As promised, here is how I make pulled pork into something Cuban-American.
Everyone loves tamales. They are a culinary fixture so beloved that the name has outpaced even the knowledge of what they are, and their appearance on party platters and restaurant menus results in instant delight. But what are tamales, exactly, and how does one bring them into one’s home?
Cuba, like every country, has distinctive street food, and one of the crowning achievements of that tradition is the frita cubana, a style of hamburger that has taken on a life of its own in the years since its invention. Supposedly invented in the 1920s and spread through Cuban food carts and hotel chains, the frita cubana is perhaps now best known as a signature offering of Miami’s Cuban-American restaurants, celebrated by burger connoisseurs but little-known outside the places where it is routinely served. That is positively criminal, as this burger has few equals.
There’s nothing quite like elevating a classic.
I’ve been hoping to make this happen for years and I finally did it.
One does not go far in Miami without encountering croquetas de jamón, or ham croquettes. These fried morsels are ubiquitous on catering trays and party platters, a hit on breakfast menus, and surprisingly absent from most home kitchens. I have encountered platters of croquetas at funeral receptions, at house parties, as treats for school classes in lieu of pizza parties, and more. To visit Miami without having at least one croqueta de jamón (alongside pastelitos de guayaba, the other party-platter staple) is to misunderstand the nature of this place and the culinary influences that define it.
Some memories demand to be remade.
One of the few culinary memories I have been completely unable to experience outside of a home kitchen is alcapurrias. This classic Puerto Rican fritter features prominently in my childhood as an occasional treat, especially around holidays, and made for exciting lunches because of their rarity. On occasion, the whole family would get together to make an especially large batch, a rustic experience wonderfully out of place in our big-city home. Posted recipes posit that the alcapurria is a variety of croquette and usually recommend the familiar croquette log or cigar shape, but the ones I knew were round, more like hand-pies or empanadas in size and presentation. Once I left Miami, those memories became more and more distant, and more and more treasured. As a matter of my Puerto Rican pride, I needed to take control of those memories and make them more firmly mine, and that meant learning how to make alcapurrias. And today, I succeeded.
This one is a little different.
If the foodways of the coastal tropics have a unifying feature, it is the coconut. Spread by its own maritime machinations as well as human effort, Cocos nucifera is a large, flavorful, energy-dense addition to numerous cuisines and if there is anything about my people’s cooking that frustrates me, it is that it does not use enough coconut. Coconut has been my gateway into so many other delights and into so many different cultures’ recipes, and today, it serves that role again.
Enter beef rendang, or rendang daging in Bahasa Indonesia.
Cuisine is a conversation. Foodways are not static and nothing traditional is the age people think it is. For a culinary tradition as circumstantial and inventive as Puerto Rican food, this is especially true, as new low-cost ingredients get incorporated into old patterns. That’s where this entry in our journey appears: pasta in tomato sauce, but make it Puerto Rican.
One of the subtler lessons of food blogging is that everything is connected. Influences range far and wide, ingredients travel the globe, and especially in mixing places like North America, our foodways inevitably coalesce out of a mix of origins and practices. So, today I’m going to tell you about how I made gluten-free johnnycakes.