Can’t go tropical this year due to personal budget cuts? Me either. But I am revisiting one of my favorite recent vacations, Puerto Rico, from a culinary point of view. We’ll just have to imagine the sea and sand and tropical breezes……
Sofrito, Adobo and Annato were terms much bandied about in Latin cooking, but that didn’t mean that i really understood what they were. That is until I visited the magical island of Puerto Rico. I soon decided that “getting into one’s bathing suit” and Mofongo, their national dish of plantains with pork cracklings and pork stew didn’t really go together.
I came to love the island cooks delicious and deeply orange-y take on Arroz con Pollo, colored with Achiote oil or Annato seeds, Adobo,the richly flavored rub for meats or poultry and the basic seasoning behind so many traditional island foods we call Sofrito.
Here are recipes for preparing each
and a recipe to practice your “Latin’ on……
ANNATO OR ACHIOTE is the seed of a tropical tree. If you can’t find them in a speciality market, i sometimes use a good paprika to achieve the rich reddish color that predominates in much Latin cooking.
FOR ANNATO OIL…..All you do is cook the ANNATO seeds, good paprika or saffron (if you are feeling flush and can’t find annato) until sizzling in lard or oil until you get that nice red-orange color. Do not overheat the oil or it will turn an off color. Cool a bit then strain out the seeds. Keep this oil in the refrigerator and use by the spoonful for recipes like Chicken with Rice.
ADOBO is a blend of ingredients used to rub a unique flavor into meat or poultry. This recipe is appropriate for one pound of meat or chicken.
1 tsp black peppercorns, whizzed in a coffee blender (I keep one in my kitchen for nothing but pepper)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp. of fresh or dried oregano, minced or crumbled.
1tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients together and rub into your meat or chicken throughly, let marinate for several hours for the best taste.
SOFRITO the seasoning behind so many native dishes
1 oz salt pork
2 oz. lean cured ham these are optional, you can make a great vegetarian version. You may want to add some salt to this recipe if salt pork is not used.
1/4 cup vegetable oil or lard
1/2 lb green pepper
1/2 lb. white onion, peeled
1/4 lb sweet red peppers
1 small head of garlic peeled
a small bunch of cilantro
1 TB dried oregano
Wash all ingredients, seed them and cut into small pieces
Additional 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
Pour the first 1/4 cup of veg oil into a blender and gradually add all the pork, vegetables and oregano and grind them up.
In a heavy kettle, pour the second 1/4 cup of oil into the pot. Bring to a medium heat and add the ground mixture. Bring up to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Allow to cool, season with Tabasco to taste.
A great way to use and keep Sofrito is to make ice cubes with it and keep them handy in the freezer, pulling out a few at a time to make a dish. They don’t stick together.Two to three cubes will suffice for a dish that feeds 6-8 people.
ARROZ CON POLLO serves six people
1/4 cup of annato oil
1- 4 pound chicken, cut into ten pieces
kosher salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup sofrito
1/4 cup coarsely chopped green pimento stuffed olives(alacaparrado)
1 tsp. cumin
pinch of ground cloves
4 cups of long grain brown rice
5 cups of homemade chicken stock
11/2 cups of roasted red peppers, cut into strips
Choose an attractive Paella pan or something that you can bring to the table for serving.It must have a tight fitting lid. In this large shallow pan , heat the Annato oil until it ripples. Add the salt and pepper seasoned chicken to the pan, only as many as you can without crowding them, so you’ll be working in batches browning the chicken and cooking it almost through. Set it aside.
When the chicken has been cooked, add the sofrito and alaacaparrado, season to taste with more S&P and the cumin and clove. Raise the heat and simmer off some of the water from the sofrito.
Stir in the rice and coat with the seasonings. Return the chicken to the pan and add enough broth to cover the rice by a width of two fingers (an inch ,basically). Bring the rice to a boil and cook until the broth reaches the level of the rice. Stir and cover the pot tightly, reducing the heat to low. Let it cook until the rice is tender but firm, about 20 more minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, garnish with the red pepper strips and bring the whole pot of chicken and rice to the table. If you don’t have a great looking pan, you may arrange the contents attractively on a large platter and dig in while hot.
Absolutely delicious and cheaper than air fare! Laura