A Home-Reared Chef!
Cook by Instinct, Recipe #14!
I’ve such wonderful and delicious memories of food growing up; of waking up from deep slumber, on a Saturday or Sunday morning, to the enticing food smells and coffee aroma drifting from the kitchen.
On a bright morning silence, or a lightning and thunder clapping stormy morning (my favorite weather) unexpectedly and without warning, I’d open my little eyes, and lying on my back, staring at the nothingness of the ceiling, I’d put to complete and full use my sense of smell. I would begin to decipher each invisible and delectable molecule and atom with a smart recital: tear-inducing onions, sweet-tart tomatoes, hot-enough-to-salivate chiles, coffee…or the sweetest, ripened smell of frying plátanos! And how glorious to find I was not only dreaming!
I could picture my Mamá smiling, and ever pleased with herself, wearing her food-stained apron, standing over the hot-stove—usually sweating—gently stirring scrambled eggs married with onion, bell pepper and tomato, scraping the refried beans in their black frying pan – back-and-forth and left-to-right, like an old dance long-rehearsed – and then reaching into another pan to gently turn the slowly browning, thick slices of plátanos, fried to a deep golden, and slightly crisp on the outside, however tender and gooey on the inside. Over these blistering plátanos, Mamá would unleash a heavy sprinkling of sugar and perhaps a light dusting of cinnamon, and then she’d keep them warm beneath the plátano’s peels (saved for just this purpose). Sometimes, to the plátanos, we would add a hefty dollop of fresh crema agria, cool, thick sour-cream to contrast the sticky sweetness.
Ah, breakfast; what belly-filling scrumptiousness foods were always waiting, and what a most pleasing and enriching way to begin one’s day!
I have come to believe that cooking is my Art; the kitchen, filled with my lowly wares, my studio. Therein I have my canvas and tools. For well-chosen spices and ingredients create the magic to unleash the mysteries of food. Even our yesterday’s leftovers are used today to create a new and surprising dish. Flavors imagined are flavors with poetry; a colorful harmony of perfection on the tongue, and quite often an antidote to a sad heart.
My mother often served these sweet, fried plátanos with black beans and Salvadoreño fried rice alongside Cuban oxtails that’d been marinated overnight in wine – sweet and tart, a perfect combination of flavors. And though I have many “favorite” dishes—what can I say to this?—I love to cook and I love to eat what I cook, so here, again, is another of “my favorite” dishes. This is comfort food beyond all others.
Cuban Oxtail Stew in Wine
3 to 4 pounds beef oxtails, trimmed of most fat
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 a rose of garlic head, finely chopped
1 bulb of shallots
1 (4 oz) jar of capers, juice included
1 bottle of Zinfandel, enough to barely cover meat
Gray salt and ground chili flakes or pepper to taste
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1. In a non-reactive heavy pot (a Le Cruset or stainless steel) arrange the trimmed oxtails as uniformly as possible, and then add all ingredients, evenly spread, with the exception of raisins.
2. Cover first with plastic wrap then with foil (the garlic will smell strong enough to seep throughout your fridge and into your ice maker, if it is not covered well) and refrigerate overnight.
3. Day of cooking; take pot out of fridge and let it sit on the counter for about 2 hours before you begin cooking.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste, and raisins, and over high heat, bring oxtails to a boil. When boiling, cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 3 to 4 hours, or until tender when poked with a fork.
5. At this point add a small can of tomato paste, blending well. Cook for about another 30 minutes.
NOTE: As mentioned before, you can serve this with rice and beans, or mashed potatoes, if you prefer.