Plantains and Serenata de Bacalao (Saltcod Salad)
Okay, I had a lot of fun around here over the last few months with fall foods, all those cozy, sit-by-the-fire dishes that seemed so welcome as summer waned and then disappeared. But a few days ago I was doing my shopping with the first snowstorm of the winter (which hasn't even technically started yet) bearing down on us and suddenly I was thinking...tropical. Fortunately, even in Maine these days you can find plantains, yautía and other staples of Puerto Rican cookery.
I guess it was the salt cod I picked up, for one of our favorite Christmas traditions (an Italian salt-cod soup, the subject of a future post) that made me think of Puerto Rico. Ten years ago, in the first few months of our courtship, E and I went to PR with our friends Carmen and Jeff. It was a magical week in the sun, and one of the first times I really got to appreciate what an enthusiastic and adventurous eater E is. We ate plantains almost every day, drank dark rum, and on several nights Carmen (who is Puerto Rican and lived on the Island for seven years when she was young) cooked traditional dishes for us.
Serenata de bacalao - a salad featuring salt cod - was one of the most memorable of Carmen's dishes, and she generously shared the recipe with me. Salt cod, now somewhat of a rare delicacy, was the foundation of several economic and civil empires over the last few centuries, as documented in the wonderful book by Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. As a result there are many, many preparations featuring salt cod in many different national cuisines.
Plantains, along with yautía, are the potatoes of the Island. They are prepared in hundreds of different ways: boiled, fried, fricaseed, you name it. Last night I just did two of the most common and popular: fried ripe plantains and plantain pie, which is sort of the Shepard's Pie of Puerto Rico, although a lot more interesting. A tumbler of ice and dark rum with a squeezed lime section floating in it and I was ready to face another Maine winter!
Serenata de bacalao (Salt Cod Seranade Salad)
1 lb salt cod
2 yellow onions, sliced in crescents
2 sweet peppers, red or green, sliced in crescents
2 tomatoes, sliced in crescents
2 C shredded lettuce (or cabbage)
2 ripe avocado, sliced
2 boiling potatoes, boiled, sliced
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
(optional: hard cooked eggs, sliced; capers)
Desalt the cod by soaking in water to cover, refrigerated, for 3 days, changing the water one to three times a day. Cut the cod into chunks about 1" square and place in a pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse. When cooled, flake the fish.
Arrange the vegetables and fish on a bed of the lettuce and drizzle with oil and vinegar to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
Fried Ripe Plantains
Ripe plantains (yellow with dark markings)
oil for frying
salt to taste
Peel and slice the plantains crosswise into 1/2" thick discs. Sauté in oil on medium-high heat, turning once, until golden. Drain on paper towels and salt to taste.
Adapted from Rice and Beans and Tasty Things: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, by Dora Romano.
1 lb ground beef or pork
4 oz bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1 small sweet pepper, finely chopped
2 small hot peppers, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 pitted green olives, chopped
1 T capers, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 T tomato paste
1/4 C water
4 large ripe plantains, boiled and peeled
3 T butter, softened
Sauté the ground meat and bacon until browned in a heavy skilled, stirring, over medium heat. Remove the meat, salt to taste, and set aside. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan and add the onion and peppers. Sauté, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, olives, capers, oregano, tomato paste and water and cook 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the meat to the pan and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To make the crust, mash the plantains and mix in the butter. Line the bottom of a buttered 9" pie plate with half of the mashed plantains. Spread the meat filling over the plantains and top with the rest of the plantains. Dot with butter and bake in a preheated 375º oven about 25 minutes, until nicely browned.