When You Don’t Have a Fire Pit

2008.Nov.22 Saturday · 11 comments

in Food & Recipes

“Linking these extremes is food activist Isabel Alvarez, an anthropologist who has studied colonial cuisine and teaches the history of food at St Marcs University. She owns El Senorio de Sulco, a cliff-edge restaurant overlooking the sea in the elegant Lima suburb of Miraflores. Alvarez, of Andean (Quechuan) and Catalan descent, is evangelical about preserving authentic dishes, such as the pre-Hispanic huatia sulcana, beef braised in a clay pot and strewn with aromatic herbs, which is on the restaurant menu. She says there has been a revival of interest in Peru’s rich food history and attitudes to cooking as a profession have changed. Sons and daughters of well-to-do families are embracing the formerly lowly work, training in Lima’s 20 or so cooking schools.”

– Judith Elen, Eyes Peeled

Huatia Sulcana Rapida

Buenos Aires – It’s hard to believe, but there are days when I don’t feel like cooking. Really. Henry’s not very good about those days, and given that although he’ll pretty much eat anything put in front of him, he strongly prefers the flavors of Peruvian cuisine, those are usually the days that he’ll pick for a manipulative tantrum – something that is rarely effective at getting me to do anything more than stick an unopened can of tuna in front of him with the can-opener and a fork. On the other hand, I like to eat well too, and it happened, the other day, that I had picked up a nice piece from the end of a lomo, or loin of beef, that was sitting in the refrigerator looking forlorn and awaiting my attention.

Rather than head into butting heads territory, I flipped through Tony Custer’s The Art of Peruvian Cuisine (well, the Spanish edition), looking for something simple to make. Of course, my eyes lighted on a recipe that looked mouthwatering in his photo, and takes hours to make. Truthfully, a huátia sulcana probably takes all day to make – a huátia being a traditional, pre-hispanic cooking oven that’s created for a one-time use – you dig a firepit, build a fire, put lots of big stones in it to heat up really hot, put your food in, and then build a clay dome over it. The food is considered done when the dome more or less collapses in on itself. Our garden is kind of the reverse of what you need – lots of clay underneath a bit of topsoil, and besides, it was already noon, I wasn’t about to start digging.

Now, the sulcana part, apparently, was a near modernization – I assume it refers to a place or pre-hispanic culture in some way, though I didn’t find any references that fit (the only other sulcanas I came across were some New Zealand moths) – instead of a firepit covered by a clay dome, the food is cooked slowly in a sealed clay pot. Now, in his book, Custer takes it a step further into modern day and braises it all slowly in a “deep, thick sided pot”. I have no doubt that following these steps results in an amazingly rich, complex and satisfying dish. Did I mention it was already noon? I also didn’t have the half a dozen different aromatic herbs lying about, at least not in fresh form – though, strangely, I had a small handful of hierba buena and cilantro in the refrigerator that I’d picked up a couple of days earlier – and if you see photos of the real dish, you’ll note that mine is missing all the “strewn aromatic herbs” – they’re just in the sauce.

So here is the completely inauthentic, yet took under 30 minutes to make version of a huátia sulcana, lunch special. It was so good, we can’t wait to try making the real thing!

Huátia Sulcana Rapida

1½-2 pounds of beef, cut in thick slices, or cubes, or whatever’s convenient
2 red onions
2 rocoto or other medium hot peppers
4 cloves of garlic
4 dried ají panca
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 bottle dark beer (stout works great) or 2 cups red wine
beef stock to cover
a handful each of mixed aromatic herbs – mint or hierbabuena, basil, cilantro, oregano, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary
salt and pepper

First, I stuck the four dried peppers in a small pot after cutting off the stem end (just to speed up getting them soft, covered them with water, and simmered them until soft – about 10-15 minutes. If you’ve got a mildly spicy red pepper puree of some sort, you could use that, just thin it out a bit – I suppose you could even use ground ají rojo in this – just experiment…. Into the blender with the whole thing – peppers, beer or wine, etc., along with the garlic, vinegar, and herbs. Puree it at high speed for a minute or two. Meanwhile, cut the onions into wedges and the rocotos or other hot peppers into strips. Saute those in a little oil for about two minutes. Add the beef and cook until just nicely browned on the outside. Strain the mixture in the blender directly into the cooking pot, it should at least come up halfway on the beef. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, turning the beef every few minutes. Take the lid off, crank the heat up to high, and cook the liquid down until it’s a nice, thick sauce with the onions and peppers in it, coating the beef. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with potatoes, rice, or… whatever.

And let’s all meet up one day at El Senorio de Sulco for the real thing….


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

yemek tarifleri May 6, 2010 at 08:58

thanks..…delicious..iam going to prepare it soon..

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