Cacerola Bayamo, Alyssa Style

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and with that size comes more regional variety than outsiders realize. In particular, the Oriente region of Cuba, facing Haiti and closer to the equator than the rest of this already-tropical island, are known for spicier fare than parts farther north. Bayamo, one of the oldest cities in Cuba, is at the heart of this region, and gives its name to this curious casserole.

In some ways, cacerola Bayamo resembles some other classics of Cuban cuisine, such as picadillo or ropa vieja. What sets apart cacerola Bayamo is that it relies heavily on vegetables over spices for its flavoring, and that it uses ingredients that usually turn up in stews or not at all elsewhere in Hispanic cooking. The result is pleasantly heavy, with a touch of heat and plenty of vegetable crunch.

Traditionally, cacerola Bayamo is a meat and cheese dish, served alongside a salad. In this adaptation, I have rendered it into a complete meal by making it a layered casserole with rice, truer to the name if not the inspiration. The rice helps absorb the drippings from the meat, resulting in a more unified culinary experience perhaps closer to Puerto Rican cooking styles. This recipe serves six or more and reheats well.

Equipment

You will need a stovetop or similar bottom-up heat source, your favorite cutting and chopping tools, a series of containers for holding chopped vegetables before adding to the pot, a long wooden spoon for stirring, and a large skillet or sauté pan.

Ingredients

Pork

  • Rice, 2 cups, with water and salt (see below)
  • Green bell pepper, 1
  • Celery, 2 stalks
  • Carrots, 2
  • Black or Manzanilla olives, 1 cup
  • Pork sausage, approximately 1 lb. Traditionally, the sausage meat is extracted from the casing, but sliced dry sausage such as farmer’s sausage also works.
  • Lean ground beef, 2 lbs.
  • Badía Sazón Tropical with Annatto and Coriander, 2 teaspoons.
  • Dry onion flakes, 2 tablespoons
  • Tomato paste, 4 tablespoons.
  • Bay leaf, 1
  • Tabasco sauce, 1 teaspoon. Substitute 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes.
  • Whole-kernel corn, 1 can (12 oz). Include the fluid from the can.
  • Black beans, 1 can (12 oz).
  • Water, 2 cups
  • Honey, 1 tablespoon
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded, ½ cup
  • Monterey Jack cheese or queso blanco, shredded, ¾ cup
  • Paprika and red pepper flakes for dusting

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: Check your choice of sausage and shredded cheese for gluten. Otherwise, this dish is gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This dish makes heavy use of carrots and rice, and is not easily compatible with a low-carb diet.
  • Low-FODMAP: This dish is compatible with low-FODMAP diets if the black beans are excluded.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Substitute the meat and cheese for vegetarian/vegan alternatives and adjust recipe as necessary. Use sugar instead of honey.

Preparation

  1. Prepare the rice according to package instructions, using less water than is normally recommended. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  3. Chop the green pepper, celery, carrots, and olives. If using dry sausage, slice. If your cheeses are not shredded, grate them. Set aside.
  4. Crack the bay leaf and set aside.
  5. Heat your skillet to medium-high and add the beef and sausage, followed by the green pepper, celery, carrots, olives, sazón, and dry onion flakes. Cook until browned. If desired, drain off excess fat. Leaving the fat in results in a richer meal, as it permeates the rice in later steps.
  6. Add the tomato paste, cracked pay leaf, Tabasco sauce or red pepper flakes, corn, black beans, water, honey, and cheddar cheese and mix well.
  7. Grease a casserole dish and make a layer of rice at the bottom.
  8. Atop this layer, spread the meat mixture evenly, allowing the excess fluid to flow into the rice below.
  9. Top with the queso blanco or Monterey jack and dust with paprika and red pepper flakes.
  10. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
  11. Let cool and serve.

This dish feels more familiar to me than it has any right to. It features in none of my memories and differs in important ways from the food I do remember. I’m glad I found this meal idea in a cookbook and gave it a try. Although much higher in effort than what I typically cook for myself, this will form a welcome part of my culinary repertoire, and I hope it serves you just as well.

Cacerola Bayamo, show the orange-tinted rice, slices of sausage, cheese, beef, and vegetables that characterize this dish.
Cacerola Bayamo, made without black beans and with farmer’s sausage.
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Cacerola Bayamo, Alyssa Style
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