TASTY TOSTONES A fried side.
One of the most commonly posed questions to chefs is some version of: Where do you go to eat? And it only makes sense. Us regular folks want the inside scoop on where chefs go to dine, where they get their inspiration and how they experience food.
Steve and Michelle Corry, of 555 on Congress Street (he’s the executive chef, she’s the front-of-house manager), asked me to join them on their once-a-year vacation, with the idea that I would help watch their two young sons. It was an opportunity for me to get a free vacation to Puerto Rico, and for them to have someone on hand to allow them a few nights out together. As a side benefit, I got to find my own answer to that question, by observing how they discover and experience food. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot the way the rest of us to, but with much sharper palates and way better kitchen tools.)
On our way to the secluded beachfront property they’d staked out, just outside San Juan, our first stop was the grocery store. After about an hour or so, Steve and Michelle emerged with a cart full of food, including oh-so-American Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (for the nights I would be with the kids, of course) as well as steaks, shrimp, plantains, and a variety of sauces and spices.
Our first night out was a great introduction to Puerto Rican food; I discovered what would be my favorite dish of the trip: mofongo. Generally made from fried green plantains, this dish was made with yuca, mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork. The mofongo was stuffed inside a chicken breast, baked, and topped with a cream sauce. And it got better. For a side I chose tostones, which are green, unripe plantains sliced and fried multiple times on both sides and salted, sort of resembling a french fry.
The meal must have made an impression on Steve, too, because our next night we dined in and he tried his hand at preparing the classic Puerto Rican dish himself. There was no cutting board (cardboard works almost as well until it gets wet and then, well, not so great), but he travels with his own Wusthoff classic knife set (plus a few other German steel blades; and you thought you packed a lot!) and went to work preparing a plantain version of mofongo.
It was refreshing to discover that even for the most experienced cooks there’s nothing wrong with trial and error and making do with what you’ve got. Realizing he didn’t have quite the right ingredients on hand and the closest grocery store was a 40-minute cab ride away, Steve modified the recipe and ended up shifting to create some spicy, plump amarillos (sweet plantains delicately fried until yellow-brown, making them crispy on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside). That, along with some sofrito-seasoned shrimp, spicy rice and beans, fresh greens and queso blanco (a creamy and mild cheese), lime juice, and smoked paprika, all wrapped into one delicious burrito, made for more than your average dinner in.