Maricel E. Presilla's sprawling Gran Cocina Latina unites the cuisines of Latin America | Bleader

Maricel E. Presilla's sprawling Gran Cocina Latina unites the cuisines of Latin America


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A steaming pile of. . . asado negro
Last week I said I'd get a bit more into Maricel E. Presilla's sprawling Gran Cocina Latina while my tepache was fizzing. It's a huge, fascinating, and improbable-seeming encyclopedia; an attempt to unify all the cuisines of Latin America—from Mexico, across the Caribbean, and down through Central and South America. In this day of increasing awareness and pride in regional food this seems untethered from reality—Borgesian, even. But Presilla, a Hoboken restaurateur of Cuban descent, was first a food historian, and her extensive study and travel led her to conclude something that's actually pretty obvious: all of these cuisines are profoundly influenced by Spanish and Portuguese colonialism. She writes:

As I began to piece together a connected understanding of what I was tasting I was amazed at the centrality of what were essentially medieval cooking techniques brought from the Iberian peninsula that got a new lease on life in Latin America.


So in light of that, her inclusion of things as varied as "grouper cebiche with tiger's milk in the style of northern Peru," "Galician empanadas with tuna or salt cod hash," and "squash and dried shrimp tamales with vanilla in the new style of Papantla," in the project doesn't seem seem so far-fetched.

I took the occasion of Halloween to make one of her modern interpretations of something more traditional. In Venezuela, they make something called asado negro, or black roast, in which they sear off a hunk of beef and braise it in caramel sauce and wine. Presilla makes hers with fattier short ribs and adds dark chocolate and cacao nibs at the end of the braise, which results in something like a simple, unrefined mole. Couple problems, though: she calls for marinating the ribs with smashed garlic, oregano, allspice, salt, and cayenne for a few hours before dredging them in flour and browning them in olive oil. You're gonna burn the garlic if you do that.

Next, she wants you to make a caramel sauce with one cup of unrefined brown sugar, or panela and nothing else, and then roll the ribs around in it before adding the braising liquid. This also has a terrible potential to burn if you aren't careful. I waited to add half that amount after I sauteed garlic and a mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery. I then added red wine, chicken broth, rosemary, and a few tablespoons of tomato paste.* I added back the ribs and cooked on low heat for a few hours until the the ribs started falling of the bones and the sauce thickened. Just before serving you add in a couple ounces of dark chocolate and a few tablespoons of the cacao.

Served over some super bacony quinoa with Swiss chard (also Presilla's recipe), this made a bunch of adults feel like they had one over on the kids dumping out their bags of mini Milky Ways and Kit Kats.

asado negro ingredients

*Is there a more stupid and enduring product that canned tomato paste? Who uses a whole can of tomato paste for one recipe? No one. It belongs in tubes, like toothpaste.

Mike Sula writes about cooking every Monday.


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