What I love the most about social media is that it allows me to connect with people that I would never have met otherwise and my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE is getting a message from another Boricua who feels as strongly about Puerto Rican flavors as I do. I recently received this note from Hilarie Santiago:
I’ve been a huge fan of yours since your appearance in Master Chef 3. I truly identified from the beginning, being a Puerto Rican mom, hustling to make a better life for her baby. Let me just say, you are a fantastic mom and Danger is a lucky little guy, to have such a strong and creative mother. Although I’ve always cheered for you and found you to be charming, creative, and a great role model, I never saw within myself the ability to be a good cook. My memory always overflows with the flavors and smells that would emanate from my Abuela Lucy’s kitchen, leaving me nostalgic and regretful that I never had the time to learn from her how to “cocinar comida criolla” while she was around.
This week, I looked over your posts featuring homemade “sofrito” and “sazón”, Puerto Rican beans, along with your creative use of “platanos maduros”, and I truly felt inspired! I studied your recipes and found the courage to make the “sofrito”, throw together the “sazón”, and scoured store after store in search of the perfect “amarillos”. (Not an easy task if you’ve ever visited rural Vermont). Tonight, as I sit in my living room after having made a perfect “pastelón, arroz y habichullas” for my little family, still being able to smell the “sazón” y “sofrito” on my hands, my belly is happy and my heart is full of gratitude. Thank you for helping me reconnect with my raíces and allowing me to feed my family with a little bit of home that I thought I had lost.
With love and laughter,
Hilarie thank you so much for your beautiful message! It is such an incredible gift to make something for your family that allows you to share Puerto Rico with them. I hope you continue to do so. We may live thousands of miles from our little island, but its spirit is always just a recipe away. You’ve inspired me to share one of my favorite recipes from la cocina criolla: pastelón. My Abuela Dora taught me how to make it and it is the very first dish I prepared for Gordon Ramsay. The complexity and richness of its flavors scored me a MasterChef apron and in turn, this humble Puerto Rican recipe changed my life completamente.
Traditionally when making pastelón you fry very thin slices of sweet plantain and layer them with picadillo and green beans. I prefer a lighter version. I boil the sweet plantain and mash it with cream and butter. Sometimes I will add a little brown sugar as the plantains in Los Angeles aren’t as sweet as the ones our island. I chop the green beans into the picadillo (ground beef hash) and top it with the plantain mash, as you would a shepherd’s pie. My soundtrack for this preparation is Tavin Pumajero’s Canto Jibaro. (The video starts off a little mangled but always brings a tear to my eye especially when he sings: “Regresa un día mi hermano, porque tú sabes que aquí también brilla para tí el tibio sol Borincano.”) Buen Provecho!
- large saute pan
- large pot for boiling
- 4-inch ring mold
Ingredients for picadillo
- 1 tablespoons salt pork finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, fine dice
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup green pepper, fine dice
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, fine dice
- 1 tablespoon manzano pepper, finely diced (sub jalapeno for a softer heat)
- 1/2 cup sofrito
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon sazón
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 lb ground beef (1/2 lb short rib, 1/4 lb brisket, 1/4 lb sirloin)
- 1/2 tablespoon capers, chopped
- 1 cup green beans, blanched in salted water and chopped into ½ inch pieces
- 1/2 cup manzanilla olives (the kind with pimento in them) chopped
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon sherry
- 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
- 3/4 cup tomato sauce
- Salt TT (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Ingredients for plantain mash
- 4 ripe, yellow plantains (not too black or they will deteriorate)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and white pepper TT
- 2 tablespoons of micro greens
- 1 tablespoon of finely diced roasted red pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- Render salt pork in olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sweat, then add garlic. When aromatic add peppers and sofrito, stirring occasionally until softened.
- Add oregano, sazón, salt, pepper, and beef.
- Brown beef and then add capers, green beans, olives, raisins, sherry, vinegar, and tomato sauce. Salt to taste. Cook over medium heat until beef is done. Keep warm in a 200°F oven
- Peel and slice plantains into 2 inch rounds. Rinse briefly under cold water to remove starch.
- Boil in salted water for 10 minutes until tender.
- Meanwhile, heat milk and butter in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted.
- When plantains are fork tender, rinse under hot running water for 30 seconds to wash away excess starch.
- Pass plantains through a ricer and add most of the milk and butter mixture. Fold gently until incorporated. Add more milk if mash is too stiff.
- Add a little brown sugar if mash isn’t sweet enough.
- Using a 4-inch ring mold, layer 1/2 cup of warm picadillo with a 1/2 cup of warm plantain mash on top.
- Garnish with micro greens and finely diced roasted red pepper. Finish with a few sprinkles of grated parmesan.