A big part of the draw to visit Puerto Rico was its cuisine. The first time I heard about mofongo I made a mental note that I would jump at an opportunity to visit the island. Fast forward a few years and the combination of looking for a honeymoon destination and some very cheap airfares had us headed to San Juan.
For our first full day in San Juan we had booked a cooking class in Isla Verde to learn some of the secrets of Puerto Rican cuisine. That in and of itself was something to look forward to. Then we showed up to the open air kitchen where our class was to take place. This was a kitchen with a serious view of the beach and the Atlantic Ocean:
Pretty nice eh? The view the other way wasn’t too shabby either:
The kitchen was part of a rooftop restaurant/club in a hotel which added to the experience with tropical breezes blowing through on a hot, muggy day. After about 15 minutes relaxing and taking in the views, Kathy, our chef/host was ready for us. Here was my kitchen station set up. You will note that I took the spot closest to the Bacardi bottle:
To kick things off, we made guava mojitos. I’ve made a few mojitos in my day, but still picked up a few neat tricks and tips that I’ll need to practice extensively back here at home. Here’s my refreshing drink:
One of the real highlights of the class was learning about sofrito, the base of so much Puerto Rican cooking. Kathy led us through making a sofrito for our dishes and in the process told us about a host of variations and preparation techniques. In chopping up a variety of chiles and peppers, cilantro, culantro, parsley and onions, we also picked up some new knife skills. Our sofrito turned our really well:
Up next were the preparations for our tostones. The main dish we were making was tostones rellenos with chicken and shrimp in a creole sauce. Here we are learning the (more difficult than it looked) skill of peeling a plantain:
After peeling the plantains, we cut them up, deep fried them, mashed them and formed them into these bowls before deep frying them again. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was around the point where I fell head over heels in love with Puerto Rican cuisine:
Even though the double deep dried plantains would have been delicious on their own (and I may know that from sneaking bits from around the edges when no one was looking), we needed to make something to go in them. We prepared chicken and shrimp in a creole sauce (peppers, tomatoes, wine spices, the sofrito). Here it is cooking away on the stove:
And it all came together in a beautiful way, accompanied by a tossed salad with a guava vinaigrette (one of the tostones is missing from my plate as I couldn’t resist sampling before taking a photo):
These were so delicious and I wished I could have finished everything, but there was so much food. We also made a custard for a flan, but because of how long it would take for things to chill and set, we got to finish off the meal with a flan that had been prepared the day before.
This was an awesome way to spend our first full morning/afternoon in San Juan and we learned so much from Kathy. It also made me wonder where deep fried plantains have been all my life until now.