Sunday, February 6, 2011

Recipe: Mofongo (WCN! February 2011)

Mofongo is considered the national dish of Puerto Rico, and is the best example of criolla cuisine.  It is sometimes served on its own as a side dish, but it's usually stuffed or filled with pork, beef, or seafood, or topped with a seafood stew.  (Jenny suggested after the show that it would be awesome filled with a ceviche, and as usual, she's right.)

The key technique here is the low-temperature frying of the plantains, low enough that you soften them but don't brown them.  They will get greasy this way, but that's kind of a feature of the dish.  Make sure you let them get good and soft.


8 green plantains, peeled and sliced into 1" chunks
4 oz pork rinds (chicharrones)
6 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, oil

Soak plantain chunks in salt water for 15 minutes.  Dry thoroughly and fry in 325 degree oil for 10-15 minutes or until very soft.  Remove to a colander and let drain until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, mash up garlic and pork rinds in a mortar and pestle or pilon.  Add salt and pepper. (This dish requires more salt than you'd think. Most versions I had in PR were good but way underseasoned, IMO.)  Add plantains and mash until it all comes together.

Roll into a ball and serve, or make a well in the ball and fill with tasty roasted meat or stew.

Recipe: Arroz con Gandules (WCN! February 2011)

This is one of several Puerto Rican side dishes that can be described as "rice with stuff in it". In particular, this one is served alongside the pork at the lechoneras in Guavate.  One of my favorite bites we had in PR was the takeout container of this we brought with us to the airport to eat before our flight home.

I don't have a whole lot of specific measurements here, but whatever you do will probably work.

Pigeon peas can be found among the Mexican/Hispanic ingredients at your local well-stocked megamart.  So can annatto seeds; to make achiote oil, combine 1/4 cup of the seeds with 1/2 cup of corn or canola oil, simmer for 10 minutes, then strain when it cools.  It will look like yellow food coloring, and will impart a beautiful yellow color to whatever you cook in it along with a subtle flavor. (It's known as the "poor man's saffron".)  You can buy a sazon that's mostly achiote and coriander that's more traditional, but since coriander is generally frowned upon in my household, I use the regular Goya adobo seasoning.

Arroz con Gandules

1 pound medium-grain rice
2 cans green pigeon peas (gandules)
2 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup olives, chopped
1-16 oz can tomatoes, drained
roast pork, diced (however much you have)
achiote oil
adobo seasoning

Heat the achiote oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and add all of the ingredients except for the rice, pork, and gandules.  Saute slowly for about 30 minutes, until it all sort of collapses into a cohesive mass (known as a sofrito).

Meanwhile, rinse your rice until the rinsing water is clear.  Put in a pot and cover with water to a depth of one knuckle over the rice.  Bring to a boil, then add the sofrito, pork, and pigeon peas.  Cover, reduce to the lowest possible heat, and let sit for about 20 minutes or until it's done.  Stir and add more adobo if it needs it.

Recipe: Pernil (Puerto Rican roast pork) (WCN! February 2011)

The Caribbean is full of unforgettable seafood dishes, but when I think of where island cuisine really shines, I think of pork. Puerto Rico is particularly known for its pig, as we found out when we were there in November, from the slow-roasted whole beasts of the lechoneras of Guavate to the smaller roasts you find at lunch counters all over, known as pernil.

This starts with a skin-on pork shoulder roast, the same cut my great-grandmother in Owsley County used to serve up every Sunday after church, with little potatoes roasted golden brown in the drippings.  So this dish reminds me not only of my recent travels, but of those Sundays when I was a kid at Granny Eunice's.  Isn't cooking awesome?


1 8-10 pound pork shoulder roast, skin-on
1 quart orange juice
2 sprigs oregano
2 heads garlic
salt, pepper, oil

Place a sprig of oregano and a head of garlic in a 2-gallon Ziploc and smash it up with a hammer.  In a bowl, whisk up 1/2 cup of salt, some pepper, and the orange juice.  Pour into the bag and massage the garlic and oregano into the mix.

Using a sharp knife, score the skin and the meat of the pork in a diamond pattern, like so:

Place in the bag and brine overnight, for up to 24 hours.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and put a rack on it.  Take out the roast, dry it thoroughly with paper towels, and let it sit out to air dry for a couple of hours.

Peel the other head of garlic, pluck the leaves off the oregano, and mash them up to a paste with some salt, pepper, and a little oil of some kind.  (A food procesor would work, but a mortar and pestle or pilon is perfect.)  Spread this over the entire roast, making sure to get it down in the cracks.

Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then at 325 degrees until it hits 180 degrees in the middle.  Take it out and let it rest for 30 minutes.  Don't even try to avoid picking at it.

Recipe: Orgeat and the Mai Tai (WCN! February 2011)

Tiki drinks are a whole geeky subcategory of bartending nerddom, with their own obscure hardware and software.  The ingredients themselves aren't hard to find (for the most part), but they're combined in ways that create a lot of complexity.

One of those ingredients is orgeat (or-zhat) syrup, which originated in France based on barley but is now usually an almond syrup flavored with orange flower and rose water. You can buy some commercial versions, but if there are any good ones they're hard to find and it's really easy to make at home. Kaiser Penguin's recipe was the basis for this one--I haven't changed it much.


(makes about two quarts)

1/2 lb almonds
2 1/2 pounds sugar
8 cups water
rose water
orange flower water (you can find these at the hippie grocery, or at a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery)

Grind almonds as finely as possible in the food processor. (You can use almond flour if you can find it, but it's more expensive that way.) Toast the ground almonds briefly in a dry saucepan, being careful not to burn them. (It happens fast.) Add the water and a pound of the sugar and bring it all to a boil.  Simmer for about ten minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit overnight.

The next day, strain the syrup through some cheesecloth and return it to the saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then stir in the rest of the sugar.  Turn it off, let it cool, then add drops of rose and orange flower water to taste (a little goes a long way).

Store in jars in the fridge.  There will still be a lot of solid in it that rises to the top; just shake it before you use it.  Aside from the Mai Tai (below), you can use it in the Japanese Cocktail--1/2 oz orgeat, 2 oz brandy or cognac, and 3 dashes Angostura bitters, shaken with ice and served up with a lemon twist.  Outside the cocktail world, it's awesome in a Cafe Au Lait, and great with soda water.


The Mai Tai is a tiki classic, one of the drinks that put Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber on the map.  These days it has become almost a generic term for anything fruity and rummy with an umbrella in it, which is a real shame.  Cocktails like this one with so many ingredients usually blend together into noise, but the different flavors in this one play off one another so well that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.

I've expressed the recipe as a ratio.  As always, I suggest using a kitchen scale for cocktails.  Using 1/2 oz as your "one part" will make enough for two powerful drinks.

Mai Tai

1 part simple syrup
2 parts lime juice
3 parts orange curacao
3 parts orgeat
6 parts white rum
6 parts dark rum (I like Cruzan blackstrap--it's not traditional, but it's tasty)

Shake all ingredients except the dark rum with ice.  Pour over clean ice in a rocks glass.  Using a bar spoon or just a really careful pour, pour the dark rum on top so that it forms a layer on top.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a pineapple chunk on a toothpick and a little umbrella if you have one.  Add a neon-colored bendy straw.  (The straw is imperative, as it needs to be drunk from the bottom.)