Once upon a time, back in ol' 2007, the husband and I journeyed to Portland, Oregon and fell in love. Not with each other, that is, we were already madly in love with each other......with the place and its people, its weather, its public transportation system, and its many, many wonderful restaurants. We had only to ask a stranger walking down the street or riding the bus next to us what was their favorite restaurant/artisanal bakery/microbrew pub and not only would we receive an immediate answer, but a handful of runners-up in case the one they had suggested was closed, too far a walk, or simply not our cup of tea (or house-roasted fair trade coffee). These people are opinionated and take their eating and drinking seriously. In the case of the man who first directed us to Pambiche, he didn't merely give us the address of the restaurant, he walked us from the streetcar we had all been riding together to the stop where we'd meet the bus we needed to take, gave us detailed directions as to where to transfer and where to get off, suggested what to try on the menu, and sent us on our merry way--with coupons!
He didn't work there. I think.
Cuban-style Pambiche (it's located at 28th & Glisan, Portland people) won us over immediately with its gloriously vibrant paint job, inside and out, its lively music & atmosphere, and......oh yeah, the food, have I mentioned the food? Amazing. See?? I had a plate of marinated roast pork with black beans and fried yucca slices that I still dream about to this very day.
In honor of our very first Pambiche dinner (which has since been repeated a few times, although sadly not as often as we'd like, since we live in Phoenix), Mike and I recently re-created a Cuban style feast at home. We marinated a pork tenderloin for hours in a bath of lime juice, olive oil, cumin and garlic, then sauteed it lightly and served it with fresh cilantro. There was a sofrito-based side of spicy black beans. And there were.......(happy sigh).....fried plantains.
Fried plantains with Mike's special 'pink sauce.'
Black beans stewed with sauteed onion, garlic and sweet bell peppers from my garden, seasoned with cumin, chili powder, and a splash of lime juice.
The best way to make fried plantains that we've found is Alton Brown's way (isn't that usually the way it goes? Recipe follows at the end of this entry). Alton prefers that you use green plantains, the ones that resemble a very unripe banana. They're quite a bit firmer than the ripe version, which makes absolute sense when you get to the step where he has you soak them in garlic-enhanced salt water, albeit briefly. Trust me, soft, ripe plantains cannot abide this particular step (ask me how I know, go on, ask me how I know!) and will crumble on you, so stick with the green ones. Once they're cooked they are tender, garlic scented perfection, golden and crispy on the outside but soft and yielding to the teeth on the inside.
And the best part is, you can use the leftover bits of pork and black beans to make Cuban tacos the next day! Win!
If you're somehow still hungry after dinner (and I promise I won't tell on you if you are), you can cap things off perfectly with a beautiful little flan, just like we did on our first night at Pambiche. They're made in tiny individual ramekins, so you won't feel like you're devouring a huge dessert portion all by yourself (unless, that is, you eat your partner's as well!). And there's fruit and greenery, see, pineapple, mint? If there's fruit it must be healthy! Cheers.
Flan with Caramelized Pineapple
1 1/3 cup sugar (divided into two 2/3 cup portions)
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large eggs
1 cup fresh pineapple, sliced into small chunks
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
pinch of salt
fresh mint for garnish
Place 2/3 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and add just enough water to dissolve it, about 1 tablespoon. Heat on medium heat, swirling the syrup in the pan occasionally, but never stirring it. The syrup will boil for a while until it starts to turn brown. The trick to making caramel is to watch it carefully and to remove it from the heat while it's still a shade lighter than you'd like it to be (caramel keeps cooking in a hot pan, even as you're pouring it into the ramekins it's still cooking.......it can also burn in seconds, go on, ask me how I know this!). Once it has turned a very light nut brown, remove it from the heat and immediately pour the caramel into the bottoms of 6 ramekins. Set aside.
In another saucepan, heat the milk with the other 2/3 cup sugar until it reaches a boil. Stir in vanilla. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for about a minute. Whisk in the hot milk, in very small amounts at first to avoid scrambling the eggs (this process is called tempering). Pour the milk mixture into the ramekins on top of the caramel. Place all 6 ramekins in a large oven proof dish. Fill the dish with water to about 2/3 the height of the ramekins.
Carefully place in 300° F oven. Bake for 40 minutes to an hour (bake until custard has set, test with your finger or by gently inserting a knife); make sure the water surrounding the ramekins does not boil during baking. Allow the custard to cool completely, then refrigerate.
To make the caramelized pineapple (you can do this while the flan is cooling), heat butter in a pan over medium high heat. Add pineapple, allow the pieces of fruit to cook until they are just beginning to brown on either side, stirring occasionally. Add brown sugar and pinch of salt (taste for correct amount) and stir for 30 seconds more, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.
To serve, run a knife just along the inside of each ramekin, then turn flan over onto a dessert plate. Surround with caramelized pineapple bits, garnish with fresh mint (this last step is, of course, completely optional. I happen to have an enormous, bushy mint plant that is slowly taking over the backyard--we call it MINTASAURUS--and so we use mint whenever the opportunity presents itself! Plus it makes it look all the more festively Cuban). Enjoy!
Fried Plantains, Alton Brown-style (original recipe from 'Good Eats' shown here)
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
2 green plantains
Combine water, garlic and salt in medium size glass bowl and set aside.
In a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat oil to 325 degrees F. Peel plantains and slice crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Carefully add plantains to oil and fry until golden yellow in color, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side (the oil should come halfway up the side of the plantain). With a spatula or slotted spoon, remove the plantains from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, standing them on their ends. With the back of the spatula, press each piece of plantain down to half its original size. Then place the plantains in the water and let soak for 1 minute. Remove and pat dry with a tea towel to remove excess water.
Bring oil back up to 325 degrees F and return plantains to pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve immediately, with pink sauce*.
(*Pink sauce is a creation of my husband's, some version of which I believe he may have originally gotten from Jacques Pepin. It's an easily made condiment and it tastes good on everything--french fries, avocado slices, sandwiches, fried plantains, everything! Take equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup and mix thoroughly with liberal amounts of hot sauce, to taste. The preferred hot sauce around the Orange & Salt kitchen is Arizona Gunslinger, but we understand if you don't, you know, live in Arizona and can't get your hands on some. Chipotle-style Tabasco is also wonderful.)