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Bacalao

Bacalao is the Spanish word for dried and salted cod.
I was down in Puerto Rico as a guest speaker to the Caribbean Hotel Association Conference. I was delighted to go because I was with the delightful cookbook author, Ms. Jessica Harris. She is a world authority on Caribbean food and especially the African contributions to it.
Jessica introduced us to a local Puerto Rican restaurateur, Patricia Wilson, who became our guide on Saturday. She picked us up and drove us to a radio station where I did her show. Then she showed us around Old San Juan in the early afternoon before we had to fly back to work for service Saturday night.
Patricia took us to few of the stores to see many products quite familiar to us here in Miami, and then to lunch in a little local haunt called La Casita Blanca. (The White House.)
As we made our way into the non-air conditioned establishment I noted the decor as reminiscent of Old Bahama Village in Key West. Roosters squawked, Christmas tree lights illuminated the bar and small children dashed in and out among the tables. Onions and potatoes held down the stacks of paper napkins.
The first course was an ice cold Puerto Rican beer with a type of bacalao fritter I'd not seen before. It was as flat as and similarly shaped to a cactus pad. I took a small bite and found it to be slightly chewy, crisp, hot and redolent of the "one of kind" scent of bacalao. I splashed on the vinegar hot sauce called "pique".
There's nothing quite like bacalao. It scares some people that have not been initiated to its slightly salty but deeply satisfying flavor.
The rest of the lunch was simple and fine. Mondongo, Pastel de Pollo, Patitas en Garbanzos. But it was the bacalao I'll remember next time I'm in Old San Juan.



Mangosteens

I was at a fruit festival a few years back and some wonderful people from the Far East were talking to me. They were intrigued by my set of Exotic Fruit Posters and wanted to know about many of the fruits. I asked them what their favorite fruit was and they got very dreamy-eyed and said, "Oh, by far, the mangosteen."
Even though I had managed to get a picture of a mangosteen to appear on my posters, it was not my fortune to have ever tasted them at that point in time. They can grow in South Florida, but my posters came out just after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and it was "slim pickins" for many of our "regular" fruits.
This all changed after I went to Paris. Strange, but it was in a very upscale Parisian fruit stall that I purchased some Mangosteens...far from the lands of their birth.
The fruit's exterior color is purple and it has a green calyx. It is reminiscent of a persimmon in the construction of its shape, but a little smaller. I allowed it to ripen before investigating. The outer shell was quite firm at first but then yielded just enough to make me know that the transformation Nature had hoped for was complete. I sliced off the top and saw the real thing.
Mangosteens have a cozy little home of a shell to protect the small peeled-garlic-shaped, peeled-grape look of its fruit nestling within it. The sections of fruit require no further peeling once you remove that hull. The smaller sections can be seedless, while the larger do contain a pulp covered small nugget.
The scent is a gorgeous lychee meets Riesling. You should try to get some. Even if it means having to go to Paris.

 




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