Monday, September 08, 2008

Viva Cubana!

Last night my good friends from Cuba, Irene and Hector came for dinner. I hesitated to cook a Cuban style meal, and then again I really was in the mood for one as there are no decent Cuban restaurants around here (SF East Bay) . Hence Porchetta with black beans and a corn dish (Corn Maque Choux) from their second home, Louisiana. As I always do, if I am loading the smoker, I add some other goodies, this time 10# of raw California Almonds from my uncle's farm in Chico, seasoned with my own spice mix and a bit of olive oil.

At my cooking school ( ) , Cuban nights are among the best attended and requested. So many people are unfamiliar with Cuban cooking and really want to learn more about it. Many people expect it to be like Mexican, Mayan or Caribbean, but Cuban food, just like it's people has a taste of it's own. It is far less spicy and probably a little more fattening (loads of sugar, starches and pork) than most Mexican food. But there are also nuances of this cuisine from various areas of the island which have had influences of other cuisines. And of course, like in all things, I take a little personal editorial power to change things to my palate whenever I make Cuban food. After reading and studying about the Castillian & Chinese influences on Cuban Cuisine, I have come to a belief that it was the Cubans themselves who sometimes watered down dishes to a more bland palate. In fact, after reading books like Tastes Like Cuba and having tasted dishes in Cuba, and Cuban American Restaurants around the country I have found a much spicier and a more primal cuisine than I was first led to believe Cuban food was like by the immigrants who came here in the 1960's. ALL food was more tempered back in the '60's. I can remember the way my mother cooked.... very mild and that was in Southern California where people had access to so many more ingredients and spices. It was certainly edited by housewives who were trying to please a broad audience of dinner guests. I clearly remember Lawry's Seasoned Salt being considered something exotic in the early 1960's today it is rarely if ever used by serious home cooks. And then there were the processed foods... Bisquick, Swanson TV Dinners, Tang, Velveeta and Minute Rice to name a few, which we thought were the "it foods" of modernity. Give me a BREAK! We have come a long way baby!

Because of the isolation of Cuban Immigrants and even those cooks in Cuba, the cuisine has not been able to really evolve as other cuisines have. There remain many favorite recipes of the old country which for comfort's sake are much like out yucky but beloved "Cream of Mushroom Soup Green Beans" or grilled hamburgers.

The hotel chefs and home chefs of today's Cuba serve up a cuisine that is both exciting and abundant with flavors that are missing from the exile's recipes and cuisine. Hence Porchetta! This recipe is based on one given to me by a Cuban Exile living in the Philippines. It has been pointed out to me that the name is actually Italian (DUH!) but it is in all essence Cuban from my experience and the smoking process (which I added) of the pork is essential to the dish. regardless if you would call this "pristine Cuban Cooking" or not, it is Cuban inspired and loved by every Cuban I have ever served it to, as well as hundreds of Americans who were seeking a taste of Cuba.

I read up as much as I can on Cuban culture and just finished an incredibly good book which I suggest any of you try, it is Tastes Like Cuba by Eduardo Machado and his partner Michael Domitrovich. I have made many Cuban style black bean dishes, but this time I tried one I had never seen called Black Beans Cuca's Way. It has some interesting ingredients, but of course I had to add some spice to it too. One of the different ingredients it has in it is a cup of sherry. Naturally that piqued my interest, but when my liquor cabinet lacked a bottle of sherry (we are paring down for our move to Hawaii) I opted for Cognac instead. It added a marvelous element of flavor to the beans.

Here are some recipes which I hope make your mouth water...

Porchetta (Slow-roasted shoulder of pork) de Devany

Serves 8-10 (and makes wonderful leftovers for tacos or pulled pork sandwiches)

20 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 Cup fennel seeds, ½ Cup cumin seeds and ¼ Cup coriander seeds toasted in a skillet
2 tablespoons coarse salt
3 tablespoon coarse black pepper
8-10 small dried red thai chiles, crumbled
½ cup of fresh flat leaf parsley finely chopped
½ cup of cilantro finely chopped

1 boneless shoulder of pork (about 6-7 lbs) Or a bone in Pork Butt Roast of same size. If you are going to do this recipe in a crock pot or electric roaster, just be sure that it fits in the pot you are using when you buy it.

Juice of 2 lemons
1 Cup of pork stock or chicken broth, divided
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450 or prepare smoker (my preferred method). Using a mortar and a pestle, crush the garlic and the fennel seeds and make sure they are well mixed add 2 TB of olive oil. Alternate method: Use a food processor on pulse. Add the salt, pepper and the chiles. Combine well.

Cut 1-inch wide slits into the the surface of the pork shoulder, including the top and bottom of the meat. Rub the garlic mixture well into the meat. Be sure to get this mixture down inside the slits.
If using a smoker, put the meat fat side up in a smoker at 220 degrees for 6 hours. I use maple wood and sometimes cherry or apple. A sweet wood goes better with pork.

3. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a heavy Dutch oven or if you are using a crock pot, a heavy frying pan (the one you used for toasting the seeds will work). Sear the meat all on all sides over medium low heat, making sure NOT to burn the garlic.

4. Remove the roast from the pan and add ½ a cup of the broth/stock heated in microwave first, stirring and scraping the bottom to deglaze. Place a rack at the bottom of the pan. Add the meat, fatty side up and roast uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes. If you are using a crock pot or roaster, you can skip the roasting step and let it cook a little longer in the frying pan.

5. Pour the lemon juice and remaining broth/stock over the meat and brush with the remaining olive oil. If you are doing this in the crock pot, pour the deglazing liquid and goodies from the pan over the roast in the crock pot, then add the lemon juice.

6. Reduce the heat to 250, cover the pan and roast 8-10 hours, occasionally brushing meat with the pan juices. The roast will be done when the meat falls apart when barely touched with a fork (probably 8 hours or so). If using a crock pot you will not have to baste. Crock pot should be on low for 8 hours.

7. Remove roast from pan and place on serving platter. Skim the fat from the pan juices and serve dripping on the side or over the meat. Or you can thicken with a roux to make a gravy. Serve with the Salsa Verde.

Salsa Verde

2 Cups Italian parsley
1 Cup basil leaves
1 Cup mint leaves
1/2 Cup capers well rinsed
½ Cup of green olives
2 Tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 Cup virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. coarse black pepper

*optional: 2 salt-packed anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 30 minutes, rinsed and dried, if you do this you may want to reduce the amount of olives and capers to reduce the salt impact.

1. Wash parsley, basil and mint and spin dry in a salad spinner.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, basil, mint, anchovies, capers, olives, pepper, mustard, garlic and red pepper flakes. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. It should form a relatively smooth puree that is still slightly chunky. Makes 1 Cup and keeps well. Leftovers can be frozen in ice cube trays like pesto or sofrito and used as a seasoning in other dishes.

Note: The original recipe Susie posted last week looked so good I had to make it. I happened to have an organic bone in pork butt (part of the shoulder cut too) from Niman Ranch in my freezer. I jumped at the opportunity to use it in this recipe, even though we had JUST finished off the 55 pound lechon that I cooked on July 2. I had made stock with some of the bones, so that began the tweaking of the recipe. Susie's recipe had the fennel seeds and I thought to myself, "Self, Cubans use a lot of cumin, why not add that as well?" And then I thought again at the combination of those two and the likely marriage of coriander to those as in many of the Indian spice rubs I have made. I threw coriander seeds into the mix as well. I doubled her garlic cloves, only because I can never get enough garlic. I also increased the chilies because I love things spicy. I added the parsley because I believed it would add another layer to compliment the garlic and finally I added some olive oil to make it more of a paste instead of a dry rub. I used a food processor instead of the mortar and pestle because the seeds are usually pretty tough to mash up and because I had tripled the amount of seeds. I would have had to do it in batches in the mortar. It was actually perfect for the food processor as long as you do not over process. You still want some of the seeds crunchy.

To the Salsa Verde, I increased the garlic (I can't help myself!), added olives (because I love olives) and made the anchovies optional because I found the original recipe very salty (especially after I added the olives, which I like better than anchovies anyway). I also added a bit of sugar to temper the saltiness and it worked out wonderfully.

Having done all of this, I have to say that it made the BEST pork I have ever tasted. It was far better than the lechon I injected with marinade and cooked in the Caja China. It was so tender and delicious I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome it was. I kept picking at the leftovers all day yesterday. I am having another dinner party this weekend and guess what I am cooking? Yes, I am! My friends are going to start calling me "Porky" because I keep playing with it.

Corn Maque Choux
Pronounced "mock shoe," this Louisiana staple (which is like a succotash) is a Cajun take on a Native American dish.
4 servings

· 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
· 1 cup finely chopped onion
· 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
· 2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 3 medium ears of corn)
· 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
· 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
· 1/2 teaspoon (or more) hot pepper sauce
· 1 green onion, finely chopped
· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
· 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
· Coarse kosher salt

· Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper; sauté until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add corn; sauté 2 minutes. Add cream, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Mix in green onion, parsley, and basil. Season to taste with coarse salt, pepper, and more hot pepper sauce, if desired.
The black bean recipe is to follow in the next day or two. I am ready for a dip in the pool after a meal of leftovers.

1 comment:

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Holy cow, this looks mouth watering. Great Blog! I found you through Tom's blog.