Monday, 17 February 2014

Getting Stoned for Supper

Involtini di Maiale con la Salvia & Fichi Secchi, Peperone Rosso, Chuño Blanco (Patata Seccha da Peru) & Annato
Pork, Sage, & Dried Fig Rolls, with Red Peppers, Chuño Blanco (Peruvian Dried Potatoes) & Annato

Oh, sure, this is another silly title for a post, as always, but fear not- it has nothing to do with drinking or taking drugs in any way, shape or form! No- even more distressingly, it is about eating something that really looks, rather distressingly, like a stone! No kidding!

Whilst checking out Mrs. Wong's incredible, unusual and always remarkable shelves of goodies, I discovered a bag of what at first looked like... well- stones! The kind of stones that people bring back from vacation sometime- porous and smooth and bleached white by the sun. Strange. I picked up the bag and found that it was incredibly light... stranger still! So I turned the bag over and read the small print on the back... "naturally freeze-dried, Peruvian potatoes"- and that was about the strangest thing I had ever heard! Who knew?!?! 

Having read the legend "El Sabor de Casa" on the bag- I decided to myself, "how bad can "the taste of home" be? And although Mrs. Wong wasn't able to tell me how they tasted, she did mention that certain Latino customers swear that they are good for the eyes ?!?! Curiouser and curiouser!

So in any case, I decided to risk them- I picked up a bag and took it home with me and then got busy looking up information on this obscure and unusual vegetable...

Chuño Blanco, or "Tunta" as they are known in Peru and Bolivia, are potatoes that some poor person stamps on, barefoot, until all of the water is squeezed out of them. The gentle but constant rubbing together of the potatoes, rubs away the skin, leaving them white and slightly dehydrated. The rest of the drying takes place up in the cold air and the sun at the tops of the mountains of Peru- how awesome!

So, this is what they look like! Pretty wild, huh? and each one just the size of a large egg maybe- but much lighter! Obviously, as they were dehydrated- the needed to be RE-hydrated and so I put them into a bowl of water to soak before leaving for work this morning. Immediately, they began to bubble as they stated to soak- water seeping in and forcing air out- fun! 

By the time I got home this evening, they were the same weight as a regular potato, but just a tad softer. I rinsed them off a couple of times and then got busy preparing the rest of the ingredients... it was time to cook already!

After reading up on them online, I found that the most common preparation was a stew, made with potatoes, chillies and peanuts- which sounded pretty good- but still- I have no real idea of what Peruvian or Bolivian food is like- so I decided to do my own thing. You know me by now! lol!

So what do we have here? 3 small slices of tender fillet of pork, 1 red pointy pepper, 1 onion, 3 dried figs, a little parsley, a little sage, ground annatto and cumin seeds... sounded like a good mix to me!

The first thing I did was to cut the figs in half, open them out and then lay them onto the pork slices, along with a couple of leaves of sage and some freshly ground salt and pepper. This was as simple to make as it was going to end up being delicious... this much I can promise!

I then rolled up the pork, tied it to keep it in shape and sautéed it for 3-4 minutes at a relatively high temperature to get it nice golden brown on the outside. It was still rosy and pink on the inside... all no problem! The whole reason for doing this is to get some good flavor into the surface of the meat and a nice residue of flavor in the bottom of the frying pan.

The pork can now go into the same saucepan as the potatoes, with just enough water to cover them and can be brought up to the boil. In the meantime, I quickly sautéed the onion and red pepper, along with about a half teaspoonful of cumin, for 2-3 minutes. By that time, the potatoes and meat were gently simmering away and the peppers and onions were beginning to brown- perfect timing. I added a heaped teaspoon of annatto powder to the peppers and onion and everything immediately turned a deep, orange-gold color. I took a ladle or two of water from the potatoes and deglazed the frying pan, then transferred the onions and peppers to the saucepan and let them sit on top of the meat and potatoes.

I seasoned with salt, pepper, a little cayenne and a little nutmeg, stirred everything gently, reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and then put the lid back on and let it sit and bubble away for at least an hour.

The potatoes seem soft on the outside, but they have a firmer and chewier consistency than a regular, fresh potato. And at this point I wish to point out that no- they are not a flavor that everyone is going to love! They did not taste bad as such, but the consistency is a little mealy and there is no denying of the fact that there is a slight hint of fermentation that has been going on during the process of drying...

After an hour or so, although they were still a little dense in the center, the potatoes were to all extents and purposes cooked through. I took a couple of the smaller ones, mashed them and then stirred them back in in order to thicken the sauce.

The next little chore that needed to be taken care of before I could plate up and enjoy, was to remove the threads from the rolls- so I did that and then popped them back into the gravy in order to keep warm and moist.

I served up the potatoes, peppers and onions first, with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce to go with them, then took the rolls and cut them into slices, which I arranged on top of the vegetables. An extra spoonful of sauce here and there, a little freshly ground pepper and a couple of sprigs of parsley later, my dish was ready and dinner was served!

Time for honesty again. The combination of pork, fig and sage is absolutely wonderful- a no brainer. The sweet peppers, onion and annatto are an absolutely perfect combination to go with it. But those potatoes? Where we have no problems having fresh potatoes all year round- they need to stop at the tops of those mountains! And you and I need to make this again using regular ones!

... but at least I had a little fun finding that out!

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