Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cajun Dirty Rice

I discovered this dish through the Zatarain’s box meal. I had played with adding things to the box meal. I made a Southwestern style version by adding Ortega mild green chiles, fresh diced onions, roasted garlic, diced petite tomatoes, olives, corn, and cheese.  I added peas and carrots with onion and roasted garlic. I took it off my menus as I started to cook more and more from scratch. I thought it was just ground beef and rice with various Cajun/Creole seasonings.

In April of 2016, I decided to make the dish from scratch. I went looking for recipes. This time I had help. My mom was sending me tons of dirty rice recipes. Among them was Justin Wilson’s brother’s recipe. This was first published in 1965, by Wilson. Justin Wilson was a famous Cajun humorist and chef. He had various cooking shows on PBS from 1971 to the 1990’s. As a teenager I watched those shows. I watched them with my uncle Bob when I would visit Grandma Mac’s house when he still lived there. Bob owns several of Wilson’s cookbooks. He is definite a fan. I have fond memories of watching Louisiana Cooking with Justin Wilson with him, as well as Yan Can Cook with Martin Yan.

The recipe is fairly simple, but it is an old school recipe so it calls for some serious simmering. You simmer the meat mixture for 4 hours. The ingredients are ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken hearts and gizzards, Worcestershire sauce, green bell pepper, celery, onions, garlic, salt, bay leaves, parsley, green onions, rice, and cream of mushroom soup.  I added 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the dish. It is a huge dish, it is meant to feed 10 people.

I made it on April 22, 2014. I did my mise en place (prep work/chopping the vegetables) first. I had to grind the chicken giblets (hearts and gizzards) myself. The copy of the recipe I found said chicken giblets, but the video I watched Justin Wilson himself said hearts and gizzards. I went with Mr. Wilson’s instructions. I used my electric kettle to simmer everything except the rice and cream of mushroom soup for the requisite 4 hours. I made the rice in batches during the simmering. I was unable to use the electric kettle for the last simmering segment. This step is adding the rice to the meat and mushroom soup mixture. My kettle was not large enough. I had to do that step on the stove. I liked this so much better than the box. I can also play with the flavor myself. I love this version of the dish, but I want to use some more seasoning to it. More cayenne may be needed. This was a serious success, I guarantee. 

Justin Wilson - Dirty Rice on YouTube

Dirty Rice (Justin Wilson's Original)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Puerto Rican Pastelón de Amarillos

Pastelón de amarillos is the third recipe I have made from A Taste of Puerto Rico by Yvonne Ortiz. This dish intrigued me. The dish is layers of yellow plantains, and a ground meat mixture, that is topped off with green beans. It is kind of the Puerto Rican take on lasagna. I had fond memories of eating plantains as a boy. My dad had been deployed to Puerto Rico when I was young. He tried to have mom recreate some of those dishes. She did her best, but dad was not that good at explaining it. One dish was a baked and mashed plantain dish. It was like a baked potato. We added butter to it. It was slightly sweet.

Plantains, to those unfamiliar, are a variety of banana. They are starchier than standard bananas. They are kind of like a cross between a banana and a potato. They are used in Caribbean cuisine like the potato is used in American cuisine. Green plantains are not sweet, yellow plantains are sweeter, and black plantains, maduros, are the sweetest. Maduros are typically used in desserts.

Last year I went to Borikén, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Beaverton, Oregon. I had several plantain dishes there, mofongo con carne frita (mashed fried plantains with fried meat), alcapurrias (plantain fritters stuffed with meat), and tostones (twice fried plantains). I have a dream dish that includes tostones. When I was gifted the Puerto Rican cookbook, soon after the trip to Borikén, I was excited. I had a few Puerto Rican dishes in The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors by Jeff Smith, more is always better.

I made the dish on March 14, 2016. I shopped around to find the cheapest plantains. The ingredients are ground beef (I used ground turkey instead), yellow plantains, mozzarella cheese, eggs, green beans, plum tomatoes, tomato sauce, recaito, manzanilla olives, oregano, and salt. The recipe included golden raisins and black pepper; I did not use those due to dietary restrictions in the family. There were four main steps: cooking the green beans (this step was assumed in the recipe), browning the meat and adding the other components to the mixture, frying the plantains, and finally baking the components together in one dish.

The plantains and the meat mixture are layered together. I cooked the liquids down too much and baked the dish a little longer than needed. In the past I had trouble with eggs not setting. This led to a slightly drier dish. Next time there will be a little more liquid in the meat and less baking time. The flavors were spot on. The saltiness from the meat contrasted wonderfully with the sweetness from the plantains. This is dish in now in my repertoire.