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Annato, Adobo and Sofrito, a Latin Culinary Mystery Solved!

latin1.1Can’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.

latin3ADOBO 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.

latin4SOFRITO 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.

latin5ARROZ 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

Adventures in Costa Rica at the Bull Riding Fiesta

bull1When you sign on for an exotic trip, one has a good idea that there will be a deviation from the norm. Some of these detours may take you out of your comfort zone and that’s when the fun begins. Call me an optimist, but when the going gets tough, that’s when I hope to learn something about myself.

New sights and smells abound in a new country, new attitudes about all facets of life emerge….. usually different and interesting foods …..and protocol to go with them. Then there is the organic element, microbes, sun and heat, unfamiliar farm animals and fry oil. Add to that a noisy crowd, neon and raging bulls, stifling heat and unfamiliar snack foods. That’s a costa Rican rodeo or “fiesta” and EVERYONE from miles around is there. Happening but once a year,it’s a long awaited chance for cowboys to show their “stuff”…..bulls, horses, western wear and skill. I soon realized that it’s a rare chance to “see and be seen”, a happy hunting ground for both sexes.

That’s where I found myself on one tropical night last February ,flanked on either side by my knowledgeable and excellent hosts, both veterans of these things.Wisely, we’d had several cocktails at home to bolster us before the grueling and bumpy ride to the fair grounds. Seems it is OK to drive under the influence in Costa Rica. They have bigger problems. Like fixing the roads.

bull2.2The “feel’ of the place when we arrived was like a Dead concert, swarming with young people. But these kids were high on warm beer and chicharrones. That’s fried pork rinds for the uninitiated. The dust is thick, the place swelteringly hot, the smell is unabashedly of horse ,sweat and manure.

So what does one wear to these things? Why, six inch heels, skin tight jeans and a peek-a-boo top. Silly me , I’d chosen flats, linen and “not your mothers jeans”…….hmm, maybe that’s why I wasn’t getting noticed. Until I stepped up to the snack bar. THAT’S where I can strut my stuff. I’ve been told “for a lady, you sure can chow”, not the best thing to hear on date night. But amongst Central American farmers and teenagers I gleaned a bit of respect for my adventuresome spirit  and awe inspiring capacity ,if nothing else. Yup, that was me, sampling the empanadas with spicy pork, chicken tamales in banana leaves, the fried rinds,  fried rice and fried egg rolls (don’t ask me why, but there is a lot of Chinese food around) AND more of the local beer over ice cubes. Oh yeah. It’s a boiler maker of food.

bull2Time for the action to begin and we enter the bull riding arena. We try to find a spot away from the loud speakers and the dust. Not too high up on the bleachers, please. I am feeling queasy even before the deafening music begins and the riders and cowboys are introduced. Folks are guzzling warm beer and munching banana chips, the smell of greasy pulled pork is wafting my way. I begin to sweat in ernest. The locals are watching with interest as their homeboys are announced. Two handsome cowboys and their shiny Pasofino horses enter the ring done up to the nines in show tack. They  prance in showing off their  unusual gait. The cowboys’ entertain us with  their roping skills using the lariat. They’ll be the ones controlling the bull for safety when he throws the rider off.

Of course their are clowns, some really scary clowns. They help too. It’s quickly becoming  like a Fellini film and the arena is beginning to spin, the crowd tilting sideways. Did I mention the very drunk college kids on spring break jockeying for position in the ring  while taunting the bull? Try texting while you cheat death. They were. I learned that there is some kind of warped honor in touching the bull without getting killed. Drunk American kids! At least I know MY limits

bull3Suddenly, it was me wishing for death as all the foreign elements of my snacky meal began to do combat. Just in time for the first bull out and the immediate and highly unfortunate goring which quickly followed. They took him out on a stretcher, not to return and I ran out right after him to wait in the car.

Not sure I ever need to view another “fiesta”, but if I do, it will surely be on an empty stomach.