July 30, 2009

Cafe Cubano

Filed under: drinks,philosophy,recipes — Jose @ 11:05 pm

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”.

buche

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” useful link. 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:

bustelo
Bustelo
pilon
Pilon
or


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.
nutbustelo1

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.

flow

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.

espuma_progression

Additional notes:

  • Don’t use soap to clean the cafetera, a quick rinse with water and perhaps a rag to wipe down the oily remains of the coffee. Me? I leave that residue in there as it seasons the cafetera. If you insist on cleaning it, run the cafetera through a cycle using half water, half vinegar and NO coffee.
  • It is customary to offer visitors café at any time of day.
  • Despite everything you’ve ever read and/or felt, the darker the roast of coffee, the LESS caffeine it has (roasting diminishes caffeine’s efficacy)
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January 11, 2009

Getting better at cooking

Filed under: culture,philosophy,recipes — Jose @ 8:42 pm

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.

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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.

  • Taste your marinade (before you put the meat in it), if it tastes yummy-sour-salty, you are golden.
  • Taste your sofrito after you add all the ingredients but before you add the protein to it… Is it tomato-sweet pepper-sherry goodness?  Aces.
  • Taste that water the rice is cooking in, if it’s salty like ocean water, you will be pleased with the result.
  • Did you over-salt something?  Try removing some of it and replacing with water or milk, cook for 5 minutes and taste again.
  • Is your sauce dull and insipid?  Add some salt or a pat of butter or a squeeze of lime.

Try to hit as many of the sensations you can: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, umami.  If all else fails, salt is your friend.

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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!

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December 15, 2008

Chicken Vaca Frita

Filed under: chicken,philosophy,recipes,restaurants,rice,sides — Jose @ 11:38 am

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.

  • It’s goin down:

  • For the Mojo (“mo-ho” not “mo-joe”, Austin Powers be damned):
  • 3/4 CupFresh orange juice
  • 2/3 Cup Fresh lemon juice (lime works too)
  • 4-6 ClovesGarlic
  • 1 tbspSalt
  • Combine ingredients and stir to dissolve the salt.

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  • Stage 1:
  • 2boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs.)
  • 1/2 chicken bouillon cube

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.

  • Stage 2:
  • 1medium onion, sliced into thin (approx 1/8th”) rounds
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable or canola or corn oil

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).

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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.

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January 21, 2008

Zen and the heart of Rice Cooking

Filed under: philosophy,rice — Jose @ 9:28 pm

You’d be hard pressed to find a more Zen kitchen appliance than the rice cooker. To power it on, you plug it in . To cook, you press the one and only option available. Seems pretty straight forward eh?. If you believe you can just toss some rice and water in there and get some tasty rice in 15 minutes, well, you’d be a straight fool.Movie Passengers (2016)

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