…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
I have lots of irrational fears–loads of them. Choking, escalators, and every time I crack an egg, I experience a brief moment of trepidation. But my biggest fear is that I’m going to make someone sick with something I cook. The manner in which I handle raw chicken refuse rivals the Anal Retentive Chef. It gets triple bagged, immediately taken to the outside trash bin, and the counters are then wiped down at least three times with disinfectant. I have three different varieties of Lysol on hand at all times. Oh, yes. I hear you mocking me over there. It’s all fun and games until a pathogen invades your alimentary canal and cripples your various sphincters…
I like Cuban food, what with it’s pork-centric, garlicky, citrusy, cumin-laced palate. Or, at least, I think I like Cuban food. I have cooked a decent amount of Cuban-ish food including tostones, mojo sauce, pernil (which may, in fact, be a Puerto Rican dish, but I digress…), and of course, Cuban sandwiches. But, I have no idea how authentic tasting any of my Cuban food is, as I have never eaten authentic Cuban food.
My parents came to stay with us last week. We decided to go out for dinner one night, and I spent hours deciding where we should go. I pored over Yelp and Urbanspoon, and found that a new Cuban place had opened up on the west side of town. The excitement of having a real Cuban joint in a suburban restaurant landscape otherwise dominated by casual dining chains overwhelmed me. Oh, how the fates were against me on that night…
I went in expecting this:
And was punished with this:
Okay, okay. I exaggerate the appearance–in reality, it looked pretty sexy. Here is my actual meal:
It looks good–clockwise from top: masitas de puerco; arroz con pollo; maduros over congris; and yucca fritta. My opinions, counter-clockwise from the yucca: yucca–cold and disgusting and lacking any sauce; sweet plantains–delicious; congris–cold and insipid; arroz con pollo–pollo: as dry as hangover mouth (it was a thigh–that thing must have been sitting on a steam table for HOURS) and the arroz–cold, yellow, and just sad; and the puerca? No mojo and it nearly game me a panic attack.
This was depression food–either the era or the psychological disorder, take your pick. And the kids menu? Look, I never expect much there. My youngest ordered the mac and cheese (she’s three and obsessed with the stuff). It was Kraft macaroni and cheese (I wish I were kidding). My middle child took a chance and got the chicken tenders, which she has never had before (I take tremendous pride in this fact). The chicken came with a side of food poisoning.
So, the near panic attack happened when, after about my third bite of puerca (which incidentally were tiny cuts of deep-fried spareribs–bony and fatty and tough; neither marinated nor panfried), I developed serious case of Cap’n Crunch Mouth. I don’t know when it happened, I just know that I was abruptly and acutely aware of it, and was suddenly fearful that I had ingested shards of glass or corrosive chemicals (irrational fears: see above). Go, go, go adrenal glands! Got hold of myself and ate some plantain chips (damn tasty) which were brought out 10 minutes after the entrees with which they should have been included. (I will not annihilate the service here, I’ll save that for my Yelp review.)
So, my poor dolly endured three days of puking. And you know what? I’ve endured it, too. Barfing offspring take a real toll on Mom. The sympathy gagging, the lack of sleep, the endless handwashing, the loss of both fingerprints and nosehair to a potent rotation of Tilex®, Lysol®, and bleach.
Then finally and thankfully, Sunday rolled around. The puking subsided, and our company departed for home. A weariness and a quietness enveloped the house, and I looked for something to mitigate those feelings. Something like food. Something like food that pairs well with daytime wine. Something like panisses.
Before today, I’ve neither eaten nor made panisses. But I did buy a sack of besan (chickpea) flour from the Indian market close to a year ago. Chickpea flour french fries do indeed provide a suitable emotional diversion. Here’s what I did:
Panisses (adapted from Steven Raichlen)
2 cups besan (chickpea) flour
2 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups water
Canola oil, for frying
Kosher salt, for sprinkling
In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the flour, parsley, garlic, and salt & pepper. Slowly whisk in the water, eliminating as many clumps as you can. Heat over medium high, and cook, aggressively stirring with a wooden spoon (I had to stand on a stool positioned in front of the stove to obtain adequate leverage), until thick and lump-free, about 5 minutes. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray and spread the paste out into a rough 12in x 7 in x 1/4 in rectangle (mine was more amoeba-shaped.) Cool to room temp, then cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 4-6 hrs or overnight. Cut into the shape and length of your choosing and shallow fry over medium-high heat in a cast iron skillet (or other suitable vessel) for 5-7 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Salt them as soon as they come out of the oil and serve hot.
Do yourself a favor and mix up a bit of yogurt or sour cream with a hefty shot of zhug (or sambal or other hot sauce) and salt to taste and use as a dip for these crispy and flaky on the outside-creamy & custardy on the inside little nuggets.
Alternately, you can bake them at 500 degrees for 12 minutes, turning once. Just put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and spray the tops with cooking spray. They are horrible and I don’t recommend them. They look like this:
As for Cuban food, it looks like Knoxvillians are yet again relegated to sating their culinary desires in Maryville.