An Introduction to Puerto Rican Cuisine by Yvette Ali

One of the biggest perks of blogging is getting to meet very interesting, creative and likeminded individuals. A few months ago, I had a chance encounter with the lovely, bubbly Yvette Ali. I fell in love with her endearing accent, and my heart missed a beat when she mentioned she originates from the very colourful country of Puerto Rico. As we were at a foodie event (at the launch of the BBC Good Food show to be precise), I had a long list of questions for her about her native cuisine. Till I met Yvette, my idea of Puerto Rican dishes was vaguely similar to Spanish offerings. However, Yvette tells me their food has a great deal of African and Latino influences thrown in as well!

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By day she freelances as a consultant (do check out her site by clicking here), but in her spare time Yvette whips up a feast that takes her back to her cultural roots. In today’s guest post, Yvette gives us a vivid glimpse into the world of Puerto Rican cuisine, and ends by generously sharing a recipe for her all-time favorite Escabeche de Pescado con Vianda. Read on for more!

Ask a few Puerto Ricans what their favorite comfort food is and you may get a few different responses. For many, it may be Arroz con Abichuelas con Patitas, others perhaps Pastellon, or Pastelles, or Alcapurria, or Arroz on Gandules, or Tostones, Plantanos, or those heavenly Quesitos. Our food, which is typically referred to as comida criolla (Créole cooking) can be traced back to the indigenous (Tainos and Arawaks) people of the island, but was later influenced by the Spanish and the enslaved Africans. From there birthed a rich culinary tradition that will not only blow your Instagram feed off the charts, but leave you in a blissful state once when you sink your teeth into one our dishes.

Our food is rich, colorful, savory, and irresistible. You will find lots of Spanish olives in your food, use of olive oil, fried meats, mariscos(seafood), succulent whole roasted pigs, boiled green bananas, plantains, hearty root vegetables, aromatic rice dishes, pigeon peas, pink or red beans, and creamy flans. Our food is not spicy. We use aji dulce (a Caribbean sweet pepper), but that’s about it. A proper sofrito is the holy grail of all Puerto Rican cooking. Your momma will surely give you a side eye if you don’t have a decent bottle of homemade vs.  store-bought sofrito in your refrigerator.

Any self-respecting Puerto Rican home will have at least one of these dishes (or more that I did not even get to mention) in their homes. Traditional Puerto Rican moms make sure “el amuerzo” is done every day by or before 12 noon, and always makes extra just in case someone happens to drop in. You always offer food. It’s simply rude not too, and you will be talked about if you don’t. 

Our food is as good as it gets. There is no need to change anything about it. It has been the same since I was born. My memories of my mom, aunties, and family friends cooking over their stoves with such love, pride, joy, loud banter runs deep. There is no such thing as “a” comfort food in our cuisine because all of our dishes are comfort food. Our food, simply put, is sensual, spiritual, and nourishing. It  just always, always warms my cockles. J

It was utterly difficult to pick one dish as a recipe love offering for this beautiful blog, but I chose this one because – shamefully – it’s the only one I’ve truly mastered.

 

Escabeche de Pescado con Vianda (Pickled Fish with Root Vegetables)

Escabeche

What You Need

  • 6-8 slices of King Fish (Sierra in Spanish). Ask the butcher to slice them thinly for you about ¼ inch)
  • One large white onion
  • About ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5-7 bay leaves
  • Goya© Adobo all-purpose seasoning con pimenta FullSizeRender
  • 1 Packet of Sazón Goya con Culantro and Achiote FullSizeRender_1
  • 1 cup olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil 
  • 8 cloves of garlic (pressed)
  • About 1/4 cup of Spanish pimento-stuffed olives

 

What You Gotta Do

  1. Wash, rinse and pat dry your fish. You can use lime or vinegar to wash it with if you want.
  2. Take a sharp knife and gently poke around the flesh a bit.
  3. Rub your freshly pressed  garlic with all its juices over the fish and into some of the poked areas.
  4. Season generously with the Goya© Adobo all-purpose seasoning and the Sazón Goya.  Be shameless here. We like our food con mucho sabor. You can marinate the fish for a least 20 minutes or start cooking right away. Depends on how hungry you are.
  5. Slice your onion in thin even circles.
  6. Add your cooking oil into a shallow non-stick frying pan and bring to medium heat.
  7. Add your fish the sizzling oil and fry for about 5-7 minutes on each side.

 

While that’s going, you can make your marinade:

  1. In a separate casserole, add your olive oil, vinegar, olive, raw onion and bay leaves.
  2. Bring to a quick boil and simmer for about 2-3 more minutes.
  3. Cook down until they are soft but not over cooked. You want them to have a little crunch.
  4. Pour this amazing marinade over the fish, which has already been removed from the pan and drained of excess oil.

 

You can eat this right away with boiled cassava, green bananas or favorite rice dish. The best thing about this pickled fish dish is you can eat it cold. It tastes even better the day after it has sat to marinate in its juices. My Mom tells me this was a staple back in the long ago days when some people in rural areas of Puerto Rico did not have a refrigerator to store food. It’s a smart way of food conservation and can even be enjoyed with some chunks of French bread the next day and beyond.

Buen provecho!

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