March 17th, 2010

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Tamales are popular throughout Latin America, and all version come from an indigenous preparation where ground corn was steamed in the husk of the corn. The Panamanian version is steamed in plantain leaves, which both protect the tamal from the steam and add some flavor. In Panama, tamales are served at local restaurants, by street vendors and at all holidays and festivals. These pictures are of a chicken tamal from the interior of Panama. The Panamanian version is made from grated maiz nuevo, which is fresh, younger corn, hand grated.  This is steamed with sofrito, olives, and spices and a pre-cooked chicken thigh. We were given these, frozen, by some friends, so we boiled them until soft, and then finished off the dish by sautéing some onions and then giving the tamal a quick run through this mixture to add a little flavor. Serve with rice, on the plantain leaf for a nice presentation.  Read more…

Panama, Tamale

Arroz con Pollo

February 28th, 2010

arz plo cloeArroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice) is the best example of the Chinese influence on Panamanian cooking.  Basically, this is chicken fried rice with a Panamanian sofrito, capers and olives and carrots. This is a very different dish than the arroz con pollo I grew up with, which was a baked dish, with whole pieces of chicken and yellow-colored rice.  This dish is spiked with soy sauce, and the rice and chicken are pre-cooked, coming together at the end with the pre-cooked sofrito.  Originally, this dish was a way to use left over chicken and rice, but today families will gather on the weekend to cook this up from scratch, as the Grub Bogger did here.  You’ll want to be careful that you don’t get too salty with your finished product, so rinse the capers and olives, and don’t salt the sofrito.  You won’t need any salt for the chicken, because it will marinate in soy. Read more…

Chicken, Panama, Rice Dish


February 15th, 2010

mndg clsMondongo is another dish that I had always known about from Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican joints, but never ate growing up.  Tripe was not a normal dinner on the Upper West Side.  I never tried the stuff until I was living in France, and my Armenian-Turkish-French friend took me to a great little Turkish place that served İşkembe, a tripe soup enriched with egg yolk and spiked with lemon juice and paprika.  I feel in love with the stuff, and ended up going to the spot even without my friend for a fix.  Back in New York, I feel in love with what was to me is Korean İşkembe: Kom Tang.  This is a soup made from ox tails with a healthy dose of tender tripe as a meaty ingredient.  Now that I was sold on tripe, which is basically cow’s stomach, I figured I would try out my lady’s aunt’s recipe for Panamanian-style tripe stew. Read more…

Panama, Tripe


February 7th, 2010

patacones up closePatacones are known as tostones in New York - another treat I ate growing at the Cuban-Chinese joints on the Upper West Side.  Either way, they are unripe plantains, twice-fried, and eaten as a side dish.  The first fry is to soften them up and do most of the cooking.  Then, you smash them and return to the oil to get them nice and golden brown.  You can smash them with the bottom of the beer bottle or a saute pan, but I use a tostonera, a special device built for the job.  I was always a fan of platanos maduros growing up, the really ripe plantains that are also fried.  The Grub Blogger got turned on to patacones when he tried them at his lady’s family’s house, where they made up for the two reasons I hadn’t liked tostones.  First, they weren’t super-dry.  Second, they had some flavor.  Not over frying the plantains took care of the first problem.  a Healthy dose of garlic and salt, the second.  These bad boys are good for a snack or side dish. They end up in sort of a cup-like shape, and are great to scoop up sauce from your main dish.  Another key here to get a moist end-result is to use enough oil to comforably cover the plantains and let oil circulate around them, and to get that oil hot.  All you need are plantains, garlic, salt and oil for frying. Read more…

Panama, Plantains


January 22nd, 2010

My lady’s family has been making ceviche for as long as they can trace back. Many of her relatives sold it either at cevicherias or in their own bars. I had also thought that ceviche was from Peru, and that was the end of the story, but ceviche is as Panamanian as the Canal. There is a little cevicheria in the former Panama Canal Zone which has a collection of empty soda bottles lining the walls from all over the world. Spots like this serve up a variety of ceviches out of large plastic tubs with a handful of saltines. Really good stuff. In the Grub Blogger kitchen, we continue this tradition with shrimp, octopus, fish or a combination thereof. Here we make one batch with a combination of pulpo and shrimp and one with fish.  The traditional fish used in Panama is called corvina, but the Grub Blogger hasn’t been able to find that often in the States (although he did find some Costa Rican corvina in Miami, once).  I have found that kingfish works really well, and also keeps within the tradition of using a cheap piece of fish (no need to buy $20-a-pound wild sea bass for this dish).  Look for a white fleshed fish, and you should be fine. Read more…

Ceviche, Octopus, Panama, Pulpo, Seafood, Shrimp

Pulpo al Ajillo

January 12th, 2010

plpo ajlio closePulpo al Ajillo (roughly, “Octopus in Garlic Sauce”) is a good mid-week lunch for working folk, if you have some prepared pulpo in your fridge (which the Grub Blogger makes sure is always the case.)  The dish is just a simple garlic sauce, tossed with the pulpo, and served with rice or patacones.  (See my entry on pulpo for how to prepare the octopus) This dish is found in just about everything Panamanian restaurant, but is especially good the closer you are to the sea.  Like other Panamanian dishes, I have added a few elements from my days in New Orleans and cooking school to the classic preparation.  I use some lime zest, cajun seasoning and herbs de provence, along with loads of fresh garlic.  The other ingredients are butter and olive oil, which form the base of the sauce.  This dish comes together quickly, so make sure you have any side dishes ready beforehand. Read more…

Octopus, Panama, Pulpo, Seafood

Octopus (Pulpo)

January 12th, 2010

Octopus is intimidating. And foreign to most Americans’ palate. I was weary of it, but it such a staple in Panama (where is it called pulpo), that I tried it with reservations, and loved it. I order it often at tapas restaurants, and cook it in my home kitchen more than most. Almost the entire creature is edible, so you get a good yield. It is also super-easy to prepare.  After boiling, the pulpo softens enough for you to chew it easily, but retains a nice al dente texture.  Pulpo has a slight seafood flavor, a bit stronger than calamari or scallops, and picks up other flavors really well.  I always try to keep a whole, raw octo in my freezer, and usually have some already boiled and sliced in freezer bags, ready to be turned out into a quick dinner on short notice.

Take the whole guy (even if still frozen) and boil it until the purple outer layer begins to peel away, and a knife can pierce easily through the flesh at the point where the tentacles merge with the “body” of the octopus.


Read more…

Octopus, Panama, Pulpo, Seafood

Lengua con Macarones

December 31st, 2009

tng slasa clsoe

Growing up in New York, tongue was always something I saw on the menu at Katz’s Delicatessen, but never really thought about eating.  It just felt weird and seemed outrageously expensive for such an esoteric cut.  I pretty much forgot about tongue as a food option until I was in Panama, and eating at Restaurante y Pizzeria Napoli.  The Grub Blogger’s lady ordered lengua con macarones without even looking at the menu with an earnest seriousness I knew was only used for special moments.  I quickly translated this in my mind (while I was ordering my pedestrian, but delicious, lasagna) into Pasta with Tongue.  Didn’t sound too good, but, you know, I was in love.  Napoli is one of several quality Italian restaurants in Panama City, representing the immigrants who came to the isthmus over the years, many of whom came to work on the Canal.  Napoli has checkered tablecloths and a busy feeling, especially during lunch on a weekday.  The tongue was served sliced in a rich tomato sauce, clearly with Panamanian accents, over a bed of spaghetti. Read more…

Panama, Tongue

Guacho de Mariscos

December 23rd, 2009

I first came across guacho (pronounced, WAH-cho) at the fish market in Panama City, where there is a restaurant on a sort of mezzanine sitting above the vendors. Guacho is a rice porridge, almost like a risotto, but made from regular, extra-long grain white rice. The rice is soaked in water for a couple of hours before being simmered in a seafood stock for a few hours, until the grains give up almost all their starch, and expand by about three times. The base flavors come from a sofrito, and the porridge is studded with bite-sized pieces of seafood, mostly shellfish.  Guacho is a classic Panamanian dish, usually cooked for holidays (especially lent) and other festive occasions, but some families will chow down on this during once-a-week get togethers.  This is a dish from the coastal regions of Panama, where fishermen’s families could stretch a little of bit of their catch into a meal for a large extended family.  There are only a few recipes available online, so I took what little information there was, and grafted it to a base of asopao de mariscos recipes I was able to find. Asopao is a rice-based seafood soup found mostly in the Latin Caribbean, and is something I was somewhat familiar with from growing up in NYC.  The key here is slowly simmering the rice in the seafood-flavor liquid to coax the starches out of the rice and marry all the flavors.  The seafood itself is almost a garnish, put in at the end for just enough time for it to cook through.  This is a meal in and of itself, and the only additions I recommend are fresh lime juice and some hot sauce.  

Read more…

Guacho, Panama, Rice Dish, Seafood

Arroz con Concolón

December 19th, 2009

concolon xloseThe first thing the sous chefs asked me to cook at Spago during my externship (see my About page for more on that experience) was rice.  Luckily, this was the first thing my mom taught me cook, as well.  I made a huge pot of soft, fluffy rice as part of family meal for the whole crew.  I overheard them commenting that it was pretty good, but a little overcooked.  I had left to to sit a bit too long before fluffing it up, but I passed the test.  When I cooked this style of rice for my lady, she politely ate it, but I could tell it wasn’t what she was used to.  Spending time down in Panama with her parents, I learned that unless the rice has concolón or concho, you are not really eating rice.  When I started at them, not finding the translation, they told me, “crunchy.”   Read more…

Panama, Rice

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