Buenos Aires – Generally, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, Henry doesn’t like it when I watch him cook. I think it makes him nervous. This actually happens to me quite a bit. I get that whole “you’re a professional chef” thing – and people either don’t want me to see how they cook, because they’re afraid I’m going to comment on their technique, or they just plain don’t want to cook for me because they’re afraid their food won’t live up to my standards. It’s a crock, as they say. In regard to the first, I may ask questions about why they’re doing something in particular if I find it unusual, but for me, it’s often fascinating to hear – sometimes I find a new way of doing something, sometimes I find a curious example of learned behavior. Anyone remember the old “Roast Beef Syndrome” story?
The Roast Beef Syndrome is an old story about a young woman who has her boyfriend over for a roast beef dinner. When she serves him the meal, he savors the wonderful aroma and notices that the ends of the roast are cut off and asks why. Puzzled, the young woman replies she doesn’t know the reason why, but it’s the way her mother always cooked roast beef. So she calls her mother to find out why she cut the ends off the roast. Amazingly enough, her mother says she doesn’t know either but that’s the way her mother always did it. Now the mother proceeds to call the grandÂmother who says that the reason she cut the ends off the roast beef was so it would fit in her small oven! Obviously, the need to cut the ends off the roast was long gone, yet two generations continued to do it without even knowing why.
In regard to the second, I just plain don’t have standards when it comes to home cooking. And, before anyone takes offense, I don’t mean it that way. When I’m out in a restaurant, either reviewing, or even just dining out at a new place, I’m intentionally being critical (internally – unless I’m with someone else in the business, I don’t tend to discuss it out loud) – looking for plusses and minuses. When I eat at someone’s home, or when I eat at one of my regular hangouts, I’m not. I’m just relaxing, enjoying the company, and enjoying the food. I’m not working. (That said, I do have one or two friends whose cooking is so god-awful I will make up any excuse in the book not to go to their homes for dinner. Now you know the real reason I moved to Buenos Aires…)
Back to last night, and there was this large beef heart sitting in the refrigerator that Henry had picked up, wanting to make something classicly Peruvian for me, like anticuchos, or grilled beef heart. Instead he decided to make a stew, and this time I insisted he let me watch so that I could learn a little more about Peruvian home cooking. I have to admit, it was fascinating, and I’ll try to duplicate the process that he followed (being the first time he let me watch I didn’t question, I just observed). Measurements, like when I cook, are very inexact, and since I was watching, I have less of a feel for what they were, but I’ll try to estimate. One note, we didn’t have any pimentón rojo, or ground red pepper (milder than cayenne, but still somewhat spicy, sort of like hot paprika) in the house, so he used ají amarillo, a powdered mildly spicy yellow chili also common in Peruvian cooking.
Beef Heart Stew
1 large beef heart, roughly 1 pound, cut in ½” dice
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ají amarillo or pimentón rojo
Mix these together and let sit for about 20 minutes.
Okay, here we go… Put about ¼ cup of corn oil in a large skillet and heat over high heat until it is very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of ají amarillo or pimentón rojo, and rapidly stir to flavor the oil, for about 1 minute (it actually looked like he put more than a tablespoon of each in, I do know that it was enough to make the oil sort of sludgy until the salt dissolved). Turn the heat down to a medium low and add 3 coarsely chopped cloves of garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds more. Add 1 chopped white onion, and cook for about a minute, continually stirring. Add ½ a red bell pepper, chopped, and do the same. Add two chopped tomatoes, and continue cooking for about 2 more minutes. At this point turn the heat back up to high and add the beef hearts. Continue sauteing, stirring regularly, until the pieces of meat are seared on the outside. Cover, turn the heat down to a medium low, and let it cook for about 30 minutes, checking it now and again and stirring it up. I swear he added close to another tablespoon of salt at the end to adjust the flavor, but it didn’t taste salty, I’d just do it to taste. It was delicious!
We are spending today prepping for our combination housewarming party and Henry’s birthday party tonight. He and his friend Carlos popped into Liniers, which is a suburb of Buenos Aires and a big Bolivian community, to buy some maíz morado, a sort of black purple corn, to make chicha morada, the corn based soft drink I’ve mentioned a few times. All I know at this point is that about a dozen of these ears (which are completely dried out) were washed and stuck in my largest stockpot filled with water, then boiled briskly for about an hour, and left to cool overnight. More in my post tomorrow…