…yeah, I did it again.
At least this time I had the sense to realize that if I was going to prepare two different fairly complicated foods, it would be better to make them on two different days. So this time you don’t have to picture me as a movie star scrambling around trying to do too many things at once while still exuding glamour and refinement, but just as my ordinary, schlubby, thoroughly unrefined self doing one thing at a time. (I mean, you can still make me a movie star if you want. I won’t object or anything.)
Once again, I ended up learning a fair bit about Peruvian culture and history by way of reading their recipes. (Did you know that Chinese-Peruvian fusion food is kind of a big thing due to thousands of Chinese laborers being brought to Peru as indentured servants in the 1800s? Because I didn’t!) And once again, I had a heck of a time narrowing down what I wanted to make, because too many things sounded delicious. Since I spent too much money on tuna last week, I was at least able to rule out recipes that involved a significant number of hard-to-find or potentially pricey ingredients, but that still left me with a dessert (which you’ll read about in the next post) and an appetizer/snack/meal thingie that sounded delightfully unhealthy and not too hard to make. That was papas rellenas – literally, “stuffed potatoes,” although the actual food is not exactly literal stuffed potatoes. Let’s get right to…
Hey, look, it’s ingredients!
The first step was to hard-boil two of those four eggs. Simple enough. Eggs were hard-boiled and then set aside, I gave the pot they’d boiled in a quick rinse, refilled it with water, added a sprinkle of salt, and then boiled that, too. In went the four potatoes, with their skins still on. After twenty minutes or so, I removed them, let them cool for a couple of minutes, and then played a very literal game of hot potato while I tried to peel the skins off as quickly as possible without burning myself too much. (I think next time I’d go ahead and let them cool a little bit longer.) Once each boiled potato was denuded, it went into a big bowl to be thoroughly mashed – at which point I discovered that I had one stubborn potato that was still hard and un-mashable in the middle, so it went back in the pot to boil some more. I took it out after a few minutes and tried again, managing to scrape off more soft potato before once again hitting a hard, un-mashable center. I ended up having to repeat this process three friggin’ times. So I guess the instructions for this step are “boil potatoes for 20 minutes, unless you have one potato that’s a jerk, in which case it apparently needs to be boiled for 37 minutes before it will behave itself and be mashed.”
Anyway, after that really excessive amount of boiling and reboiling, I got to smash the heck out of the misbehaving potato with a potato masher for a while, which was somewhat therapeutic. If you own a potato ricer, you could absolutely use it for this, although that’d probably be a less therapeutic way of dealing with obnoxious potatoes. Either way, the goal is to end up with a good-sized portion of smooth, un-lumpy mashed potatoes. Once the potatoes were well and truly mashed, I added a generous amount of salt and pepper, mashed that in well, and then stuck the bowl of potatoes into the fridge to get nice and cold. (I also separated out one blob of potatoes before adding the salt, so that I could make a reduced-sodium version of the papas rellenas for my sodium-restricted family member.)
While the potatoes were chilling, it was time to make the filling. (Hey, I’m a poet and I don’t even know it! Or, well, I guess I do know it, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to say that I’m a poet. Unless I were just lying about being a poet, in which case I could have said it and not known that it was actually true. But in that case, would I really be lying, since I’m making a true statement despite believing it to be untrue? What even is truth, when you come right down to it? Perhaps beauty is truth, truth beauty, and that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know. Hey, I’m a poet and I don’t even…ANYWAY, BACK TO COOKING.)
The first step in making the filling was to chop my onions. I would normally have just used one big onion (and that’s what I’ll be listing in the ingredients), but I happened to have a bunch of little onions that needed using up, so I used several of them instead. Once I had a nice big pile of chopped onion, it went into the skillet to be sautéed with garlic and a little vegetable oil. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this project so far, it seems to be that no matter where you go in the world, everyone likes onion and garlic, especially sautéed onion and garlic. As well they should!) Once the onions were translucent, they were joined in the pan by the ground beef, spices, tomato paste, and aji panca paste. (The latter was my one unfamiliar ingredient this week – I thought it had a very similar flavor to chipotle pepper. Which I also used, because mmm, chipotle pepper.) I cooked that all over medium-high heat until the beef was nicely browned.
Once that was done, I removed the pan from the heat, chopped my two hard-boiled eggs and about 8-10 big olives (I went ahead and picked up actual Peruvian olives when I was buying the aji panca paste, but any sort of olives would probably work – Kalamata olives are pretty similar to the genuine Peruvian article, but I honestly think plain old canned green or black olives would be tasty in this recipe, too), and mixed both of them into the meat along with my raisins. (I was a little uncertain about the raisins – while I’ve made and loved authentic medieval mincemeat pies that mix together meat and dried fruits, it can be a bit of an acquired taste combination. I ended up being glad I put them in, though!)
At that point, I took a little break to make sure my mashed potatoes had plenty of time to get nice and cold (they’ll work better for the next step if they’re cold). Once I’d played a few games of Sudoku and the potatoes were good and chilly, I got out a medium-sized pot and poured the entire bottle of vegetable oil in it. That’s right – we’re deep-frying these suckers! Because we’re healthy like that! I stuck a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and started slowly heating the oil. (It took a little bit of experimenting, since different recipes said different things about the ideal frying temperature, but I thought the sweet spot was right around 350º Fahrenheit.) While that was warming up, I created my papas rellenas assembly line. I filled one bowl with flour, one with the two remaining eggs (which got a quick beating), and one with panko bread crumbs (and a few spoonfuls of flour in there, too).
I then got my chilled mashed potatoes out of the fridge, set them up next to my assembly line along with the bowl of meat filling, and started assembling my fried potato goodies. The goal here is essentially to create new “potatoes” out of a mashed-potato exterior and a spiced-meat interior. So, first, I floured my hands a little, and then scooped up a blob of mashed potatoes, forming it into a sort of bowl in the palm of one hand.
Then into that “bowl” went a scoop of filling…
And then, over the top of that went another flattened-out blob of mashed potatoes. I sealed it shut with more mashed potato and shaped it until the result looked, well, like a potato.
At that point, the newly-formed “potato” was rolled in each of the pans in turn – first a coat of flour, then a coat of beaten eggs, and finally a coat of the panko mixture.
The “potato” was now ready to be fried. At 350º F, it took about three minutes in the hot oil to get it nicely golden brown on all sides. I repeated this process with each newly-formed potato; in the end, I had eight of them, plus one little miniature potato because I didn’t portion things out perfectly. (I also had a fair amount of filling left over, because I figured (correctly) that the filling would probably be reasonably tasty in its own right and because it’s easier to figure out the proper portions of spices with a pound of beef than with “probably somewhere around 3/5 of a pound, I dunno.”)
Tasty! I mean…it’s breaded, deep fried mashed potato filled with seasoned meat. That seems like a pretty challenging thing to make un-tasty. They tasted good plain, sprinkled with salt, or dunked in salsa, and I think they’d taste good with any number of other sauces or seasonings, too.
I actually thought of this dish as my biggest “failure” up to this point, but that word very much belongs in scare-quotes. You see, I liked them quite a bit, but I think they’re the first dish that I haven’t liked so very, very much that I ate them again as leftovers the day after I made them. (I did happily eat leftover papas rellenas for lunch two days after I made them, to be clear.) On the other hand, one of the people who has sampled several of these dishes said they were her favorite thing so far, so this is definitely a your-mileage-may-vary thing. And, y’know, if “I will gladly eat these several times in one week, just maybe not as back-to-back meals” is “failure,” then I think I’m doing pretty well, really.
If I make these again – which I probably will, despite their quote-unquote “failure” status, since everyone who ate them liked them – I might try adding some more seasonings besides salt and pepper to the potatoes themselves. I don’t think they needed any other seasoning, but I bet some garlic mixed in there and maybe a little more chipotle pepper would probably be pretty yummy.
4 large yellow potatoes
2 eggs, hard-boiled
2 tsp garlic, minced (or about 4 cloves)
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp aji panca paste
3/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp parsley
1/4 tsp chipotle pepper
salt to taste
1/4 cup raisins
8-10 olives, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
vegetable oil sufficient for frying
Stay tuned for part 2 – it’s going to be sweet. Very, very sweet…