Tropical con Grillz

In food on 04/29/2009 at 8:03 pm

For lunch a gaggle of us skipped over to a Dominican/Puerto Rican restaurant, Tropical Grill & Restaurant, the kind with those technicolor ghetto menus like the cover of homemade rap CDs. For $5 you get the pile of grub that’s typical of these cafeteria style places. It was the shiznit.

We sneaked into the line as it was just about the snake out the door. It’s a small establishment with a takeout line but you can also take your food on a cafeteria tray and munch it on the small tables in the adjacent room. This place has been here awhile, and I always smell the wafting aroma of roasting meat when I walk by. There’s another place, El Caribe, that opened recently down the next block, but according to my Filipino friend, Tropical Grill is where it’s at. Apparently, the whole neighorhood agrees. People in suits and office wear were lined up as if at a food cart on Wall Street.

I got my usual pernil with yellow rice and black beans. They don’t slice it here; it comes in chunks that are like string cheese, pulled pork style. Since I always ask for a douse of gravy from the stews, it was moist and succulent. The sofrito permeated every lard-ilicious bite.

My classmate got roast chicken, which tasted like canned tuna, but then again, the other half spoils me with organic chicken. And once you’ve gone organic chicken, you can’t go back. It’s just so much firmer and QQ than the mealy Perdue junk, bursting with juicy goodness. It’s worth the extra coupla bucks to buy a whole organic chicken and chop it up into quarters at home and store in the freezer.

The other half claims pork is not injected with hormones so I’m allowed to still buy the cheap stuff, not that there is organic pork to buy in ghetto marts anyways. During board review today, the professor regaled us with a lovely anecdote of a slaughterhouse visit where fecal matter flew everywhere as the cows whizzing by on the line were disemboweled accidently. He gasped in horror but his buddy told him to relax, because the guy at the end of the line was in charge of checking the fecal flora level in the ground meat to make sure it was ‘safe.’ Then he said, “Okay, let’s break for lunch. Who’s up for some poo burgers?”

Our plan this season is to go hunting, so we know the source of our animal product, and I get to live out my butchering fantasies. I ain’t shilling out $80 to go see someone in Brooklyn tell me how to butcher a pig and just let me watch. I’m going to have to stock up on my supply of carving knives. Let’s just hope the other half and I have some free time come the fall to fulfill our hunter-gatherer dreams.

Tropical Grill had mofongo on the menu, which had me immediately salivating. I didn’t get it since I was jonesing for my piglet. There’s also a place named for the dish and serves it myriad ways, Albert’s Mofongo House, in Washington Heights. I hope I get a chance to try it before we move.

I first had the magic mash in Puerto Rico. I’ve never been a fan of mashed potatoes, even the chunky kind is too mushy for me. But the Spanish version, with its use of the hardier and heartier plantain and yucca is where it’s at. And the Spanish are all about the liberal use of garlic, not the namby pamby slow-roasted sweet garlic, but the quick pan-browned or even raw addition into mofongo. Then there’s the over-the-top chunks of chicharrones too! The one time I made mofongo with pan gravy, it was a hit with everyone but the other half, due to the texture of the plantain, which was described as too gummy. I wasn’t listening though, I was in carb heaven.

The other day while eating chipas in W’burg, there was the lone yucca, peeled and boiled on the platter with the empanadas. The texture of the yucca is more on the flaky side, and is more like a veg in flavor. This time, I will make mofongo with two yucca we picked up from Young Spring Farm, our local produce stand run by Koreans. Somehow, I will get the other half to eat some sort of tuber. It’s like I’m half-Irish or something with my craving for the tater. Wish me luck!

3 green plantains or yucca
salt and pepper
fried pork rinds (render bacon chunks or smoked pork)
garlic cloves (the more, the merrier)
olive oil or lard

Peel plantains or yucca. Cut into one inch slices

Heat lard or oil in a skillet. Add plantain slices and fry but do not brown. Drain on paper towel.

Pound garlic cloves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to the mixture and keep pounding until paste. You could also tame the raw garlic flavor by quick saute.

Crush fried plantains flat into tostones and fry again until brown. Put into bowl with, garlic and olive oil mixture and pound until the consistency you like.

Mold into balls or keep loose to spoon onto plate and dress with your favorite gravy or broth.

carb wonder

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