Piles of parsley, cilantro & oregano, a bucket of plantains and spices galore. I’ll assume you recognize the makings of a fiesta.
Last night I attended a class at Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center entitled: Cuisines of the World: Central America, Panama. It’s a cool operation, interested in organic when necessary, fair-trade & local agriculture. Luckily though, they’re not obnoxious about it. One of my favorite exchanges of the evening took place over a discussion about what fish would be good for ceviche. It went something like this:
Of course, our instructor explained that its sustainability was in direct correlation to its tastiness, thus imparting knowledge while not making anyone feel stupid.
The ceviche in question, however, was being prepared with tilapia–the skim milk of fish. Lacking flavor or interest, tilapia probably has its place (say, in a taco, where the toppings are more important) but mainly it’s a cheap buy when you want fish but can’t afford it. That said, the ceviche was good and the technique sound, it simply could have been much better.
Next on the menu, patacones and their sweet brethren, maduros. Both plantains, of varying ripeness, they were deep-fried–the first then smashed and refried–to perfection. We also made carminolas (a fritter of mashed yuca, stuffed with ground beef & spices), and a whole Red Snapper: scored, slathered in oil and “oven-fried.” All delicious, interesting & perfect for your next Panamanian party. Then came the stew.
Purportedly Panamanian Sancocho, a chicken stew and the country’s national dish, the version we sampled was hardly even a soup. So, here’s the thing: As a student in this class, I was trying hard not to come off as a know-it-all. I was accepting when our instructor said she didn’t believe in salting in stages. I said nothing when the sofrito went in for a mere two minutes before throwing in the rest of the veg. I even held my tongue, though I’m sure not my eyebrow, when the unseared, skin-on chicken parts were dumped atop a few minutes beyond that. By the time the trinity of aforementioned fresh herbs went in prematurely, accompanied by the water and corn, I’d given up believing in dreams. So stunted was I, that not ever a picture exists with which to share the atrocities.
Dear readers, here you will bear the brunt of “how this should have gone down.” A.) If you’re going to boil raw chicken in the soup, fine–but remove the skin first & season the meat instead, otherwise you’ll have an oily, under-seasoned pot o’ bore. Ideally though, season & sear the meat, reserve, rid excess grease/add oil appropriately, saute the veg then add the chicken and all til it’s cooked through, shred. Also, salt as you go, dude. I love vegetables but these tasted like a lot of nothing. You can totally salt at the end–which i did liberally–but, if you salt in stages, I promise you will be rewarded for the individualized attention. And, water is totally great for slow cooking soups, especially when there’s so many flavorful things going in, but didn’t impart enough flavor for our quick version which needed stock. Finally, delicate herbs typically go in at the end. And in conclusion, if you happen to be in my group at a cooking class, don’t elect me to do everything at the cook-top and then tell me I’m doing it wrong. Cause I totally wasn’t.
I will say that it’s totally embarrassing to nick your finger in front of a bunch of people who obviously know less about slicing than you do. Sigh.