Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve, Puerto Rican Style

The Food.

The Family.

The Madness.

Who doesn't love the holiday season? I have been an absent blogger as of late. I have been chugging around town catching up with an elite list of people. It is not that I don't have time to blog; I just have nothing to blog about. When I visit Florida, I usually find myself at all my favorite restaurants from the cooking involved. But it is time for Christmas, and this year has been a doozie. And yes, the kitchen is open.

Let's start with Christmas Eve. I like to call Christmas Eve the night of the Puerto Rican invasion. I think you can see why (see above picture).

It happens once a year. My mom's side of the family gets together to feast on the usual suspects: pork, arroz con gandules, green bean casserole and rum cake just to name a few. The whole family was together this year so it was very special.

My grandmother and my aunt make arroz con gandules once a year for the holidays. This is something I look forward to in life. Grandma Laura is from Puerto Rico. She is the mother of two daughters, Janet and Nicky (my mother). She is a woman of sincere faith and compassion. My aunt Janet has been in training for years learning to perfect my grandmother's arroz con gandules technique. I have a lot of catching up to do.

This is how it works (although I imagine this is one of those "you had to be there" recipes):

Grandma Laura's Arroz Con Gandules

1 whole bunch of cilantro
1 onion
1 whole head of garlic
1 green bell pepper
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
2 envelopes ham bullion (Goya makes "jamon en polvo") - about 2 tbsp
2 envelopes Sazon con Azafran (Goya also makes this) - about 2 tbsp
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
12 oz tomato sauce
1/2 slice of cooking ham (include the bone if you can) - about 3/4 C cubed ham
1 lb of pork chops, cubed (about one inch)
1/4 C capers
1/2 C green olives stuffed with pimientos (some chopped some left whole)
5 bay leaves
2 cans green pigeon peas (reserve the juice)
2 lbs white long grain rice (you can also use short grain, just make sure whatever rice you use is high quality)

First make the SOFRITO. This is a sauce, used as a base for many Puerto Rican dishes. You can use this recipe to make soups, stews (like ropa vieja) or even stuffing at Thanksgiving. To make the sofrito, simply chop up the first ten ingredients (cilantro through tomato sauce). Blend everything in a food processor (or if you do not have one, just chop it very fine). You can make this ahead of time and refrigerate or even freeze it to use later.

Place the pork chops and cooking ham (preferably with the bone) in a large pot over medium heat until cooked all the way through.
Once the meat is cooked, transfer to a large stew pot (you must have a tightly fitted lid that goes with it) over medium heat, and pour the sofrito over it. (Tip: Swish some water around in the dish the sofrito was poured from, and reserve it for later in case you need to add more water to the rice).

Drain the juice from the 2 canes of green pigeon peas into the pot with the meat and sofrito (do not add the beans themselves at this point).
Add the olives, capers, and bay leaves.

Mix everything to combine, and bring the mixture to a fast boil (it should be very bubbly before you move on).

Pour both cans of beans into the pot and stir.
When the mixture begins to bubble again, it is time to add the rice.
Add the rice slowly by creating a small pile in the middle of the pot (about 1 cup at a time).

Do not mix the rice into the meat/sofrito mixture quickly. Rather, use a wooden spoon to slowly spread the rice around the pot, starting from the middle and working your way out. The goal is to get the rice to sink towards the bottom without simply whisking it around.

Continue to add rice to the mixture until you can see that the rice is evenly distributed throughout it. You will know this has happened when you can see some rice floating towards the top (it should be about 2 lbs, but you will really have to go by sight more than anything).
Once the rice is added, cover the pot with a fitted lid that will not release any steam from the pot, and cook for 20 minutes between the low and medium stovetop heat setting.
After 20 minutes, uncover the pot. Use a sturdy spoon to carefully flip the rice. The idea here is to get the rice on the bottom f the pot to the top and vise versa for even cooking. You need to work very slowly because simply mixing the rice quickly will cause it to become mushy.

Also use this time to scrape away any bits of the mixture that are stuck to the bottom of the pot.
When you have finished flipping the rice, use the spoon to pack the rice down into the pot.

Start on the outsides, and work your way in, creating a mound.

Use a lid to a smaller pot, and place it on top of the mound of rice to pack it in as tightly as possible.

Leave the smaller lid in the pot, and place the lid fitted to the pot back on top (at this point you will have a lid inside the pot and a lid fitting the pot).

Cook the rice with the two lids for another 40 minutes over the low/medium heat setting.
If the rice is still a little raw after the 40 min, you may need to add some hot water (you can use the water that you rinsed the sofrito bowl with) and continue cooking as needed.

I suspect if you are going to try to make this dish, you will have questions. You can post a question as a comment, and I will see what I can do to help!


The Boston Lady said...

I swear Orlando Grandma has that exact same cooking pot. We have been eating Arroz Con Pollo for years from it!! This sounds like a very special recipe that is made with a lot of love. One day I hope to attempt this challenging recipe! Looks like it was a great day.

Admin said...

The Puerto Ricans really have their way of celebrating Christmas Eve! And they serve delicious Puerto Rican Dishes! Love it!

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