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 Guandú. 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 guandú, 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 Guandú (Rice w/dried shrimp & pigeon peas)
2 cps rice
1 cp frozen guandú (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 guandúes (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.

Is it soup weather?

Do you believe soups are better suited for a specific time of the year? Maybe when it is cold and dreary or rainy outside? For Panamanians, soup is on any day of the week and year. As a matter of fact, you’ll find it on the daily lunch menu at every restaurant or Fonda around the country.

When I was in Austin a few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for Sopa de Arroz con Pollo (Chicken & Rice Soup). Even though I’ve heard about chicken & rice soup, I never really thought about it in a Latin context until then. Chicken & rice soup doesn’t move me in any way, but Sopa de Arroz con Pollo…? Now, that’s a completely different matter. I simply couldn’t get it off my mind. The possibilities. The potential goodness. Muy rico.

It turned out lighter than I had anticipated, even with the addition of the rice. Rich with the flavors of the chicken broth and culantro. I didn’t have any yuca at home, but next time I make it, I will use that instead of potatoes. And it was a breeze to make too!

Sopa de Arroz con Pollo
1-1/2 lbs of chicken on the bone (I prefer thighs) seasoned with 2 pkts Sazón Goya .

To your blender, add 1/2 onion, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/4 cp cilantro or 3 culantro leaves and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add just enough water to puree all the ingredients; I ended up with about 3 cps of puree.

Put the seasoned chicken and the puree in a stockpot over medium-high heat and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors from the pureed veggies to infuse the chicken before adding all the water for the soup.

After about 10 minutes, add enough water to totally submerge the chicken, about 6 cps, add some chopped potatoes and carrots, season with salt & pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Bring it all to a boil, then lower temperature to allow it to simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the broth and add 1/2 cp of rice to it, allow it cook while the chicken cools enough to remove the bones. Make sure to stir the broth every few minutes, making sure to remove any rice that may stick to the bottom. In the meantime, chop the chicken, if you’d like and return it to the broth. Cook just long enough for the rice to soften.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

A paella wannabe

This is another winning recipe from my old Panamanian cookbook, El Arte de Cocinar, by Berta de Pelaez. Berta must be Martha Stewart’s sister from another mother. I don’t remember if I saw Julia on TV when I was growing up, I do know Berta’s show was a daily event for my mom and I. She inspired my mom to expand her cooking and fueled her entertaining dreams.

I don’t believe I ever had this dish while I lived in Panama, but I’m definitely gonna make up for that with gusto! This turned out to be an easy, quick and delicious recipe, almost a quick take on a paella, really. I must admit, I made this a few months ago and didn’t share, it got lost amongst files and trips and lazy days. Now, I don’t want you to think it lacks luster, it really is a dish you should make. Soon.

I’m not sure about the name of the recipe, don’t really know what makes it ‘provincial style’, but it’s not my recipe. Also, the original called for fish pieces and salchichas–these would be wieners, instead, I opted for shrimp and soft Spanish chorizo. Enough of that, here’s the food.

Arroz a la Provinciana (Provincial style rice)

1 cp pork shoulder, cubed
1 cp Spanish chorizo, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & pepper
1 can stewed tomatoes, diced
1 cp white wine
1/4 lb squid, cleaned & sliced to rounds
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/4 cp olive oil, approx
3 cps rice

Season the pork with the cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. Add a bit of oil to a medium saucepan, heat it over medium high and add the chorizo. Once the fat begins to render, add the pork cubes and brown for a few minutes. Remove from the pan, leaving the oil behind, then add the onions and bell pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are translucent, then remove from the oil and combine with the shrimp and squid.

Return the pork and chorizo to the pan over high heat, add the wine and allow it to burn off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Add about 1 cp of water and coo until the pork is tender. Remove pork mixture from the  pan and reserve any liquid. Add a bit more oil and heat over high temperature.

Rinse and drain the rice and add to the heated pan, stirring to coat all the grains with the oil and until the grains look white and not translucent. Stir in the pork and chorizo. Measure any liquid that you reserved and add enough water to measure 5 cps of liquid. Add to the rice, check and adjust the seasoning as needed. Do not stir once it begins to boil!!!!

Allow the rice to cook without disturbing it, until the liquid evaporates. When it is almost dry and you can see the top of the rice, delicately add the shrimp, squid and onion mixture, spreading it evenly across the top DO NOT STIR INTO THE RICE.

Lower the temperature to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the rice to steam for about 15 minutes. At that time, you can feel free to stir with wild abandon, but be careful not butcher the cooked seafood. Now get a fork and start eating!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

A trifecta of goodness

Have you ever rediscovered the value of something long forgotten? Reacquainted yourself with an old friend? Isn’t it the best feeling in the world? I’ve had this little Panamanian cookbook for over 20 years–it has the wear, tear and stains to prove it–I think I’ve only pulled it out about 3 times a year for each year I’ve lived here. That’s like 60 uses in over 7,000 days! Crazy!

The cookbook is by Berta de Peláez, a well-known Panamanian cook and TV personality. She is Panama’s answer to Martha Stewart. I remember watching her show every morning with my Mami and my sister. Later my sister and I would get in the kitchen and re-enact our own show. Me as Berta, my sis as Maria, the assistant. Fun times!

Can you imagine how silly I felt after finding this little recipe? It really is a trifecta of goodness: rice, shrimp, garlic. Queue choir chants: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” Yes. It is that good. It is also incredibly easy to make and terribly quick. Did I say it was DELICIOUS? Because it was. Yep. To die.

It’s almost like a fried rice, except you fry the rice in butter (my adaptation, because butter makes everything bettah) and add a generous amount of garlic. I had some leftover steamed rice from my delivery order of Chinese food, and that’s what I used. You could also make some fresh rice for this, but let it cool a bit before putting it all together. Ready? This is gonna go pretty fast!

Arroz al Ajillo (Garlic Rice)
adapted from El Arte de Cocinar

1/2 medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cp bacon, diced
4 tbsp butter
3-5 garlic cloves, crushed
3 green onions, diced
3 cps rice, cooked

I opted to slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Not sure why, but that’s what I did. Season the shrimp with the paprika, salt and pepper and set aside.

In a medium-sized pan, cook the bacon  until crisp. Add the shrimp and cook them for a couple of minutes just until they don’t look translucent. Add 2/3 of the green onions. Remove the shrimp and bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the bacon fat behind.

In the same pan, add the butter, once melted add the garlic and give it a quick stir. Don’t let it burn. Add the rice and stir well to make sure it is all coated with the garlic butter. Incorporate the shrimp, toss and serve topped with the rest of the green onions.

How do you like THAT?!

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

Panama Culinary Tour: Guacho de Mariscos

This is one of two dishes I prepared to participate in Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour, this time visiting my stomping grounds, Panama! This dish came to be as a result of a ‘What’s in the Bag‘ challenge posed by my dear Hubbz. He went to the store and brought everything but the  butcher’s block, which I then had to incorporate into a Latin meal. 

Seafood Guacho at Las Tinajas in Panama

Guacho (pronounced Wah-cho) is a popular Panamanian specialty; a slightly soupy rice dish, similar to an Italian risotto or a Puerto rican asopao. Unlike risotto, guacho is made from regular, long grain white rice that is soaked in water for a bit before it is sautéed and simmered in the cooking liquid of choice. The dish is then flavored and augmented with an array of  local ingredients; there’s always some sort of meat or protein from pork, chicken, cured pig’s tails, or seafood, in addition to various beans and roots such as yuca and otoe.

Different from the way I’ve usually explained how to cook rice, the rice in guacho wants for more liquid and a longer cooking time, this allows for the rice starches to develop into a creamy, rich frenzy. I pretty much stuck to the traditional elements of the dish, only straying away in the preparation of the sofrito and by adding mushrooms to the rice itself.

Panamanian sofrito is generally made with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a few other aromatics, this time I included dried chile ancho and guajillos. But enough chatter, let’s cook!

Guacho de Mariscos y Hongos (Seafood & Mushroom Guacho)
6-8 servings

For the guacho:
2 cps long grain rice, soaked
Water
1/2 cp bacon, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cp mushrooms, diced
1/2 cp shallots, diced
About 8 cps seafood broth
1 cp shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 cp scallops
Sea salt
5 tbsps chile puree
2 cps sofrito

For the sofrito:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cp yellow onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 green onion sprigs, finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
6 tbsps chile puree
Sea salt and a pinch of sugar
In a medium pan heat the oil and add the onions, cook them until soften before adding the garlic and green onions. Then add the tomatoes, 1/2 cp water and chile puree, lower the temperature and allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep warm.

For the seafood broth: I used the skins from the shrimp, bringing them to a simmer with plenty of water, 1 clove garlic, one of the dry ancho chilies, cilantro (culantro, if you can find it), 1 carrot, salt & pepper. Strain and set aside.

For the chile puree: Rinse and seed the chilies–remember Panamanian food is not typically spicy hot. Put 2 ancho and 1 guajillo chilies in a small pot with 2 cps water, 1 clove garlic, a pinch of salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until the chilies soften. Allow it to cool before running it through the blender. Set aside.

For plating: Reserve a few shrimp and scallops to place over the finished dish.

Preparation – Guacho:

Rinse the rice, then add enough cool water to cover it and allow it to soak for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. In a large pan, render the fat from the bacon, but don’t crisp it. Add the onions and allow to cook until they begin to soften. Then add the mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes.

Drain the rice and add to the pan. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil, just enough to coat all the grains. Add 2 tbsps of the chile puree, 6 cps of the seafood broth and adjust the seasoning by adding sea salt as necessary. Lower the temperature to medium-low and allow it to simmer until the broth evaporates. Stir it every so often to make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom of the pan.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the seafood: chop the shrimp and scallops to bite sizes (remember to save a few of each for plating). Marinate all the seafood (including those for plating) with 2 tbsps of the chile puree and a bit of sea salt and black pepper; set aside until needed.

Once the broth has evaporated, check the doneness of the rice grains. They should be fully open and swollen. If the liquid has evaporated completely, add a bit more broth or water, then add the chopped seafood. Stir in the seafood, bring the temperature to low and allowing to cook covered for another 5 minutes.

In the meantime, saute the reserved shrimp in a bit of olive oil, set aside. When ready to serve, spoon some guacho on the bottom of a bowl, top generously with a couple tbsps of sofrito and top with the sautéed seafood. Enjoy and Buen Provecho!

For the rest of the yummy guacho shots, follow this link. You can also see the other dish, Langostinos en Caramelo de Maracuyá  (Prawns in Passion Fruit Caramel) by following this link. And don’t miss the entries submitted by other food bloggers, visit Foodalogue for the tasty bits.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

And then there was… Arroz con coco!

I was on the phone with Dodo this morning, for a while. She’s my bestie and we try to play catch up on the weekends. This has been a bad week for both of us. She with work drama, me with the rotten seasonal allergies. There was a lot of catching up to do. Even when we plan on meeting up a few minutes later for breakfast, we manage to talk and talk. Then we sit before coffee and breakfast things and we do it all over again. For hours. What can I say? We like each other.

One of the topics was about my blogging routine. When does it happen? When was that meal prepared? How long before a dish shows up on the blog. On and on. I explained to her that very seldom do I post a dish immediately after making it. Probably not the smartest thing to  do, I don’t know. But I cook and photograph as I go and those pictures may stay in the camera for weeks before I even download them to my home computer. Even longer before I upload them to Flickr and share them with you.

Take this side dish, for instance. I made this at the beginning of September, that’s about 7 weeks ago! There’s no real method to this madness. I think I just keep cooking and shooting, then I pick what to share based on what I really liked or what photographed best or what would be a quick and easy post. Sorry, sometimes I do slack off, not too often, though. One thing I can tell you, is that if it’s a cocktail, that post goes right up!

So, let’s talk about rice. Rice is one of my favorite things in the world. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have a few things, rice would be one of my choice items. I’ve even converted The Hubbz to my rice cult; he now understands and respects The Holy Grain.

Arroz con coco (coconut rice) is ever-present in Panamanian meals. We love the stuff! Now, this is not a dessert. It is a savory side dish with a subtle taste of fresh coconut. I’m not sure how many of you, my bloggies, have eaten or cooked with coconut milk. More often than not, it seems the first image that comes to mind when thinking of coconut is the dry flakes or Coco Lopez (which makes an AWESOME Piña Colada, btw). However, real coconut is nothing like either of those. It is creamy, with a hint of natural sweetness.

This method I’m sharing, will intensify the coconut flavor and does take a few extra minutes spent drawing the oil out of the cream. The other method would be to simply substitute the water you’d use for the rice with coconut milk. Remember to look for the unsweetened coconut milk. Here we go.

Arroz con Coco

2 cans unsweetened coconut milk (about 14 oz)
3 cps long grain rice
1/2 cp raisins
Sea salt
Sugar
Water
Vegetable oil

Let’s make some coconut oil: Pour one can of coconut milk into a medium-size pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. The water will evaporate after about 5 minutes and you’ll be left with the dense cream. Continue to cook it over medium heat until the oil begins to come through. Some of the cream solids will begin to brown and caramelize, that’s ok. It’ll make the rice pretty.

Once all the cream has turned to oil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes. This will make about 1/4 cp of oil.

Add an extra 2 tbsps of vegetable oil to the pan and heat over medium high temperature. In the meantime, rinse and drain the rice. You want to rinse just as you begin to heat the oil, this prevents the rice from getting goopy after cooking. The easiest way to rinse the rice is to put it in a colander and run it under cool, tap water. Let it drain; you may need to give it a quick shake to get the excess water out.

Once the oil comes to temperature, add the rice and stir it around every couple of minutes. This will help loosen any of the bits stuck to the bottom after making the coconut oil. Also, there should be enough oil to coat all the grains.

Measure out the other can of coconut milk and add enough water to end up with a total of 5 cups. Pour it over the rice, make sure to loosen any grains stuck to the bottom. Stir in the salt, about 2-3 tsps and 1 tsp of sugar. Make sure to stir it all very well and quickly, you don’t want to be stirring once it begins to boil.

After the liquid has dried, add the raisins to the top, lower the temperature to low heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow it to steam for at least 30 minutes before removing the lid. Don’t, under any circumstances, remove the lid before that.

At the end of  the 30 minutes, you can stir in the raisins. It is ready to serve. The coconut flavor will intensify after a day. That’s why this recipe is for 3 cups, to make sure you’ll have some leftovers!

Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris