Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arepa Mania!!!
Venezuelan Arepa's Two Ways

As you know, I have been on a quest to make Arepas, a sort of English-muffin-like "pan" made with fine white corn meal and, as we all know, I have not been quite successful.  Until now!  Two of my friends from Venezuela recommended a particular brand of white corn meal to use.  I went to EVERY mom and pop Mexican grocer and large Latino grocers in my town and then some and I could NOT find it Anywhere!  And then, more than ironically, I found it in a large box store quite by accident. I will leave it there. 

This obsession with making authentic Venezuelan Arepas came at an opportune time for me. As I have alluded to on my humble blog's facebook site, In-House Cook (please look me up!), life sometimes throws monkey wrenches into your goals and plans in life and deflates you, and wrecks you. Despite things happening, when the going gets tough, I get to the kitchen.  And that is just what I did.  Twice. It seems that from pain has come two pretty darn amazing Arepas, one with chicken and one with flat iron steak; both seasoned, marinated and seared.  Let's get to the recipes, shall we?

The filling for my first successful batch last weekend I had incorporated chicken which I'd seasoned, marinated, seared and braised. Let's get to my spice rub and marinade, first. While the theme was certainly Latin flavors, I changed up my spice mix a bit but my aromatics are the usual suspects. 😊 

2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chile ancho
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano


Fresh Ingredients for both the marinade and for braising...

2 Fresno chiles, sliced into rings
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup diced fire roasted green chile

Some of the braising ingredients: Salsa Ranchera, diced fire roasted green chiles, fire roasted diced tomatoes and 2/3 bottle of Mexican beer. Not included in the photo (I forgot):  1 8-ounce can El Pato Sauce (spicy tomato sauce). 

I seasoned six boneless/skinless chicken breasts, let them sit for thirty minutes.  Next, I added a third of the beer, a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of onion and a bit of cilantro and fresh oregano, salt and pepper, two tablespoons mirin, two tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons El Pato sauce and two tablespoons red wine vinegar to a large bowl and whisked it togetgher.  I added the chicken to the bowl and allowed the chicken to marinate for an hour. 

After an hour marinating, I added four tablespoons evoo to a large skillet over medium-high heat and I seared the chicken thighs until a good crust formed; on a couple, the marinade even blackened, which added amazing flavor.  Sadly, I have also suffered from bronchitis the last 13 days, and last weekend I could not smell Anything (still cannot) but, I can taste just fine. So, I am sure the aroma was just as incredible as the taste turned out to be.  The dog I was dog-sitting sat with me in the kitchen the entire time licking her chops, so I am quite sure it smelled pretty wonderful.  

After seering the chicken about three minutes per side in the hot skillet, I removed the thighs and plated them and set that aside. To a large dutch oven, I added the drippings after scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to get up the burnt bits up, also over medium-high heat.  I added the onion to that, sauteed it for three minutes, then added the remaining garlic, sauteed for another two minutes. I did not add salt to the onion because of the salt in the rub already on the chicken and in the marinade. 
Next, I added the beer, a cup or two of water, diced tomatoes, the remaining roasted green chiles, the remaining El Pato sauce, the salsa ranchera and stirred well and brought the mix to a boil. I added another tablespoon of my spice blend and also fresh oregano sprigs and a little fresh cilantro, and nestled the chicken thighs into the mixture in the dutch oven. The chicken should be slightly submerged.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer low and slow for two hours. 

After two hours, the chicken will fall apart. You may need a slotted spoon to get it all out, because the chicken will fall apart, I promise!!! After you get all of the chicken out, raise the heat to medium-high again, and reduce the remaining sauce by two-thirds, so it is thick. Use the wooden spoon to stir every minute or two to prevent burning. You will add some of the reduced sauce to the shredded chicken. Trust me, this is incredible flavor!

While awaiting the sauce reduction, take two forks and shred the chicken that did not readily fall apart. This will literally take two minutes. When the sauce has reduced by two thirds, which should take about fifteen minutes, add a heaping ladle or two to the chicken and toss the chicken with the sauce.  Add more sauce, if you wish!

Now, with the chicken handled, turn your sites to the arepas.  This process is so simple and easy and it is so versatile; there is practically no end to the flavors you can add to the corn meal, sweet or savory!  I went on a bird walk, sorry, but as I mentioned previously, it my new obsession! 😋

First, you have to get your hands on fine white corn meal.  As I mentioned above, it was quite a search for me, but I finally found it.  Follow the directions on the package.  I added two cups of water to a large bowl and added 2.5 cups of the white corn meal, half a teaspoon of garlic salt and a teaspoon of ground cumin, a little at a time to the water and whisked it until the batter became too thick, until it became a dough ball.  I let the dough ball rest for three minutes, per the directions. I had added some of the corn meal to a cutting board and allowed the dough to rest on that. Afterward, I separated the dough into sections, rolled it into balls, and created English Muffin sized round about half-inch thick discs.  This is a little larger than the directions state to, and I did not make ten dough balls, but six. That was just my conscious decision. 

In a skillet over medium-heat, I sprayed the skillet with evoo non-stick spray.  I also sprayed the arepa disc tops and placed them sprayed side down.  While the directions state you should fry the arepas about 3.5 minutes per side, because mine were larger, I had to fry them eight to ten minutes, until they gained a golden brown color. 

Finally, I used a break knife to cut the arepas once they had cooled for a few minutes. Because they remain hot inside longer than the outside, I learned to immediately add cheese to the top and bottom of the arepa, then add filling.  I also added torn fresh cilantro the arepas.  

One more!!!

But wait!  We are not done yet!  Yesterday, I created an all new filling!  I was delighted, however, when my two Venezuelan friends both told me how authentic these looked and that I had done well.  How humbling! And what an amazing feeling!

Now.....Onto Carne Asada Arepas!

Carne Asada Arepa

While the chicken was quite a luscious, intensely flavorful filling, this flat iron steak arepa filling was insanely delicious!  And I promise, this recipe is far shorter but much more eye-brow raising than the previous recipe.  I took some very unusual flavor risks which paid off amazingly.  Let's get to it, shall we?

1 - 2 flat iron steaks (one small steak feeds two)
1 yellow or red onion, 1/4 finely chopped, the remainder sliced into crescents
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
fresh oregano and thyme, 4 sprigs each

1 teaspoon green tea
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 rounded tablespoon smoked paprika

Additional ingredients for the marinade
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 generous tablespoons Mirin
1.5 cups Mexican beer (I used Tecate)
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
1 cup cranberry-pomegranate juice
1/2 cup El Pato (spicy tomato sauce)

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  

Add the dried spices and herbs to a bowl and mix well.  Add half of the spice mix to the flat iron steaks and set aside for thirty minutes. 

Add the additional liquid marinade ingredients and the remaining dried spices and fresh herbs to a large bowl and whisk together well. 

Pour some of the marinade to the bottom of a rectangular pan and place the meat atop it.  Pour the remaining marinade atop the meat.  Use a fork or tongs to snuggle the meat into the marinade as best as possible.  

Place the remaining fresh herb sprigs to the marinade. 

Marinate the meat for an hour, if possible.  I had the time, and I actually marinated the meat for two hours. 

Sear or grill the carne asada (flat iron steaks) as you wish, at least four minutes per side.  As you can tell, I prefer my steak rare but with a good caramelized crust.  Remember friends, color means flavor!!!

Color means flavor!

After searing or grilling the carne asada, remove it to a cutting board and allow it to rest a several minutes; the meat will continue to cook a little bit and the juices will redistribute. These are all good things!

Slice the meat after several minutes. 

Next, following the directions on the package (as mentioned in the chicken filling recipe, above), make the arepas.  

Use a bread knife to slice open the arepas like an English muffin.  In my case, the arepa was so hot inside that I jumped at the chance to place cheese on both the top and bottom to start melting.  Deliciousness! Add any sauce you want, if any, cilantro, or whatever greens or slaw you wish.  I went simple, cilantro, my favorite hot sauce and closed up shop.  What delicious eating!

I hope you will try one or both of these arepa fillings and make it your own! This is a true comfort food winner, and, despite my ramblings, the time involved is only what you can offer it.  If you cannot marinade meat, then spice rub and sear. You will not, however, regret it if you make this when you have a nice lazy afternoon to give the meats time to marinate.  

As always, friends, Thank You for your time and consideration!  Now, go cook something great for someone you love!!!  

In-House Cook