Archive for the ‘Caribbean’ Category

Pollo en Escabeche – A Zesty Chicken Dinner

April 23, 2012

Pollo en Escabeche - A Zesty Chicken Dinner

In my last post on Pollo en Escabeche, I mentioned a Goya recipe that looked attractive and for the most part, I followed their recipe with only a few minor changes. What attracted my attention was that their meal was definitely served as a dinner and not just an appetizer. Well I just had to give it a try to see how their presentation compared to mine.

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast, skinned and deboned.
1 packets Sazón GOYA con Azafrán
1/2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium onions, thinly sliced and separated into rings
2 carrots, coined
2 T crushed garlic
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1 bay leaves
½ tsp thyme
3 whole cloves
1 thin slice scotch bonnet pepper
1 T Spanish olives
1 oz dark rum
2 oz Lime or Lemon Juice
2 oz Balsamic Vinegar

Method:

  1. Wash chicken with lime and sprinkle evenly with Sazón.
  2. Add oil to the coffeepot and add all ingredients except rum, vinegar and chicken.
  3. Cook about 1 hour until onions are glazed add rum and chicken. Cook covered until done. Minimum of 2 hours but can be up to 8 hrs.
  4. Add vinegar, stir and serve.
  5. I served the chicken hot with brown rice and used the oil blend as gravy for the rice.

Actually, I think I like this better than the appetizer Pollo en Escabeche that I previously published. Even though it used the same ingredients, it just looks more like a dinner.

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Bok Choy and Flowers

April 21, 2012

Flowers and Panas en Escabeche

Last week the winds brought down partially ripe breadfruit from a tree and I got 3 of them. Now breadfruit is one of those items that is best eaten in the green phase as when ripe, it gets a very sweet taste and has the consistency of custard  I am not fond of the ripe ones. Even green it is not a popular vegetable in the Virgin Islands but gets more popular in the Eastern Caribbean. When I was in St. Kitts last summer a friend prepared Breadfruit Plantains and they are fantastic.

They are essentially fried and when cooked for only five minutes they are according to my granddaughters who did not know I made a switch with regular white potatoes, the best French Fries they had ever eaten. When they are cooked for 15 minutes or so, they turn a golden brown and get very crispy like a potato chip. I like them both ways and have been know to over indulge since you start with a whole breadfruit weighing about four pounds and you can fry another batch ever 5 to 10 minutes.

Since I had three breadfruit to play with, I started searching for other recipes. It seems the first recipe I found was called “Soused Breadfruit” which I had never heard of nor could I find it anywhere on the web other than that one recipe. But in the West Indies, most souse recipes call for Vinegar and oil which is the basis for Puerto Rican Escabeche so I expanded my search for Panas en Escabeche.

Essentially, these is just like the Green Banana salad (Escabeche de Guineos) previously published. You dice the Breadfruit after pealing and discarding the seed. The breadfruit cubes are boiled for about 20- to 25 minutes which makes them soft to a fork. All of the other ingredients are added to the bowl and tossed.

This time I had green and red bell peppers so I used both. Also I had a cucumber that I wanted to use up so, I pealed it and sliced it very thin with a cheese slicer and added that to the salad. It was a pretty good salad  but not as good as “the Best French Fries ever.”

So what has this got to do with Bok Choy? My friend Gloria loves Bok Choy and at 90 pounds is not worried about salt and high blood pressure from traditional stir fried recipes which are really quite good.  Gloria Powell (www.antilleslilies.com) is a event florist on St, Croix heavily involved in working with tourists who want to get married in a St. Croix celebration.The solution, I made a trade of my excess arugula and Bok Choy for her gift of flowers. She also bought me a glass of wine.

Stewed Fish and Beans – Puerto Rican Style

February 22, 2012

Puerto Rican Style Stewed Fish and Red Beans

The Fish and Tomato recipe previously presented is just begging for more creativity and the standard ingredients in Puerto Rican or Caribbean Kitchens and personal preference would help you make choices. I don’t always have fresh bell peppers but there is usually a bottle of Sofrito in the refrigerator. Sofrito is just a flavoring blend with various ingredients usually bell pepper, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes.

Of course, you could use Sazon which is a spice blend which adds a lovely natural red color to the pot and another option would be to add a can (8 oz.) of Spanish Style Tomato Sauce. In the two variations presented today, I chose to add beans. Using Red beans would be a typical Puerto Rican Style recipe whereas my using black beans was just a personal adaptation for my own personal preference.

Ingredients:

1 T. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic minced

1 medium onion rough cut

1 slice 1/8 inch of hot pepper (Optional)

1-2 oz. Dark Rum

2 T Safrito with tomato paste

1 can diced tomatoes with juice

1 can Red Beans with liquid

½ tsp Adobo

1 packet of Sazon

4-6 oz Piece of Fish with or without bones

Method:

1. Place oil, rum, hot pepper, onion, and garlic in Coffeepot, place on warmer and heat for 1 hour.

2. Add seasoned salt, beans and tomatoes heat for about 2 hours or other convenient amount of time.

3. When pot is hot, add fish and cook for an additional 2 hours.

Stewed Fish and Black Beans

The meal made above uses the more strongly flavored black beans and the biggest difference was I drained the dark liquid from the beans and rinsed them and drained them again before adding the beans to the pot. I didn’t want the dark liquid to alter the color of the red sauce.

When it comes to cooking Puerto Rican and Caribbean Foods, “To each, his own.”

Pollo en Escabeche – Puerto Rican Pulled Chicken

February 16, 2012

Pollo en Escabeche - Puerto Rican Pulled Chicken

There are 8 million Puerto Ricans in the US with about half living on the mainland and the other half on their home island. Since both men and woman in the islands cook, I would guess there are 4 million people who cook Puerto Rican Style food. What makes this interesting is I not sure any two cook everything the same way. While pretty much everybody uses the same ingredients, some are not seasonally available and and also, personal preference changes which ingredients go into the pot.

Finding a good recipe for something you were served in Puerto Rico is compounded by the fact that Cuba and the Dominican Republic have a different set of preferred ingredients for the same meal and many Latin American countries use the same name for entirely different meals. Even worse, some words can have different meanings for different meals.

According to Wikipedia which interprets the word “Escabeche” pretty much the way I know it to be:

“Escabeche is a typical Mediterranean cuisine which refers to both a dish of poached or fried fish (escabeche of chicken, rabbit or pork is common in Spain) that is marinated in an acidic mixture before serving, and to the marinade itself. The dish is common in Spanish, Salvadoran, Panamanian, Peruvian, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican and Guatemalan cuisine, and popular in Catalonia, Portugal and Provence. Influences of the dish appear as far as Asia-Pacific with adjustments to local food staples. It is usually served cold after marinating in a refrigerator overnight or longer. The acid in the marinade is usually vinegar but can also include citrus juice. Escabeche is a popular presentation of canned or potted preserved fish, such as tuna, bonito or sardines. In the New World, versions of the basic marinade are often used with other foods than fish and meats, for example green bananas and chicken gizzards (Puerto Rico), jalapeño peppers (Mexico), etc. The origin of the word escabeche is Persian, and was brought to Spain by the Arabs during the Moorish conquests. The word derives from al-sikbaj, the name of a popular meat dish that was cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, usually vinegar and honey or date molasses.”

The chicken in todays post was served pulled (shredded) and hot but that is not always the case. This is the appetizer version served with crackers, traditionally saltine type. If served for dinner, it could be a cut-up whole chicken made with carrots and other vegetables or refrigerated and sliced on a sandwich. Of course all of the meals carry the same name.

Pollo en Escabeche

Ingredients:

1 Piece skinless and Boneless Chicken Breast 4-6 oz.

4T cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium-sized sweet or regular onions (cut off ends, remove outer skin, then chunk)

1 T. minced garlic

1 oz rum or white wine

1 bay leaf

1 T. Lime Juice

1/8” piece Scotch Bonnet or Jalapeño Pepper

1/4 tsp salt

2-3 T. Balsamic or Red Wine vinegar

Preparation:

  1. Add olive oil to a large coffeepot.
  2. Add onions, garlic, and rum and saute until onions are soft (1 hour).
  3. Add in chicken, lime juice, hot pepper, salt, bay leaves), cover with aluminum foil and cook for about 2 hours.
  4. Remove the chicken meat and shred the chicken.
  5. Stir in shredded chicken, add vinegar and continue to simmer until chicken is warm (30 minutes).
  6. Of course I served it with my favorite Stoned Wheat Crackers.

While refreshing my memory, I saw many good recipes and one that attracted my attention was from Goya which was with carrots and is served as a dinner. Of course I must give it a try for another slightly different dinner.

Tostones Revisited

February 13, 2012
Tostones and Mojo

Tostones and Mojo

I simply can’t resist a bargain so when I saw three green plantains for a dollar, I just had to purchase them. Now the only thing that I know how to cook are Tostones which are basically pan-Caribbean from Cuba to the Virgin Islands. I am sure other cultures do the same but the Spanish word Tostones is used where there are significant Spanish influences as the word derives from the Spanish verb tostar which means “to toast”. Actually, they are not toasted at all but fried in oil twice until a beautiful Golden color develops.

Occasionally, I still snack in the early afternoon and usually it’s air popped popcorn with no salt, oil or butter. This is not the worst choice I could make as popcorn is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber and Manganese. But since your mostly eating air and the 100 calories that go with it, it doest have much real nutritional value and neither does canned corn without the added sugar and salt.

Since I had already adapted to a fairly healthy diet snack with the popcorn, I decided to check on how much damage I was doing to myself by eating Tostones on two separate occasions. Regardless of the outcome, I would eat the third one as I eat everything I occasionally crave in small portions.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that plantains are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and potassium. Plantains are also high in dietary fiber and a medium sized plantain is only 200 calories. Even a dusting (1/4 tsp) of Adobo, Puerto Rican Seasoned Salt, only adds 14% or your daily requirement for salt.

Probably the worst part is the oil you fry it in and I tend to use extra virgin olive to minimize damage. However now that coconut oil is being touted as a cure for Alzheimers, I’ll probably switch, if I can remember to buy some.

Basic Puerto Rican Fish in Red Sauce, Coffeepot Style

February 1, 2012

Puerto Rican Tomato, Fish and Brown Rice

Over the past couple of years, I find I am eating a lot more fish mostly sashimi grade tuna because I love the flavor and talipia, because it is very inexpensive and fresh from the farm. I have tried the frozen whole taliapa from China which was even cheaper than our fresh local product, but it was so nasty and “off Flavor” that I threw the whole meal out. I’ll stick with fresh, local and still inexpensive Talipia and know I eat the best.

I love tomatoes, garlic, peppers, onions, rice and beans and have taken several pictures of the different combinations I cooked with fish and the best way to eat it is the way you like it. I will start with the absolute simplest ways I have prepared the fish in my coffeepot and later publish slight modifications I have documented over the past couple of years. I am sure I have cooked many more different variations and all are more or less favorable but they are all good. When just starting to cook, you should always start with the most basic ingredients and add more to see if you like it better.

Simple Basic Fish Recipe

Ingredients:

1 T. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic minced

1 medium onion rough cut

½ Green Bell Pepper

1 can diced tomatoes

½ Tsp Adobo or other seasoned salt

1 slice 1/8 inch of hot pepper (Optional)

4-6 oz Piece of Fish with or without bones

Method:

  1. Place oil and raw ingredients in Coffeepot, place on warmer and heat for 1 hour.
  2. Add seasoned salt and tomatoes heat for about 2 hours or other convenient amount of time.
  3. When pot is hot, add fish and cook for an additional 2 hours.

Extremely flexible cooking times if you have a thermometer. Just heat sauce above 140 and add the fish. Heat the fish between above 160 and serve. I served it with brown rice as shown above. However, since I sometimes want a change, I have also served it with Barley which is also a healthy alternative.

Pumpkin Banana Fritters

January 24, 2011

Parade Day Breakfast

The butternut fritters came out so well I decided to try the classic Pumpkin Fritters and I asked an old friend if their was any way to reduce the sugar. I was told that in the old days, there were always bananas and pumpkin growing in the yard but not always enough money for refined sugar so her mom would combine the banana and punkin and make the fritters without sugar.

I decided to give it a try and made them the same as the butternut squash but used a little extra water to thin it out. Vanise and I decided to try them for brunch and even though she’s not a fan of sweet fritters, she liked these. I saved the extra batter and about a week later used the fritters and scrambled eggs as the basis for a big breakfast brunch prior to going to the Festival Parade to party for the next six hours.

I must admit this was a much heather breakfast then the eggs and spam I had a year earlier. I also will acknowledge that my drinking habits for the day were also much healthier for both me and my community as I have to drive about 15 miles to the parade route and festival village and was far more responsible this year.

The plate above has one scrambled egg, with three dots of hot sauce, local fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes, and the pumpkin banana fritters. Filling, healthy and delicious, a wonderful way to start my day.

Ingredients:

1 pound pumpkin

2 ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp fresh ground ginger

¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1 egg

1 cup flour

3/4 cup water

Directions:

1. Mash the boiled pumpkin and bananas to the bowl.

Mashed Pumpkin and Banana

2. Mix it and mash it well. (I used the potato masher and did it all by hand.)

3. Add the vanilla and spices and mix it into the pumpkin and bananas until uniform.

4. Add the egg and blend.

5. Add the flour and mix until uniform. I used a whisk for the rest of the steps.

Mix Everything Except Water

6. Add the water and mix until done. ( I used some water I boiled the pumpkin in.)

7. Fry until Golden Brown.

8. Serve as a side dish Crucian style. We snacked on these for brunch and then I ate the rest for my breakfast shown above.

Pumpkin Banana Fritters

Good, Better Best never let it rest. This is healthier but the next time I try it, I will switch to whole wheat flour and see what happens.

Tostones – Puerto Rican Twice Fried Plantains

January 18, 2011

Tostones and Mojo

I have eaten and enjoyed Tostones for the past 40 years of my life but never made them as they are twice fried plantains and that just sounded like a lot of work. A couple of weeks ago there was an interview in the newspaper with Angie Morales of Villa Morales and she said she is so used to cooking them that she could do a batch in 10 minutes from start to finish. I decide to give it a try because I have been in her kitchen when she was making them for a large group and have seen other local cooks making them for smaller groups.

For those who don’t know, Tostones are a fried disc of plantain which is about two inches across and gets enlarged from the standard size during the preparation. They are extremely crispy and great with salt, ketchup, or the more traditional Mojo which is a garlic sauce you make yourself. The starting fruit is an unripe green Plantain. They are great as an appetizer, or as a side dish or snack. Think “French Fried Potatoes” and you will get a good idea of all the ways that children and adults enjoy Tostones.

Ingredients:
Plantain
Frying Oil
Salt

Directions:
1.Peal Plantain, use a knife to start.
2.Slice ½ to ¾ inch thick. (Thicker slices, cut on a diagonal will give a bigger finished Tostone)
3.Fry 2 minutes per side at 350 Fahrenheit (Hot Oil but not smoking) until just tender to the fork.

Fry Half Inch Chunks

4.Remove and drain on paper towel
5.Press flat with palm or flat object. I used a beer mug. They should end up ¼ inch thick. (Sorry about this Picture) If necessary, use a fork to separate them from the bottom of the mug.

Press Flat with Beer Mug

6.Return them to the pan and fry a couple more minutes on each side until golden brown.

Refry Compressed Discs

7.Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with Mojo.

Mojo (Traditional Garlic Sauce)
Ingredients:
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 heaping Tablespoons Crushed Garlic (6 large cloves)
2 Tablespoons Lime or Lemon Juice
½ tsp salt.
Optional:
1 Scotch bonnet hot pepper
¼ cup more oil.

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until a smooth liquid. and serve. The traditional Mojo has no hot pepper but since I like hot pepper, I added a whole one and some more oil and blended it until it had the texture of mayonnaise. If I were serving this to guests, I would definitely leave out the hot pepper and serve it in the traditional manner.

Barbecue – We Don’t Care How You Do It Up North

January 15, 2011

We Don't Care How You Do It Up North!

Technically speaking Barbecue refers to the method used in the cooking of the meat and has nothing to do with the rub or the sauce. Of course the method was developed in the Caribbean and comes from the Taino word baracoa which refers to the “sacred fire pit”. The Indians taught the Spanish and English how to do it and the art was carried back to the old world. The Carib Indians were so sophisticated in cooking that they cultivated hot peppers to spice up their foods 6000 years ago when Europeans were still hunter gatherers and not farming at all.

The barbecue process has spread all over the world, but the Caribbean people have a 6000 year head start so you have to accept that they have refined the art form. Now as funny as this may seem there is no fixed set of equipment and I have seen people barbecue conch in their own shell, drop live crabs into a hot bed of coals and remove them with a stick and use old stainless steel racks from refrigerators for cooking grills at beach camping.

Professionally the barbecue pit is a block structure or a movable galvanized enclosure. In a professional setup, the shaft is turned with a washing machine motor geared down to less then 10 revolutions per minute. The common factor except for the crabs is the indirect heat and the absence of flair-ups from fat dripping in the fire and burning the meat above it. But then crabs in the shell don’t have much fat to drip.

If you want to cook like a West Indian you must be frugal and use as little Charcoal as possible, all banked to one side of the barbecue pit or grill. Some cooks can cook a whole pig on a stick for 4 hours until done using only ½ bag of charcoal.

Banking the Charcoal

The frugality continues in the selection of equipment. In my case I am using an old Weber grill that would have been thrown out in New Jersey years ago. However, it seems that every time I go to a store to buy the replacement parts, they are still out, the order has not arrived or they store is so crowded that I would have to invest a day of my time to buy a new grill. I am very proud of the handle piece made from long bolts and nuts, fender washers, a piece of wood and a couple of short pieces of copper tubing. It actually works better than the original as it is far enough away from the lid not to burn your hand.

Fire Up the Well Seasoned Grill

However to insure that the meat does not fall into the fire, I need to add another old grill on top and a stone to balance the grill because of the missing rack holder on the opposite side which has rotted away.

Additional Grill and Balancing Stone

Of course the chicken has been washed with Lime Juice and seasoned with Goya Adobo and the chicken is located on the grill on the opposite side of the fire and the potato in a hotter area of the grill.

Strategically Placed Chicken and Potato

At this point the grill was covered and I went to the Palms resort for a couple of glasses of wine and did nothing but enjoy myself for an hour.

Cover and Walk Away

Take note that when I returned, everything was perfectly cooked and if you compare the cooked and uncooked pictures, you will note that nothing has been moved.

One Hour Later - Note, Nothing Has Been Moved

The second best part about barbecuing in my mind other than the fantastic food is the ease of cleaning up. In this case, I skipped the barbecue sauce and just added hot sauce at the table.

Dinner is Served

In general, Islanders don’t really care how things are done up north which is to say everything north of Cuba as they had hundreds and even thousands of years of isolation to figure out how to handle their own unique situations in life. And when it comes to barbecue, I tend to agree.

Puerto Rican or Caribbean Barbecued Chicken

January 11, 2011

Grilled Chicken with Honey Mustard Sauce and Grilled Potato

In cooking any barbecue meats, there are three elements which make it special,

  1. Preparation of the meat
  2. The Cooking Process
  3. The Barbecue Sauce

In St. Croix, regardless if from Hispanic Heritage or not the focus is on the first two steps and only rarely will anybody get totally competitive about the Barbecue Sauce because many don’t use it except as a dip on the side. Don’t get me wrong, Barbecued Chicken is extremely popular but the preparation of the meat and the slow cooking over a banked fire produce a chicken that has a very crisp skin and is extremely moist. Because everyone loves the crisp skin, we sprinkle hot sauce on it and eat it as is. Once we get to the meat, we either put more pepper sauce on it or dip it in a small 2 ounce cup of barbecue sauce for extra favoring on the very tender and moist chicken.

While my wife loved the locally prepared chicken she also loved her barbecue sauce and had a tendency to favor a honey, mustard, vinegar blend whereas I admit to having gone native. I simply love the slow cooking of the crisp skin and the juicy meat with a generous sprinkle of Caribbean Hot sauce, the hottest in the world.

Preparation of the meat is a simple process. The secrete ingredient is the soak in Lime Juice (or Lemon if necessary). This trick also works to make crispy skin on a pork roast but the topic today is Chicken and a 10-30 minute wash or soak is sufficient.

Wash the Chicken with Lime

Real purists would insist on making their own spice blends but look out salt is cheap so many blends contain too much. Other spices have variable flavor depending on freshness so should be prepared by taste and not by quantity. However, the most commonly used seasoned salt is Goya Adobo a Puerto Rican style seasoned salt made with garlic, oregano, black pepper and turmeric. Of course depending on the cook, many will sprinkle additional pepper, sage and thyme on the meat and trust me Adobo is a better starting point than a poorly made spice blend.

Season Generously

There is some debate about the best charcoal, but locally made charcoal is getting rare and expensive as a smokey charcoal kiln in the back yard is the fastest way to brink out the Fire Marshal, and local EPA. Still there are a few experts who are able to comply with modern standards and do a pretty good job of making smoke free charcoal and other vendors simply import it from countries with lower standards. This is the same as America’s save the nation hybrid cars being made with imported steal from countries with low standards of occupational safety and environmental protection. Oh well, when local charcoal is not available from vendors I know, I buy American to do my little bit to save the world.

After the meat has been picked clean of excess fat, washed with lime and seasoned the job is mostly done. A banked fire is made with the minimum amount of Charcoal and the chicken placed about 8-12 inches away from it on a grill or homemade rotisserie. Then you walk away and join your own party. The easiest way to understand this is to go to a local Barbecue shack in the Caribbean and closely observe the art form.

The Le Reine Chicken Shack in St. Croix

The picture is of a barbecue rack at The Le Reine Chicken Shack in St. Croix run by my friend Millin. On a busy day he can cook hundreds at a time and repeat the process almost continuously with the chicken remaining on the grill for an hour. Take note that no chicken is above the coals so there are no grease fire flare-ups on the chicken to scorch and blacken the chicken as it cooks.

For those who still want to try a mustard honey sauce this is the one we use at home. We cook all the chicken the same way and at the end use a paint brush to paint both sides of the piece with barbecue sauce and then let it dry out on the almost cold coals. Those who want honey mustard get this, those that want red sauce can have it and those who want it crisp for hot sauce can have it their way. To each their own!

Honey Mustard Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:

1 T Dijon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Honey (just poor an equal amount to the mustard into the mixing bowl)

2 T Balsamic Vinegar

1 T Brown Sugar

Mix the ingredients until uniform,. This should not be a thick paste but a rich liquid to paint on the finished leg and let dry so as not to destroy the crispness of the skin.

A slight tasty glaze on the leg pictured above shows the finished effect.