Saturday, October 28, 2006

By Special Request: Carapulcra

Occasionally, I do requests! This one for a Latin dinner is a variation on a traditional South American stew made with various meats (in this case pork and chicken), potatoes, and peanuts. As the recipe notes, peanuts and spice are staple flavors of many places with arid climates like Africa and the highlands of the Andes. In this case, the stew is also supplemented with non-starchy potatoes to emulate the Peruvian freeze-dried potatoes that row at high altitudes. It also notes this dish can be made with pumpkin seeds.

Updated Carapulcra (with changes). Original recipe from: Bistro Latino by Rafael Palomino. (I doubled this recipe roughly plus I always double up on spices. All is to taste, of course.)

1 lb pork loin, cubed
2-4 garlic cloves run through the garlic press
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed or chicken thigh pieces
8-10 medium fingerling potatoes, diced (The recipe calls for boiling potatoes which means you can use new, red, fingerling or any other low-starch potato.)
1 can or box of chicken stock (you may need more depending on how long you mean to let it simmer.)
3-5 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon pureed chipotle pepper (I used half a roasted poblano instead along with some chipotle powder)
2/3 cup peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the pork in oil, then add the chicken, potatoes, and garlic. Let the chicken brown just a bit, then add the broth and all other ingredients. Simmer for at least an hour, but it can sit on the stove all day if needed. (This might work in a slowcooker, actually.) Adjust your flavors at the end again with sugar, salt/pepper, chipotle powder and peanut butter. Sprinkle fresh cilantro on top.

A few notes:

*Try to cube your meat as small as possible. The recipes for this dish all call for diced meat, but pretty much everything I do can be classified as "rough chop". I did with this try to make smaller pieces. The gravy/sauce should be thick. But traditional carapulcra is very thick, cooked down, and everything is in small pieces. (And all the while I was having flashbacks of Bill Buford in Heat describing how he spent a month under the tutalage of Mario's prep chef just learning how to dice one thing.)
*Check your peanut butter: I used organic peanut butter (which to me tastes awful) with no sugar or salt. Blech! If you use regular peanut butter (loaded with lots of yummy sugar) you won't have to adjust.
*Check your sugar anyway. This dish isn't a sweet one, but a little sugar can always help dishes with spice from peppers hold their flavor. Remember, you don't want just heat, you want flavor. A sweet base is the key. You can always adjust your salt and pepper.
*Serve with potatoes (not kidding) or better yet yuca. (Peruvian food is all starch; all the time!)

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