Howdy Dear Readers,
Welcome to the latest edition of my blog, discovering the world by the mouthful. I realize I am not a very consistent blogger, but it is hard hole up all morning in an internet café when you`re having so much fun! Seriously though I hope you enjoy this installment, with guest photo editor and photographer Jordan Kleinman.
When we last left off, we had just departed the wilds of Tayrona and returned to the very slow pace of Taganga. There, we witnessed two consecutive Saturday nights as the locals prepared for their own version of Carnaval, the debaucherous final hurrah before the beginning of Lent that Latin Americans seem to enjoy with great gusto. The whole town turned out in droves to witness the ramshackle parade, with dancers of all ages, makeshift costumes and lots and lots of projectile foam and aguardiente. Aguardiente, colloquially referred to as Guaro is liquor distilled from cane spirits and flavored with anise. It is the official drink of Carnaval and Colombia, and Colombians aren´t shy about keeping your glass quite full, as I soon found out.
Leaving Taganga,we headed straight for Barranquilla for the famous Carnaval, the main event, the second biggest celebration of its kind in Latin America, after that of Rio de Janeiro. After a bit of bumpy ride checking in to our “hostal” (really just a student house where the owners thought they would make a quick buck), we were quickly enveloped into four straight days of aguardiente-fueled merriment and mayhem. After the elaborate street parades by day, the streets filled with revellers flocking around anywhere with a sound-system (usually just a store with some tables outside), which pumped out beats ranging from reggaeton, salsa and cumbia to vallenato (a coastal Colombian favorite, sort of Mexican Norteño music with a tropical rhythm). This was supplemented by wandering musicians posting up on the sides of these parties,and blasting papayero,cumbia,vallenato or any other highly rhythmic Colombian music. These makeshift parties lasted well into the next morning, stopping only when everyone finally wanders home or to another club. After four straight days of this madness, a lot of guaro, street food and dancing, souls cleansed of mischief, clothes sullied with the cornstarch everyone pitches in each other´s faces, and eager for the next adventure, we crawled on a bus and headed to Cartagena.
Cartagena was the main departure point for Spanish galleons loaded with New World gold, and thus is among the best-preserved colonial walled towns in the Americas. Unfortunately, that also makes it well-trodden upon tourist territory, complete with Prada boutiques and the like within the elegantly-manicured city-in-the-wall. However, outside the wall is a culture lively as you would expect anywhere else on the coast, with families hurling dominoes and drinking beer, loud music booming out of well, everywhere, and things getting seedy as soon as night falls. Below, please find a couple of really great seafood recipes inspired by my time on the coast, and hopefully by later this week I will have an addendum showing the ten-course meal we were served by a three-star Michelin chef in a hostal in Medellin, as well as some audio and video from the spectacular last night of Carnaval. Ciao, until then!
Robalo al Cilantro (Bass in Cilantro Sauce)
24 oz. Sea Bass filets, or equivalent in whole fish, or butterflied for grilling
1 bunch cilantro
2 Cloves Garlic
4 Tbs. Vegetable or Light Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup water
Prepare fish to your liking, either sautéing or pan roasting in a very hot pan with a bit of oil, seasoning with salt and pepper and finishing with a squeeze of lime. If grilling, rub whole, butterflied (or whole) fish with cut garlic, salt, pepper and oil. Place skin side down on hot grill about 3-5 minutes per side, depending on size. To make the cilantro sauce, put entire bunch of cilantro in blender (removing any really fibrous stems) with 1 clove of garlic, 2 Tbs. of oil, a big pinch of salt and 1/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. This sauce also make an excellent salad dressing. The acidity of the cilantro makes a nice alternative to viniagrette-style dressings. Spoon the sauce over the filet or pooled beneath the whole fish and serve.
Arroz con Mariscos (Seafood Rice)
This is a variation on a classic Colombian coastal recipe. It came about when I bought 5 lbs. of mixed shellfish from a local fisherman in Taganga and then spent two nights making dinner for everyone at the hostal. Needless to say, I made a lot of friends that week. This recipe highlights the necessity of creative cooking when in severely under-equipped hostal kitchens in small towns where only the most basic foods are available. For example, the only pot big enough to make this dish didn’t have a lid, so I ended up making it risotto-style, adding the stock little by little. Even though I couldn’t get arborio rice, (which any fancy cookbook will tell you is the only way to make risotto) the rice came out with a nice bite, and a fantastic shellfish flavor. I hope if you can take anything from this blog, and my cooking philosophy in general, its that you don’t need a bunch of fancy kitchen gadgets or pots and pans nor do you need expensive imported foods to make a dynamite meal, just some ultra fresh, quality products, some friends and a lot of wine and beer!
1 lb. Fresh Octopus, excess cartilage and skin removed, chopped in 1/4 in. slices
1lb. Fresh Snails, shells removed, chopped into 1/4 in. pieces
1 lb. Shrimp
1 Large white onion, finely chopped
5-6 Tomatoes, 1/4 in dice
2 lbs. Rice (Arborio would be the official choice, but I used plain old long-grain)
1 cup White Wine
2 Tbs. Butter
1 Tb. Chopped Parsley
4-5 Cloves garlic
Salt and White Pepper
2 tbs. Red crushed pepper
Put octopus and snails in a pressure cooker, cover with water, add bay leaf and put on to boil. They should take about 45 minutes to cook fully. Meanwhile, prep the other vegetables. When octopus and snails are tender, remove the pressure cooker from the heat, put raw shrimp into the same water and leave them to poach gently. When they are pink throughout, remove all shellfish, reserving the stock. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, put the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and garlic, sauteeing until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes, stirring constantly to break them up. Add rice, toasting slowly and letting flavors infuse until slightly golden. Deglaze with white wine. Slowly add ladles full hot seafood stock while stirring the rice. This process will likely take about 45 minutes. Relax-have a beer. If the rice starts to stick, add more stock. If it still sticks, turn down the heat a bit. The rice is done when full of seafood flavor, and still has a nice al dente bite. Add cooked seafood to the rice. Season with salt, pepper and chopped parsley, and maybe a squeeze of lime for good measure.