A Tale of Two Rices

As I browse through my blog, I can’t help but notice how often rice seems to come up. I really can’t help it, I have a love affair with that little grain. My only hope is that I offer some variety for you. That said, this is a rice post. Yep. Mas arroz.

In Panama, we prepare rice in many different ways; sometimes with coconut milk, or various beans and peas. Anything you want, really. Two of my favorites are Arroz con Frijoles Negros (rice with black beans) and Arroz con Camarones Secos (rice with dried shrimp).

They’re both easy to make and follow the same process as the recipe for Arroz con Guand√ļ. For the black beans, I used dried beans and cooked them in the coconut milk, as detailed in the recipe below, but you can use canned beans . For the one with the dried shrimp and guand√ļ, I cooked both of those in the coconut milk first, then followed the recipe.

For the Arroz con Coco y Frijoles Negros (Black beans & rice)
2 cps rice
1/2 cp dry black beans
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Arroz con Camaroncitos¬†Secos¬†y Guand√ļ (Rice w/dried shrimp & pigeon peas)
2 cps rice
1 cp frozen guand√ļ (pigeon peas)
1/2 cp dried shrimp
2 cps coconut milk
3 cps water
1/3 cp salt pork or bacon
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Method for both versions:
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, brown the salt pork/bacon rendering some of its fat. Add the guand√ļes¬†(pigeon peas), coconut milk. Bring it to a boil, then reduce¬†the heat until it simmers. Cook it until the peas are tender, about 40 minutes. Strain the liquid and measure, add enough water to make 3-1/3 cps of liquid, set aside.

This recipe uses the frozen peas, however, if you are using the canned variety, just skip the step above. Instead, drain, rinse and strain the beans, then add coconut milk and water to  measure 3-1/3 cups. Fry the salt pork or bacon just before adding the rinsed rice.

Add oil to the pan with the peas, rinse the rice and add it to the pot stirring all the ingredients. Add the liquid, check the salt, stir this well. Make sure you remove any drippings that may have been stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring it to a slow boil; once the liquid boils do not stir it again. Keep the temperature on medium high.

Once the liquid is almost completely evaporated, bring the temperature to low and cover with the lid. Allow to steam undisturbed for 40 minutes. When you remove the lid, all the peas will be at the top, go ahead and stir them into the rice. You’re done!

Note: The flavor of the coconut milk will intensify with time. You can cook the peas a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld together.

Following someone else’s lead

This is a recipe I found in Jorge Jurado’s cookbook, Sabores de Panam√°. I should tell you it isn’t a ‘traditional’ Panamanian dish, but rather an interpretation by this talented chef utilizing ingredients commonly found in Panama. His recipe called for beef shanks, but I had just picked up some short ribs and decided to use them instead. It turned out beautifully.

The intense combination of spices, together with the deep and rich color of the final¬†dish made this reminiscent of Mexican mole. I can’t really think of a traditional Panamanian dish that is even remotely similar to mole, but this is a rocking interpretation!

Costillas Braseadas con Cafe, Chocolate y Anis Estrellado (Coffee, chocolate and anise braised short ribs)

Marinade –¬†a day ahead
2-1/2 lbs short ribs
1/2 bottle red wine (one you would drink)
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp instant coffee
2 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
12 peppercorns
2 star anise pods
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp salt
Combine all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and allow the ribs to marinate overnight or, at least for a few hours. Turn the ribs occasionally.

Braising – day of
1-1/2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Marinated ribs and the carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
Approx 2 cps broth (chicken/beef/veg)
1 tbsp sugar
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
Salt to taste

Remove the ribs from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven to medium-high and add the olive oil. Brown the dry ribs on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside.

Drain the excess fat, leaving about 2 tbsp of oil/fat in the pan. Add the onions, garlic and carrots and allow to cook until they begin to caramelize. Return the ribs to the pan and add the marinade liquid, broth, sugar and chocolate.

There should be enough liquid for the ribs to be completely submerged. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low to allow for a slow simmer. This will continue to simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

I, of course, served it over rice. I love rice, sue me! I think it would be really nice with roasted veggies too, though. For more food porn, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Breaking bread

I’ve always found that to be an odd expression. The phrase itself sounds innocuous to me, but the meaning behind it makes sense. To share, to open one’s home and/or heart to another, to be welcoming. Philosophically, the idea of breaking bread is a great one. In reality, the idea of having to share my bread with someone, elicits murderous thoughts. No. Really. Don’t touch my bread!

Luckily, when I bake bread, the recipe results in enough of it that I’m able to, even if begrudgingly, share it with one or two people. Tops. You get the picture. So, a few weeks ago I made some bread. Panamanian bread, something we call Pan Micha.

Rumor has it, this recipe was brought to my homeland by the French when they attempted building the Canal. I have no verification for that story, but I do recognize some similarities with French miche bread. Thin, golden crust and soft, light inside. What I do know for sure, if that you will find michitas anywhere there is a bakery in Panama. 

I remember walking to school and stopping by the corner bakery–the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting in the air–and ordering¬†‘una michita¬†con queso¬†blanco y mantequilla‘ (a buttered michita¬†stuffed with white cheese). Aaaaah, the bread would still be warm, the butter and local cheese melting into the center. Heavenly.

I found a recipe for it here, so I won’t retype it, just follow the link. What I want to tell you about, is how we ate them, after all, eating them is the best part.

You know I’m a traditionalist, so mine had butter and Queso Fresco. Nothing else needed. I did toast them a bit.

The Hubbz is a different story. He’s a man of excess, so he added some roast beef we had in the fridge. In Panama, we would’ve used ham or chorizo.

The bread was good, but not as light and airy as I remember michitas being, my quest for the perfect recipe continues.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Flan, a variation

I’m not one to indulge in desserts too often, my sweet tooth¬†is… lacking, but Flan is one of the few desserts I can’t keep my hands away from. Which means, I make it as¬†infrequently as possible to¬†keep that heart attack at bay.

I’m always reading about variations to flan, adding chocolate, pumpkin, coconut, it goes on and on. So, I thought of trying my own little tropical variation:¬†Nance.

This is a very interesting little fruit, and it IS little, anywhere between the size of a blueberry and a cherry. In fact, they are known as yellow cherries in English. The fruit has some fat and is tart and becomes sweeter after picking. It grows on a tree and when they’re ready, they fall to the ground, collected, rinsed and thrown in a bottle with water for a few days. This allows them to ripen fully and develop its sweetness.

In order to get the pulp, you either have to use your hands and squish them or put them in the blender, liquid and all, and pulse them a few times to loosen the pulp. In this case, since the nance was sold in the frozen section of my grocers’, I thawed them and whirled them about in the blender with enough water to keep them moving. Strain and you’re ready to make a chicha–Panama’s pumped up fruit drinks, pesada or this to-die-for flan.

Flan de Nance

For the caramel sauce:
1-1/4 cp sugar

For the flan:
6 whole eggs
4 oz cream cheese
1-1/2 cps nance pulp
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cp granulated (white) sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt (bit less if using regular salt)
1-1/2 cps whole milk

Preheat oven to 350¬į. Prepare a Bain-Marie: you will need a baking¬† pan that is large enough to hold the dish you’re baking the flan in. Add hot water to the large pan and place in¬†the oven.

¬†To make the caramel, following the directions I gave you before for a cheese flan; here’s the link.

Making the flan: Put all the ingredients except for the milk in a blender glass and whisk until smooth. To avoid foaming the eggs, do this by pulsating instead of letting the blender go for a long time. It shouldn’t take more than 5-6 pulses.

In the meantime, use the same saucepan you used to make caramel¬†to scald the milk. There will probably be some caramel stuck to the pot. That’s fine, just add the milk¬† and simmer until you see bubbles beginning to form around the edges. Turn off and remove from the heat.

You will now incorporate the hot milk into the egg mixture, because the milk is pretty hot, start the blender on low and slowly drizzle in the milk/sugar mix. As soon as all the milk is added, turn off the blender. Pour the custard into the carameled baking dish. Place the dish with the custard into the pan with water.

If you bake it in a 9-inch dish, it will probably be in the oven for close to 45 minutes. You’ll know it is ready when the top is golden and it begins to separate from the sides, but there’s still a jiggle at the center. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then put it in the fridge to cool it all the way through.

When you’re ready to serve, run a table knife around the edge to help loosen the cooled flan. Then invert it onto¬†your serving dish. Make sure you invert over your sink, you’ll be amazed at how much of that caramel melts away onto your serving dish and continues running down your arm and on the clean floors.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Raising the dead

I think I’ve hinted at the fact that Panama is a big seafood country. I may have also shared that we love to party. Overindulgence is quite common to us. When it happens, you hear of various remedies and traditions to¬† cure a persistent hangover. One such remedy: Levanta¬†muerto (raise the dead).

I’m uncertain where the restorative quality of a caldillo¬†de mariscos comes from, or if they are real. What I do know is that it makes for excellent cold weather, hot weather, bad mood, happy mood and comfort food food.

I love seafood soups, but I wanted this broth to be light and filled with the flavors from the sea without being too fishy. So when I went to my fish market, I picked up some mild fish and asked for the carcass to be bagged separately. I then used it to make a deliciously flavored broth.

*To make the broth, I added the fish carcass, shrimp peels (no heads), 1/2 an onion, a few garlic cloves, carrots and celery to a generous pot of water that was seasoned with salt & pepper. I allowed it to simmer for a few minutes, strained and reserved the broth. Here’s how it comes together:

Caldillo de Mariscos (Seafood soup)

Seafood broth*
Clams, scrubbed
Fish (red fish, tilapia or similar), cubed
Shrimp, peeled & deveined
Culantro leaves
Fresh thyme
Yuca, peeled & cubed
Sea salt & pepper

After straining the broth, I returned it to the pot, added the pieces of yuca, chopped culantro leaves (you can substitute with cilantro), a bit of finely chopped thyme, adjust the seasoning as needed. Allow it to cook until the yuca is fork-tender.

While the yuca is cooking, I seasoned the fish and shrimp with 1 tsp of Jugo Maggi (substitute with Worcestershire),  then reduced the temperature to bring the broth to a slow simmer and added the fish, shrimp and clams. Allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes, just until the clams open up. Serve with white rice or crusty bread.

Want to see more food porn? Follow this link. Yeah, baby!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris