Paraguay 200

2011.May.16 Monday · 0 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“I don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a major musical event. I love the Eurovision Song Contest and it will continue long after I’m gone. Just please don’t ask me to take it seriously.”

Terry Wogan, host of Eurovision

I’m laying the blame squarely on Eurovision’s doorstep. I couldn’t figure out why no one was reserving this past weekend – Friday ended up filling up, but only because a group of nine NYU students on an overseas semester figured out they could get around our “no bigger groups” restriction by reserving separately – something I found out only the day beforehand when one of them let it slip – which left, other than them, a solo traveler and a couple on an all around South America tour looking a trifle forlorn and out of the loop; and on Saturday we had only four reservations until the last minute when two different couples made their contacts to see if we could fit them in. As best as I can tell based on the Twitterverse and Facebook, every other human being in this city was watching the Eurovision song contest. I’ve actually never seen it. I think I may like to keep it that way (one local friend assured me that “only middle aged gay men watch that show”, so I’m wondering what his excuse is…). I mean, how could Eurovision compete with Paraguay’s Bicentennial celebration? And that’s what we were up to this weekend

So, happy 200th Paraguay! We start off with a couple of fish. You might remember these from my post on the freshwater fish of the Paraná delta (a post that’s taken on a life of its own as varied and sundry folk have linked to it and quoted it – apparently no one ever thought to talk about such a thing before).

Boga
Boga

Dorado
Dorado

So these two fish, a boga and a dorado, walk into a bar… I mean a kitchen, and they were carried in. In a bag. Where was I going with this?

Fish stock

Ah yes, they got themselves cleaned and filleted, and then their carcasses dropped into a large pot of water with some carrot, onion, celery, bay leaf, parsley, salt and peppercorns. And then they simmered away for about an hour until we had… fish stock.

Boga-Dorade Soup

Which got used as the base for our opening plate of the evening, a boga-dorade soup, very, very loosely based on an inspiration for a Paraguayan soup called pira. Actually, other than being made from freshwater fish it isn’t really like it at all – but that was the starting point. Sauteed some red onion and rocoto peppers in a little butter. Then added in white wine and cooked to absorb. Then the fish stock, diced sweet potato, fresh peas, the diced up fish, a bay leaf, and some tomatoes pureed into milk. Simmered that away for a little while and then adjusted the seasoning. To serve, crumbled in some fresh goats milk cheese and sprinkled with some chopped parsley. The soup and the dessert were the hits of both evenings, I think, so this was a good way to start.

Cauliflower and Broccoli with Tapenade

Not quite the dish I’d envisioned (and this is prettied up from the first night) – there’s a classic Paraguayan dish of cauliflower with an olive sauce – I went with broiled cauliflower and broccoli (first blanched and shocked, then drained, dried, tossed with sesame oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes), wrapped into an egg net, and served up with a black olive tapenade (black olives, walnuts, a red chili, garlic, orange juice), and a little herb salad of parsley, celery leaves, cilantro and chives. The flavors were good, but the dish just didn’t pop.

Roast Pork Strudel with Salsa Llajwa

This one too, though a little more interesting to my mind, and a couple of people told me it was their favorite course, flavor-wise. Individual strudels filled with a mix of smoked bacon, caramelized onions, tea-smoked red potatoes, and pork tenderloin all sauteed with a little shichimi spice blend. On the side, salsa llajwa – a puree of huacatay, quirquiña, rocoto peppers, olive oil, vinegar and salt (a little different from the recipe given at the link – I’ve been playing with it). We love salsa llajwa – I should use it more often.

Roast Chicken and Cornmeal Dumplings

This was my personal favorite dish of the evening, because I like the comfort food feeling of it, and for me, this was completely satisfying. Skinless chicken thighs marinated in a mix of red wine, soy, garlic and jalapeños for about six hours. Then pan roasted. The other components of the dish: creamed spinach (serrano ham, onion, spinach, cream, salt and pepper – should have drained off the spinach juices before adding the cream, the plate wouldn’t have looked so soupy, but then again, it made a good sauce base…), sauteed red pepper and carrot julienne (the first night I boned out the thighs and rolled the julienne inside, tied them and cooked them that way, but wasn’t happy with the look), cornmeal dumplings (1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 5 tbsp butter, 1 cup milk) that were simmered in chicken stock, a reduction of the marinade from the chicken which was then thickened with beurre manie – a paste of butter and flour, and, finally, crispy cracklings made from the chicken skin.

Peanut Molasses Tartlet

And finally, a peanut and molasses tartlet. Made in the same fashion as the various nut tarts that I’ve made in the past which come from the traditional Swiss Engandiner nusstorte, without the top crust – just changing up peanuts for the walnuts and molasses for the honey. Hmmm… I think I might just like that better than the walnut and honey version. That touch of bitterness from the molasses is killer.

So, once again, a very happy 200th to Paraguay, we should have been there! At least we weren’t glued to our television set watching the finals of Eurovision….

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