Let me start by saying I am just an American girl cooking a really good Puerto Rican stew for dinner tonight -- this is not a lesson in Puerto Rican cooking. My knowledge of Puerto Rican cooking is limited, but, my experiences with Puerto Rican food have all been good ones, so, don't ruin that for me with criticizms. For a brief period of time we had a Puerto Rican neighbor named Yvonne. It was from her I learned a little about Puerto Rican homestyle cooking. Her specialties were "fritures di maiz" (corn fritters), "picadillo" (ground meat stew), and, "bacalao guisado" (cod fish stew). Later, on a trip to Miami, I enjoyed a lovely dish of "camarones in escabeche" (pickled shrimp), followed by a luxurious "tembleque" (coconut custard)!
What I know about Puerto Rican cooking in general comes from Yvonne, who explained I'd find similar recipes in Caribbean, Cuban, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian food. What sets their cuisine apart are three words: sofrito, adobo, and, achiote. On my own I've deduced that Puerto Rican cooks seem to prefer red onions to white, use a lot of pimento stuffed green olives, and, culantro is not the same as cilantro, it's a spiny herb-cousin. When they say "oil", it's vegetable oil!
Sofrito is used for flavoring. It is an aromatic salsa-like mixture of processed fresh herbs and spices used as a base for countless dishes. Like salsa, there are green and red versions. Adobo is used for seasoning. It's a mixture of black pepper, oregano and garlic. Achiote is used for yellow-orange color.
"Bacalao" (bah-kah-LAY-oh) is the Spanish word for "cod fish". In an authentic version, I'd be soaking dried salt cod in cold water for 2-3 days and changing the water 2-3 times daily. I'm using fresh cod filets because I love them and they save time. In an authentic version, I'd also be using a food processor to combine my culantro, freshly roasted peppers, garlic and onions (with tomatoes today) for the sofrito. I'd need a mortar and pestle to make my adobo seasoning, and, I'd be cooking annatto seeds in vegetable oil to make achiote too! Not today. Meet:
3 cups peeled and 3/4" diced gold potatoes
2 packets Sazon Goya con culantro y achiote (seasoning mix with coriander & annatto)
1 teaspoon sea salt
For the sofrito/adobo mixture:
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups 1/2" diced red onion
1 cup 1/2" diced green bell pepper
4 large garlic cloves, run through a press
1 teaspoon Mexican-style dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Goya adobo seasoning with pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
1/2 cup whole, green, pimento-stuffed olives, well-drained, about 24 olives
1/4 cup Goya sofrito w/tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup reserved, starchy, anchiote-seasoned potato water
For the cod:
1 3/4-2 pounds fresh cod filets, cut into 1" chunks, about 5-6 cups
~ Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, place the potatoes with water to cover. Add the Sazon Goya and sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 6 minutes. Do not over cook. Drain thoroughly, reserving 1-cup of the seasoned, starchy water. Set potatoes & water aside.
~ Step 2. In a 4-quart stockpot, place vegetable oil. Prep and add the onion, bell peppers and garlic as you work. Add the oregano, adobo seasoning and black pepper. Saute over medium-high heat until the onion softens, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
~ Step 5. Add the cod to the stew mixture and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until cod it opaque in color and just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Turn the heat off.
A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisido (Cod Fish Stew): Recipe yields 3 quarts of stew, or, 6, 2-cup servings. While this stew recipe doubles or triples very well, don't be inclined to make a double batch because you want leftovers, as the cod tends to break down. Just make as much as you plan to serve that day -- but make enough for second helpings!
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; colander; garlic press; 4-quart stockpot w/lid
Cook's Note: Puerto Rican stew is a great change-of-pace to my traditional lenten fare. For another one of my favorite lenten stews, which is quite elegant, ~ Provencal Seafood (Lobster*) Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ can be found in Categories 2, 11, 14 or 21!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)