Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When in the Bronx...

When in the Bronx do as the Bronxzonians

I have found that New Yorkers do not like to eat at chain restaurants, in fact a sure-fire sign that you are either new to Manhattan or that you are a tourist is where you eat. As convenient, cheap and tasty as Chipotle might seem, if you take one step into that mexican fast food joint, it is like standing in a cage at a zoo under a sign that reads "NON-NEW YORKER." Instead, if you want to blend in and do as the New Yorkers, find the smallest, unassuming, hole in the wall joint for breakfast, brunch or lunch and dinner.

So, thanks to my producer and fellow camera crew, all New Yorkers I might add, we were in the Bronx for a shoot and instead of grabbing a quick Subway sandwich we decided to feast our taste buds on some local cuisine. Thanks to a Bronx native, we made our way to a tasty Puerto Rican restaurant on the corner of Jerome and Ginn Mill meticulously named for it's famed cuisine: Mofongo.

I like to try new things as much as the next person, but my bravery began slipping out the window when we walked in to find English as a second language, giant costume masks ominously protruding from the walls, life-sized mannequins snug in the corner adorned with traditional garb, and the dinning area complete with cork-board tables.

This was definitely going to be an experience and although I am no saint when it comes to eating healthy, I do have my limits especially if I am planning a 5 mile run after work. 5 miles doesn't come easy on fried fatty meats, but it looks like I was going to have to bare down and unbuckle.

The main entree if you didn't guess, is not so much the entree as the consistent side. The Puerto Ricans like to do things in backward fashion. Mofongo the main dish and protein the side dish.

The menu was like a scene from Forest Gump: Mofongo and steak, Mofongo and chicken, Mofongo and chicken chunks, Mofongo and friend chicken chunks, Mofongo and rotessire chicken. Mofongo and breaded chicken filet, Mofongo and shrimp, Mofongo and a seafood burrito, Monfongo and pork chops, Mofongo and spanish sausage, Mofongo and friend fish filet, Mofongo and crab meat, Mofongo and...

But what is Mofongo you ask?

Everything including the Kitchen Sink

"Mofongo is a popular Puerto Rican dish generally made from fried green plantains, although fried yuca or breadfruit are possible, which is mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It is often filled with vegetables, chick, crab, shrimp, or beef and is often served with fried meat and chicken broth soup," according Wikipedia.

In other words, Mofongo is everything, the left overs, the extras, the additions from the special; Mofongo is a yellowish pile of mush in the middle of your plate.

This hybrid mash potatoes, if you will, was crunchy, mushy, and altogether interesting. But "don't forget the gravy," reminded our waitress. In other words, if you don't feel like you have clogged your arteries with something that has been fried and then fried again, don't forget to add the fatty liquids to the mix.  (I was going to have to run more than 5 miles to make a dent into this heavy intake.)

Thanks to my need to fit in and meet the New Yorker trend, I left the tiny restaurant 20lbs heavier, greasier than a garage monkey, and in a complete fried fatty comatose. I had been "Mofonoged".

I won't say I plan on adding it to my favorite food's list any time soon, however if someone believes they have a more tasty mixture of this Puerto Rican dish...I will try it. Again, when in New York avoid what you know is good for what you hope won't kill your insides.

However, if you feel you have the appetite and are so daring to attempt this exotic concoction check out the recipe for Mofongo, but remember there are several variations...

  1. Peel three to foantains under running water to make the process easier, and chop or slice them into small pieces.
  2. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan (1 ½ in.) or deep fryer to approximately 350 degrees or until crackling hot.
  3. Fry the plantain pieces for approximately four minutes. It is important that the plantains be cooked through but not hard. Keep in mind that they will be mashed to make the mofongo. Remove the plantains from the hot oil and place them on a paper towel to drain.
  4. Cook ¼ lb. of salted pork or bacon with a bit of salt in a separate pan. The point of this step is to liquefy the pork fat and crisp the meat.
  5. Add three to four minced cloves of garlic and 1 tbsp. of olive oil to the vegetable oil and pork. Saute the garlic and oil briefly to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor but not scorch the garlic or smoke up the olive oil. Overcooking garlic will make it bitter, and olive oil has a tendency to burn if left over high heat.
  6. Combine the plantains, oil, garlic and pork into a food processor or mixing bowl. Mash all of the ingredients together. Proceed carefully if using a food processor. Pulse the mixture until you reach the desired consistency because liquefied mofongo is not always appetizing.
  7. Form the mashed mixture into balls. Make the balls any size that fits your meal plans. This mofongo recipe usually feeds approximately three to four people.