake of clarity, a naming system was devised to avoid 3 responses each time someone called out “Jose”. By order of seniority, I was the first and thus managed to retain my birth-given name “Hose-A”. The successive “Jose’s” were nicknamed “Hose-B” and “Hose-C”. To this day, I remain friends with both Jose’s and recently, Hose-B was my house guest and during his stay he demonstrated an incredible talent for making “el nectar negro de los dioses blancos” also known as “cafecito”.
In most offices in Miami, a “colada” of café (please don’t call it espresso) is made about 25 times a day. That is a conservative estimate. This means you are riding the caffeine superhighway from sun up to til sun down–a glorious thing. Actually, I know plenty of people who take a shot (perhaps mixed with some milk to make “cortadito”) before bedtime.
What distinguishes Cuban Coffee from other similar brews (Thai, Turkish or Italian) is two things: Mucho sugar and frothing up that sugar into “espumita”. To make it, you’ll need some specialized hardware in the form of an Italian coffee maker called a “Macchinetta”. Realize no one I know actually calls it by its Italian name, even if it is distinctly Cuban sounding “¡Oye Fefo, traeme la maquineta!” alas, we call it a “Cafetera”. Cafeteras come in all shapes and sizes but the principle is the same, pressurized steam goes up through the coffee and out of a spout into a covered vessel. Here’s a really informative page about this device. You can find these cafeteras anywhere, even Wal-Mart has them. I bought mine at Marshall’s for like 6 dollars. Works like a charm.
Although you can use any espresso roast ground up as fine as possible, most Cubanos use one of two pre-ground arabicas:
Prepare the cafetera:
1. Fill the lower vessel with water (preferably bottled/filtered) up to the steam release nut.
2. Insert the funnel looking thing that holds the coffee grounds. Insert one spoonful of coffee at a time in to the funnel, packing it down with the back of the spoon after each spoonful. You want the coffee to really be packed in there. Fill to the top edge and then add a bit more to make a slight mound.
3. Carefully screw on the top part of the cafetera. Screw it on really tight, using a towel but careful not to use the plastic handle to do so, it will break.
Prepare your colada container:
1. In a cup or mug (I use a pyrex measuring cup) add your sugar. Depending on the size of the cafetera, you will have to adjust the amount of sugar used. My cafetera makes about 1 cup of coffee and I use about 3 tablespoons of sugar. Adjust accordingly keeping in mind that it should be VERY sweet. Set aside.
Start Making café:
1. Open the top lid and turn heat to high and position the cafetera so as to keep the plastic handle away from the flame/heat as it will melt.
2. Depending on your stove, in about 5 minutes the dark brown coffee will begin to pipe out of the top of the vessel. Watch closely! This is critical as this is the most concentrated coffee which you must use to make your espumita. Remove from heat and pour about 1 teaspoon of coffee into the colada container you prepared.
3. Return the cafetera to the high heat, this time closing the lid.
4. Meanwhile, stir the coffee and sugar together with a small spoon adding wee bits of coffee a bit at a time in order to gain a thick milkshake like consistency. The resultant pre-espumita should be beige, not brown, in color.
5. The coffee will continue to pour out of the cafetera in to the upper vessel and if left under heat for long enough it will run out of water and start making a sputtering sound. You don’t want to let it come to that point. You are to remove the cafetera from the heat when the upper vessel is like 3/4 full or less. This is because we want thick and syrupy coffee, not watery coffee.
6. Add the remaining coffee to the espumita mix and stir, carefully pour into demi-tasse cups or shot glasses and serve immediately with plenty of ice water.
I heeded my own advice last week and ordered some Sevilles from a farm down in Reedley, California. I only had in mind that I’d juice them, but they were so beautiful that I felt guilty not using every bit of them. To this end, I peeled them (zesting some for use), juiced them (used for mojo), extracted their pulp (from which I fashioned a rope… jk), dried and preserved the seeds (for planting, someday) and made this dessert with their piths.
It is easiest to peel the Sevilles when they are firm, which is also a sure sign you have a fresh orange. Hold the orange in the palm of your hand as you peel in a clockwise motion (or counter if you are a lefty) with the other. I use a vegetable peeler but you can also use a sharp paring knife to peel the oranges. Either way, if you are a fruit peeling badass, you will peel the entire skin in one continuous strip.
Cut the oranges in half, along their “waists”. Juice the oranges well, being ever careful not to tear the piths. I know you wanna get aggressive cuz you be juicin’, but please, be gentle!
Remove the pulp and seeds content from each half. You want to get to the white, dry part of the fruit. I use a grapefruit spoon to get under one of the segments and then work my way around, scooping out the rest. Wash them and remove any remaining pulp matter. Place in a large pot with water to cover, under high heat and bring to a boil. Once it does, strain the oranges and rinse out the pot. Do this twice. If you omit this step the syrup and the oranges themselves will be way too bitter (unless you like it that way).
Take your twice boiled oranges and set them aside. Place the pot back on the stove and add the 4 cups water, 3.5 cups sugar and the cinnamon stick and place under medium heat. Stir frequently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the orange halves to the pot, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover.
As they cook, the orange piths go from an orangey white color to translucent. This doesn’t happen all at once and you will see them changing as you check every so often. They will take at least an hour and a half or more, depending on how chewy you want them to be. I like them a bit on the less chewy side so I cook for longer (up to 2 hours). Just taste for texture once they are translucent and see what you like. You will also want to taste the syrup and make sure it has some orange flavor (not just cinnamon). If the syrup is weak, take a couple of 3-4 inch segments of the peel and cook along with the piths for 15 minutes or so. BAM! Orange flavor boost.
Once done, remove to a large bowl and let cool. Once they reach room temperature, place covered bowl in the refrigerator. Enjoy at your leisure; these will keep for a couple of months, at least.
You can eat these straight up or on toast but I like them with a mild, savory cheese such as Monterey Jack, thinly sliced. The salty creaminess of the cheese perfectly balances the bitter sweetness.
My mother usually made this dessert with grapefruit (available year round), using the same method. I’ve also seen this made with lemon. Maybe I’ll go eXtreme and try this with the largest of the citrus fruits, the Pumelo.
Did I just discover a Cuban meal supplement that helps you lose weight??? From the wikipedia:“Bitter orange is also used in herbal medicine as a stimulant and appetite suppressant, and has replaced the banned stimulant ephedra in many herbal weight-loss products.”
Perhaps a new reality show called “The Fattest Gordo” where you eat nothing but chuletas de puerco marinaded in naranja agria. NBC: you know how to reach me.
Anyway, these citric gems are in season right now but despite that, are still difficult to find. You can try your local hispanic market but in lieu of that, I have found an online source:
They are only available through February so I suggest you get some, juice ‘em and freeze ‘em.
Update 2/3/09: It seems that ripetoyou.com is having technical difficulties right now and is not accepting online orders.
And so it happened that one day, when I called upon my good friend’s mother, Azalia, for advice on making something or other for the 10th time in as many weeks that she said:
“El cocinar es probar”
Now, that may sound vague and uninspiring and I can honestly say it didn’t mean a whole lot to me then. But time has given the statement validity and today, it defines cooking for me.
As far as sustenance goes, we don’t need much. Technically, you could survive eating buttermilk and potatoes for the rest of your life. But who wants to live like that? Not me and probably not you either. You wanna get better at cooking? Fer reals?
Taste early and taste often.
Try to hit as many of the sensations you can: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, umami. If all else fails, salt is your friend.
When you taste as you go, you get a better understanding of what influence your ingredients or techniques have on what you’re preparing. Like anything, the more you do it the better you get at it. So get to it–and taste, taste, taste.
True fact: The sense of “Taste” used to be known as “Gustation”. Talk about old-skool Spanglish!
I went to Barnes & Noble the other day and perusing the cookbooks (as I almost always do), I discovered that the ever industrious Estefan’s have published a cookbook. It’s a handsome bundle of paper and has all the “standard” dishes you’d expect. However, one recipe in particular that caught my eye is the topic of this post, a dish I’ve had maybe two times at Lario’s (no coincidence it used to be partially owned by the Estefan’s). This naming convention is not to be confused and does not translate from “Chicken Fried Steak” even if it is an accurate and literal translation. Chicken fried steak is actually “Bistec empanizado” (recipe to come..one day) oddly enough.
I’d hesitate to call this Nouveau Cuban as it’s really a classic Vaca Frita preparation with a different protein. I don’t see why you couldn’t make it with pork or lamb (fish, not so much). It’s very flavorful and the cubanocity rings in your mouth with each bite.
Place the chicken breasts that you rinsed in a pot and just barely cover with cold water. Add the bouillon and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes (you really can’t overcook the chicken like this). When the chicken is done, remove and set aside. You can discard the broth you just made or you can strain and reuse at your leisure–chicken soup anybody?
When the chicken has cooled enough, shred, along the grain, with your fingers or a fork into 1/2 inch strips or if you like your chicken-fried-cow more crispy, shred even finer. Place in a bowl and pour in Mojo, such that the chicken is immersed and covered by the mojo. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour but no more than 3 hours.
Remove the chicken from the mojo and dry with paper towels on a plate. Important: Reserve the leftover mojo.
Place a heavy bottomed, shallow skillet or frying pan under medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil, it will shimmer and maybe smoke a little. This is good. Add the dried chicken shreds in one even layer to the pan. Using my trusty Lodge 12″ cast iron pan, I can only do about half the chicken at a time. Do not stir-fry, allow the chicken to brown, nearly burn. After about 2 or 3 minutes, turn over the chicken evenly in order to brown the other side (the higher the walls of the skillet, the trickier this is).
After another 2 or 3 minutes, toss in the sliced onion and stir fry a bit. When the onions have begun to get soft ( about a minute) add a “chorro” of the reserved mojo and continue stir-frying. Oh yeah, un “chorro” equals about 3 tablespoons. You’ll get some nice steam action to finish cooking the onions along with mad flava. Stir fry for another minute or so and once the mojo has mostly evaporated, pour out onto a platter. I like this best with just white rice but I ain’t gonna complain about some frijoles negros over the rice.
As mentioned in a previous post, Iberico ham is one of the finest pieces of cured meat you can put in your buñuelo hole. Up until very recently, it was quite the treat as it was not available in the U.S. and I had only tasted it once, whilst visiting Madrid a couple of summers ago. Thanks to the better judgment of somebody(s) at the FDA, they finally got around to allowing import of this King of hams and trust me, our nation is a richer place for it.
As Spain’s answer to Italy’s Prosciutto or Virginia’s Smithfield, Iberico ham outclasses these other hams by packing a huge amount of flavor and a killer umami punch. It’s drier and thus stiffer than prosciutto but it will also practically melt in your mouth unlike prosciutto which tends to be more chewy.
A lesson I learned early on in my cooking experience was that “more fat” almost always means “more good” and in this regard, Iberico exceeds my expectations, check out the marbling:
Don’t bother setting out your crackers or cheese with this, it really deserves an unbiased and rested palate to truly appreciate the nuances therein. Also, at $99.99/lb (my nine paper thin slices cost $6) you’re not going to be grinding this up and making croquetas.
One of the interesting phenomenon of a language that is spoken in so many places is how the same word will take on a different meaning or interpretation throughout. Sometimes, the word dissapears from the vernacular altogether. Case in point, “Chile” is not a word we Cubans use to describe any food items we cook with, it’s used exclusively to name a country (enter your guess in the comments below).
Our word for bell peppers is “Aji” (a-hee). There really was no need to go into naming all the different types of chiles or peppers because the “Bell” is the only one used in real-deal Cuban cooking. Ironic, actually, when you consider that one of the hottest peppers is named after a city who’s cuisine rarely (and even then, in minute amounts) uses it–the Habanero. For those under the wrong impression, let me clear my throat: Cuban food is spicy but not hot.
As much as I have eaten and enjoyed this dish all my life, I never really pondered the name because “enchilado” was just another crazy Cuban name for food like “chilindron” or “bistec” or “pulpeta” was. Etymologically speaking, it’s pretty straightforward “en – chil – ado”. I mean even you non-native speakers can probably guess the dish is chile centric. Then again, you’d be wrong. This is a misnamed dish, in fact. Even though it does take some Aji, It should be called “Entomatado de Camarones” because tomatoes are the prevalent ingredient.
If you’ve read even a couple of posts here, you’re already familiar with sofrito and how integral it is to so many Cuban dishes. This recipe is no different except it’s a bit heavier on the tomato and the protein makes it’s appearance in the pot during the last 5-10 minutes. It’s also a bit sweeter. “Pink” shrimp are in season right now (March – May) but this preparation takes well to crab, lobster, sea bass, prawns, scallops also. You’ll never think of an “enchilada” at Chevy’s the same.
After rinsing under cool water, remove the heads, carapace and leg/tail skin from the shrimp. Be careful to preserve the tail meat and not tear off along with that last bit of the tail. You can use a “shrimper” tool, but I like the hands-on feel. Reserve all this stuff you pull off in a pot. In order to preserve all it’s oceany goodness, remember not to run the shrimp under water again after the initial rinse.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut along the top of each peeled shrimp about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, you will come upon a thin, black/grey string-like piece that extends the length of the shrimp. Congratulations, you’ve encountered the poop chute. Delicately remove this (still no rinsing!). There is no need to remove the blue artery on the shrimp underside. Keep these shrimp in the fridge while we move on.
Take your shrimp heads and carapaces and put them in a small pot, add a couple of smashed garlic cloves and maybe some fresh oregano, enough water to cover (at least 2 cups) and bring to a simmer. Simmer, slightly uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Remove your vessel from the heat, que the broth is done.
Add the 1/2 cup olive oil to the medium heat casserole pan or dutch oven. Wait for the shimmer and smell and add the chopped onions and peppers. Cook, stirring every here and then until soft and turning a bit darker (about 8 minutes). Clear out some room in the middle, add a dollop of EVOO and add the minced garlic and cook it along with the onion and pepper for another 3-4 minutes. These veggies should be pretty soft now so add the 1/2 cup dry sherry, stir, deglaze and let that simmer down, uncovered until at least half the sherry has evaporated (like 2 minutes). Add the tomato paste to the 1 cup of head broth, stir and pour into pot along with the paprika, bay leaf, honey and tomato sauce. You can also add a dash of Tabasco or Sriracha (Yes, I did read the first two paragraphs of this post, but the heat cooks out with the heat). Stir some more, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes with the occasional stir. The sofrito can stick to the hot part of the pan, so stir profoundly!
You should have a thick, flavorful sofrito now. If you are happy with the consistency (cook longer if too watery), correct the seasonings by adding some salt or white pepper Once you are happy with the flavor, stir in the shrimp. Toss them about in the sauce until they start to go pink (about 3-4 minutes) and firm up just a bit. Add a splash of Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy or Calvados to the pot ( If your using a gas/open flame stove make sure to turn off the flame for this step). Stir, cover and turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the shrimp so get ready to eat just a couple of minutes later. You eat this over rice with some platanitos, a salad and Cuban bread (a soft baguette is close-ish).
P.S.: When it comes to fish and seafood, my parents generation would never dream of drinking water along with their seafood. It’s either wine (red, white, rosé) or milk or beer or whatever, just NO water. As in, “NO TV if you drink water with that enchilado”. I never have been able to wrap my head around that one but I encourage you to follow the tradition and diversify your table drinking habits as I do. Salud!
As a young, growing, laddy I would eat copious amounts of anything, save for a few items. One of these was arroz con pollo (acp), especially “a la Chorrera”, which translates into “sweaty-sweet festering rice fermentation” (Don’t try to to look that up, it’s Cuban regional speak).
As I got older, and as has happened with so many other foods I did not care for as a boy, I really grew to appreciate acp and all it’s variations. This includes “a la chorrera” even though I still prefer “seco” which is this post’s focus.
My lovely mother in law helped me with this dish. She is a rare bird in that her cooking prowess is matched by her patience and tolerance with others in the kitchen (yes, that would be me). This makes learning easy, as long as you don’t ask for precise measurements.
We used boneless, skinless thighs and breasts which made for a bit less chicken oomph, but why pick through bones when a highly trained poultry worker at a sanitary facility has already done this for you? Also, I don’t need to tell you that you should be spending the extra dollar per pound and buying organic birds and bird parts, right?
It’s goin down:
Place a cup of water and the remaining ingredients except for the chicken in a double-bagged gallon size zip top bag. Add the rinsed chicken (always rinse meats before using) to bag, toss it up a bit with a spoon and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Marinate / brine for no longer than 3 or 4 hours but at least 2, turning and rearranging a couple of times. Don’t be afraid to throw in some macerated fresh herbs like oregano or thyme or even an un-macerated rosemary sprig??
After the chicken has soaked long enough, take it out and dry it on and off with some paper towels. To your dutch oven that has been gathering momentum for the past 5 minutes over medium high heat, add 1/4c of the oil. Once the oil starts a-shimmerin and a-smellin, place as many chicken parts in there you can without crowding. You are trying to give the chicken some nice brown crust, so as much of it should be in contact with the pan. Brown on the other side and place browned chicken in a dish covered with foil (loosely). Repeat with remaining chicken.
Add the other 1/4c of oil and when ready, add the chopped onion and pepper, reducing the heat to medium now. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, scraping up the browned chicken bits off the pan.
Add the minced garlic and cook for another 4-5 minutes until all these veggies are nice and soft and and quite silky in their extra helping of oil (it’ll come in handy for the rice). Add the oregano, the bay leaves and the saffron and stir some more, until the saffron fragrance tapers (1-2 min). Now add the tomato paste that you mixed with a 1/2 cup of water and cook this SERIOUS sofrito down for a few minutes so as to be more pasty than watery.
Throw in the chicken and it’s juices collected in the plate, making sure to toss all this together to coat the chicken in the sofri. This goes on for another 3-4 minutes. Now, add the 2.5c of rice and toss that with the chicken and sofri for a few minutes. Finally, add the 1 cup of chicken broth and 3.5c of water (ok, 4.5c if you want it sloppy), mix and bring to a boil. Stir, cover and reduce heat to as low as possible on your range. I use a “lumisnake” because my stove’s LOW just can go that low. Now kick back for the next 20-30 minutes and get your beer. I mean, you can go ahead and pound a couple, but save one for the rice!
Your rice is cooked now and there is still some liquid in the pot amongst the rice. This is good, yes. Crack yer beer and pour that bad boy in there and don’t be all slow or careful about it either, it’s not champagne for chrissakes. Look at that sucker foam up! Now cover immediately and turn off the stove. Wait at least 10 minutes before serving. How about a crisp romaine salad with a lime vinaigrette?
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