Thursday, February 11, 2010

Papas Rellenas.. Cuba's gift to the world

Ahhh Papas Rellenas. One of the things I've taken from my Mother In Law and improved upon :D My husband's father is Cuban, so his mother had added a few authentic cubano meals to her repertoire. I, in turn, took note of my husband's most favorite foods and simply learned how to make them by watching my MIL from the kitchen table.

I remember being in her kitchen when my husband's step-brother was over for a visit. This man owns and operates his own Cuban restaurant in Detroit so naturally when he found out my MIL was making papas, he asked for one. She was sheepish to hand one over but did and I saw why after he did his fair share of critiquing, haha. After eating at a few cuban places, and working on my own techniques, I hope I'm not too scurrd to hand one over to him if he should ask for one someday.

Now what are papas rellenas? Most simply, they are fried potato balls. A very popular side dish/snack in Latin America. They're also known throughout the world in different places as potato croquettes or Alu Chops (potato chops).

The traditional Latin American version is mashed potatoes filled with seasoned meat (aka picadillo) that are then shaped into small balls, breaded and fried. Some accompaniments are aji (a vinegary, peppery, tomato sauce), blackbeans, avocado or, as is popular in my home, sourcream.

Papas Rellenas are one of the quintessential Cuban dishes and I have them at every Cuban restaurant I come across. One thing that I've picked up on in regards to papas preparation, is that it seems to be a whole lot easier to simply add the picadillo to the potatoes and mix them together - then form balls from that mixture. I used to make them stuffed so I can say firsthand that this is an easier method of an already some-what time-consuming dish.

My Papas Rellenas:
5 lg Potatoes – peeled and cubed
1 lb Ground Pork
1 Yellow Onion - diced
1 Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper – diced
2 Garlic cloves – minced
2-3 T. Sofrito (optional – you can use just spices if you wish)
1 T. Ground Cumin
2 t. Ground Coriander
5 lg Eggs
1 c. Flour
3 c. Bread Crumbs
Salt and White Pepper for seasoning

* Boil potatoes, drain and mash (do not add any oil or liquid to the potatoes)
* In a large saute pan, brown & crumble ground pork. Set aside in a medium bowl.
* In same saute pan, saute onion & pepper for 5-7 minutes. Add in minced garlic and saute one minute more. Add to bowl with the ground pork, the sofrito, cumin and coriander and mix all together.
* In a large bowl mix together mashed potatoes, one of the eggs that have been slightly beaten & the seasoned meat mixture. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
* With a large muffin scoop, scoop out about ½ c. portions of the potato mix and shape into balls. Once you're done with scooping and shaping, place balls back in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill again.
* In three containers place your flour, breadcrumbs and remaining eggs for your breading station. When it's time to bread the potato balls dip into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs - and if you want extra crispy papas, dip them back into the egg and then again in the breadcrumbs. Place back in the fridge to rest and chill for at least an hour.
* In a deep fryer heated to 375F, place papas into the basket and lower into hot oil. Fry for 3 minutes. The papas will keep for another hour in a warm oven.

Boiling! (Keep in mind, the correct way to boil potatoes is to start them in cold [salted] water and then bring them to a boil. Once they come to a boil they should be brought down to a simmer and cooked for 15-25 minutes – depending on how big you've diced them)
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Mix together potatoes, picadillo and beaten egg
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In the interest of time saving, I put the potato mixture in a casserole dish. The larger surface area will cool the food faster.
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I believe it was my American Regional chef who told us that when it comes to breading, you should season everything – the breadcrumbs, the egg and the flour. So that's what I do. Salt and pepper go into the flour and egg and when it comes to papas, and other things like tortas, I like to use Dean & Deluca's Southwest blend in the breadcrumbs. IMO it's the perfect amount of chile powder, cumin, coriander & oregano
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Frying! (Thank you hubby for the xmas present! <3 my cooldaddy)
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Delicioso! (Yes this is normally a side dish/snack but we eat it for dinner 'round these parts)
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And there you have it. Papas a'la guera :D

Now, in some versions of papas, pimento stuffed green olives are added to the picadillo. This is the way my MIL makes hers. The Mr. truly dislikes olives however, so I omit them. They're just as tasty without.

Picadillo is also a dish that can be eaten as it is made, with a side of rice or in tortillas as tacos.

One thing I have not made yet, but I feel is very worthy of mention is the sofrito. Sofrito is a base of many Latin American cuisines, indeed even in some Mediterranean cuisines. The salsa differs from region to region but the basic of it seems to be tomato, onion, pepper and olive oil. One of these days I'll have to do up a big batch of it and do a Latin American week for dinner. Another thing I want to try is the aji sauce. I'm enjoying learning more about these little nuances in regional food and their accompaniments. Loving this blog more and more :)