Mofongo, Pinchos and Campbell’s Soup: The True Story of Puerto Rican Food in the Diaspora | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 628
October 21, 2022

Mofongo, Pinchos and Campbell’s Soup: The True Story of Puerto Rican Food in the Diaspora

Mofongo, Pinchos and Campbell’s Soup: The True Story of Puerto Rican Food in the Diaspora

Illyanna Maisonet takes us on a culinary journey through Puerto Rico and its diaspora. She reveals the secrets to her guava barbecue sauce, the only flan she’ll ever eat and the best way to cook rice. Plus, Kim Severson tells us about the rise of salvage food stores, we make Aguachile Negro, and Adam Gopnik asks—what do we do when our favorite places close?

Questions in this episode:

"What’s the best way to use my propane cooktop?"

“Can you help me make better macarons?”

"I'm trying to make a classic bread that's popular in Rhode Island bakeries."

"What's a good side for beef and potato curry if I don't want rice?"

Illyanna Maisonet Gabriela Hasbun 2021 1

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today Illyanna Maisonet takes us on a culinary journey through Puerto Rico and it's the diaspora. She reveals the secrets to work Wabo barbecue sauce, delicious desserts, and the very best rice.

Illyanna Maisonet: I don't want to seem crazy, but some people will said it depends on how you talk to the rice. If you talk to your rice like you talk to your plant like,

CK: Wait, wait wait. I'm going to stop you there. So, you're talking to your rice and that changes how you cook.

IM: Like we're going to do good. We're going to do great, you're going to be a winner.

CK: That's coming up later in the show. First up, it's my interview with New York Times food correspondent Kim Severson about salvage grocery stores. Her article is called dented, dated, discontinued at the salvage grocery. It's called the deal. Kim Severson it's been much too long, how are you?

Kim Severson: I'm great. Much too long I agree. How are you?

CK: I'm good. So today we're talking about stores with names like Sharpshooter, the Dented Can, Stretch a Buck. It's pretty interesting what's going on in the supermarket business.

KS: You know, stores are always supermarkets. They're always this great barometer of where we are nationally. And I think the salvage store, which is what you're talking about here, are getting a little bit of some new attention. People who maybe have never thought about different ways to stretch their food dollar are discovering the secret world of what they call food retailers call them unsellable. So, it's this amazing place where all the food that you know we're not going to end up on your traditional grocery store shelf goes and get marked down like crazy.

CK: So, this is different than the dollar store in terms of this is all food and supermarket related.

KS: Yeah, dollar stores and even you know the German import Aldi are there so the dollar stores have something like 18,000 stores now. So, there are big chains that operate with a supply chain, a distribution and a purchasing system that are much more like you know, Kroger or Publix or, or Whole Foods, the salvage stores are places that kind of have a secret deal with food manufacturers. So, if say, a creme cheese manufacturer has decided to change their packaging from 10 ounces to eight ounces and still sell for the same price. They don't want those 10-ounce packages out in regular circulation. Or maybe the guy with a forklift just screwed up, you know, two cases of butter and ripped the side of one of them. Those have to go somewhere to get sold right? So, they're not going to be going on the shelf at an Aldi, but they will go into the secondary market as they call it, which is these salvage stores.

CK: So, a lot of these products is it about expired dates or food that's been on this on the shelf too long. Is that part of what's going on here?

KS: Yeah, the expiration dates are a funny thing in this country. And when something gets close to that date, manufacturers don't like to have it on the shelves. Shoppers will be like oh says it's best buy this date. I don't want to buy it a day after but that leaves a ton of really good food out there that is perfectly edible. It may not be at its exact peak certainly with dairy and things like that. But you know is a box a Rice Krispies that's three weeks past its best buy date going to be really that different, it's not but those sell by dates turn into the bread and butter for for salvage stores.

CK: So, there's another category of items in these stores, new products that don't sell you I think you mentioned Hostess snowball flavored coffee pods. So, this is where new product innovations that don't sell as you say, you know go to die they go to get sold off.

KS: This is one of my favorite parts about salvage stores because I'm such a student of food marketing and the ways in which food marketers tried to get us to buy things, so the cereal aisle in particular is really interesting. There could be you know, rows and rows of there was a Shaquille O'Neal cereal that had little cinnamon flavored round basketballs is kind of the the thing there were plenty and plenty of those family size boxes available for less than $2 so you kind of see what what went and what didn't go. Seasonal stuff of course is big you can find and I don't know why you would want lavender peeps for months after Easter but you know you might they were very cheap. That sense of discovery is great the treasure hunt nature of it I love

CK: Right, that's that's perfectly describes it. Yeah, I think I think that's true.

KS: Yeah, it's kind of fun you know, it's kind of fun.

CK: So, take us through your walk in the door. or what kind of pricing? Do you see I assume some cases you're getting, you know, 80% off, which you might see in a regular supermarket. Maybe just take us on a little tour here.

KS: Sure, you know, the thing to realize is that not all salvage stores are created equal. However, if you stick with it, there's some really great and very delicious deals to be had. I talked to a woman who goes to one store in North Carolina, and she found a perfectly whole wheel of Romano cheese from Italy stamped lovely, perfect. And she thought it was about $12 for a wheel of cheese that probably would have cost, you know, 10 times that. And depending on price sensitivity, you can find terrific deals, I, I have a kid who happens to like this brand of water, called Liquid Death because they're young, but it makes them feel cool. And it's ridiculous. And I don't buy it because it's expensive and dumb. However, I found a case of 12 of those 16-ounce cans for about $5. So, I during my reporting brought home my case of Liquid Death and was an instant hero with my high school freshman for about five minutes.

CK: I was going to say that'll happen again in about three years. So, at the height of the COVID pandemic, I would assume these stores probably did really well, right?

KS: They did. In fact, I talked to one guy whose entire business survived because he happened to stumble on a couple of truckloads full of toilet paper, when the toilet paper shortage was happening. But what I found really interesting is when the pandemic hit stadiums, cruise ships, airlines, places that had a lot of food in stock and in the freezers and ready to go, didn't have anywhere to sell that food, right. And this is where the salvage grocery business came to the rescue. So, you know, vats of orange juice that were ready to be loaded onto the cruise ship lines, frozen meals from airlines. So, what's particularly interesting then about secondary market salvage stores, you really see all the different channels in which food gets from manufacturers to our plates and made me really think about all the different ways in which food travels through the supply chain.

CK: So, is this say, obviously, people want to save money and when you're uncertain about the economy, this is something you think more about, but does it you think, give us a sign that maybe how people shop is changing too? Is there something underlying this this more than just about saving money?

KS: Oh, absolutely. And I think particularly with younger people, there is a real interest in preventing food waste, right? So, you have a lot of waste warriors that are at these stores. I think you and I probably get a certain amount of satisfaction from running an efficient household. You know, any good chef will tell you, you know, take the vegetables peelings, and make a stock out of them and that sort of thing. This is that ethos but applied to the grocery store right so a lot of people who go to these stores are a lot of the newer people are folks who are want to participate in a world in which we reduce food waste, which then keeps food out of the landfill, which then makes less carbon into the air which hopefully will help us stop climate change. So that line of thinking is I think alive and well in a lot of the salvage stores.

CK: Kim, thank you so much. The story of salvage grocery stores. Thank you.

KS: You're welcome, Chris always happy to be out of Milk Street.

CK: That was New York Times food correspondent Kim Severson, her recent article is called Dented, Dated Discontinued at the Salvage Grocery it's called a deal. And now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's weeknight meals on public television. Also, author of Home Cooking One on One.

Sara Moulton: So, Chris, you've got youngins, Halloween is coming up any thoughts about what would be a fun way to celebrate? And by the way, what costume are you going to wear?

CK: Well, the costumes, we have a five- and three-year-old and the problem is that the switches in attire in the weeks leading up to Halloween in August, you know, there's I want to be a policeman. And then I want to be Wolfman. And then September comes, and he wants to be a pilot, or he wants to be Spider Man. And then October, you know, so we have to go through a lot of iterations of costumes. And it comes right down to the wire. But we try to do it as a family so that there's a theme.

SM: Oh, so you all dress up?

CK: Well, we all dress up. Yeah. So, we go out with my sister-in-law and her family just outside of Boston. And it's nice when you find towns where everybody really gets into it. (Yeah) you know, that's what Halloween is all about. Right? (Right) Okay, so let's go to the call.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi this is George.

SM: Hi, George, where are you calling from?

Caller: Just outside of Dallas, Texas.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: I upgraded my kitchen a few years ago. And my neighborhood does not have natural gas. So, I wanted the gas cooktop, but I had to get one that would be converted to propane. And I've just never really made friends with the thing. I can't find the equivalent of medium in a recipe. You know, I know how to cook the things I know how to cook on it. But when I have a new recipe, and it says cook on medium, I just don't have any point of reference to find those settings.

SM: Well, I've been stuck with electric everywhere for years. But I'll tell you one thing that's true about electric regardless, is you have to get used to it. Propane, I believe has a higher BTU rating than gas. And it depends on the size of the holes that it comes out how it comes out. And are well let me ask you this, when you do cook it over what you think is medium, does it seem to cook too fast? Or does it seem to cook too slow, or sometimes one and sometimes the other?

Caller: Sometimes one, and sometimes the other?

SM: Darn well, here's something to consider, which I've done with my electric stove. Because with an electric stove, a burner doesn't heat up quickly, and it doesn't cool down quickly. So, I've taken two using two burners, I go from one to the other. But really at the end of the day, the advice is just take notes, copious notes, when you make a recipe about what the temperature was, it was too much or too little. And then you'll know the next time to do it differently. But let's see what Chris has to say.

CK: Let's be honest recipes say medium low, medium, medium high. And it's all nonsense, because it depends on the pan you're using. It depends on your cooktop; it depends on who wrote the recipe right? Now in England, they have gas stops, you know, it's like four stops, they don't have like all these different things, like sending the oven to 335 is crazy. So, what I would do is figure out what you're doing. If you're doing onions, for example, it'll say quick on medium for eight to 10 minutes until translucent. Well, you don't mediums pointless, you sort of know how to cook onions, right? I would ignore and I always do. When a recipe says medium or low. I just ignore that I just know, this, like low heat, sort of medium heat and high heat. That's all I really know. And then I constantly adjust it so, I would take it as a very rough rule. And you know, it sounds like you know how to cook. Look what's in the pan. Last thing I would say is use your ears. Because you can tell a lot about whether the temperature is right. Like when onions are cooking properly. They don't sound angry, right? They sound sort of gentle. And the same thing was so attacking meat or anything else. So, use your eyes, use your ears use less heat than you think you need. That's a good I really do agree on that. Yeah, because you'll get into less trouble more slowly. And don't worry about what the recipe says look what they're asking you to do, you know, brown the meat for eight minutes. Okay, well, then you sort of know where it should be. So, one last thing I'll leave you with is that I I once did a test of induction stovetops versus gas and I figured out an induction and gas both took 13 minutes. Which surprised me. So, could we come up with a test? To figure out like you take a cup of water and put it in a three-quart saucepan, how long does it take to boil? That might be a useful gauge at least you know, the ballpark you're in

Caller: That would be a great starting point, you know, some sort of empirical standard because I'm fine when a recipe says cook it over medium for six minutes until translucent and beginning to brown. But when a recipe from not quite as good of a source just says cooking on medium for six minutes that you

CK: You don't know.

SM: You don't know what you’re looking for. Yeah

CK: Yeah, we'll try to come up with a rule and we'll let you know. Anything else. Sara, are you?

SM: No no, I agree. I was going to say look for the “or until” but you're right bad recipes don't give you the “or until” it looks blip you know, six minutes or until also, maybe just try to work with cookbooks that give you the “or until”

CK: the Sara Moulton’s “or until” cookbook coming to a bookstore.

SM: There you go. Right.

CK: George thank you. Excellent question. Really.

Caller: Thank you. Appreciate it.

CK: Pleasure.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to solve your culinary problems and mysteries. Please give us a ring anytime. Our number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or just email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling.

Caller: Hi, my name is Marla and I'm calling from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I just want to say first of all, I love your show. I started a baking business and I listen to it every single time I bake. And I try to bake macarons in bulk, but I always have trouble making them and having them come out the same each time. I'm in I don't know what I'm doing.

CK: You're trying to bake macaroons in large batches the same every time. What kind of flour using? These are almond macaroons?

Caller: Almond flour. Yeah, almond flour and powdered sugar. And I'm blending them together and shifting them.

CK: I'll give you a few personal tips, but Food 52 actually has a on their website, they have a bunch of professional tips about doing this, which I would check out. (Okay) I think one thing that for me, when you're dealing with egg whites, make sure that you don't over beat them before you add the hot sugar syrup. I think people over beat their whites. And when you do that, it's a disaster. I got this tip from a baker in London, actually, Claire Ptak. And she showed me how to do it. She really yeah, she under under beats them. And so, I would definitely under beat thing is it much easier to incorporate into dry ingredients later. And there was something else on that Food 52 site. Remember about continuing to fold the mixture long after you've incorporated all the ingredients. Normally, I would not suggest doing that. But that's one of the tips they had on their site. The other key is the humidity and the temperature and other things in the in your bake shop. Sara

SM: Yeah, I agree with what Chris said, I just was going to ask you, whose recipe are you using?

Caller: I don't know I've used so many, and I've tried so many different ones. And I've tried making it so many times and some days it comes out great. And some days they collapse, and I like to make them in bulk to use them as like cake toppers and everything and then I'm just wasting ingredients because they didn't turn out right.

SM: So that is such a bummer. I know one really highly regarded source is the book Bouchan Bakery. (oh yeah) you might want to check out their recipe.

CK: What oven temperature using?

Caller: I think 300 and just the regular oven.

CK: And after they're baked. Do you turn the oven off and let him sit in there for a while or you just take them right out?

Caller: Yes, I let them sit in there for about an hour after and kind of crack the oven a little bit almost like I'm making like meringues.

CK: You have your ovens calibrated all the time. I mean, that's an obvious question.

Caller: Yeah, I have a thermometer. Yeah.

SM: Okay. Sounds like an egg white problem.

Caller: Maybe I'll try the under whipping thing because I don't think I've tried that yet. And I remember listening when she was on your show before. Claire Ptak, so maybe I'll try that.

CK: Of all the baking tips have ever gotten I think the two tips are under beat your egg whites always include sugar in the egg whites of course. And to under fold for cakes the egg whites into the or the batter into the dry ingredients. However, in this case, this case one of the tips was over fold. So, I'm not really sure why that is but if you don't want somebody to collapse maybe that's a good idea, but I would check out the Food 52 website.

SM: Yeah, and the Bouchan Bakery recipe.

Caller: Okay, awesome.

CK: and there’s also Stella Parks.

SM: Oh yeah,

CK: it's Stella Parks I'd always trust.

Caller: Okay. All right. Thank you so much

SM: Thanks, Marla.

CK: Thanks Marla. This is Milk Street radio up next, the best food of Puerto Rico with Illyanna Maisonet. That's right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. It's time for my interview with writer Illyanna Maisonet. Her debut book is the Diasporican a Puerto Rican cookbook. Just to note we recorded this interview before Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico in late September 2022. Illyanna Welcome to Milk Street.

Illyanna Maisonet: Thank you for having me.

CK: So, your grandparents come to Sacramento from Puerto Rico in 1956. I know your grandmother was a great cook. But what about your mother? Is she a great cook too?

IM: My mom to this day, my mom does not like cooking. It is a chore for her. She doesn't really cook for herself. Most of the stuff that she made were kind of like these semi homemade quick recipes, you know, that included like Campbell's cream of mushroom,

CK: Oh, like the chicken with the cream of mushroom soup,

IM: Which my grandma wouldn't never use in a million years.

CK: So, your grandmother's cooking, and you talk about this in the book, but her cooking was from her time in Puerto Rico. Did it change over time, or she had her recipes. And that's what she cooked.

IM: Yeah, her Puerto Rican recipes never really evolved. The only things that really evolved are kind of like, maybe how to make them. So, like when we make pasteli’s, which is traditional to use banana leaves to wrap, you know, when she came, you know, there was no word to buy that sort of thing. So, she started using foil

CK: and these just sort of like tamales, I guess a little bit.

IM: Yeah, basically, instead of using corn as the masa, we used tubers, like you know, platano’s and ____and stuff. But all of her recipes are very old fashioned like before, you know, because she left before, there was really much of like an American influence that kind of like took hold, you know, like the use of ketchup and stuff like that.

CK: This is really an interesting point I just want to talk about her for a moment you talk about how there's an influx of convenience foods. And so, it's an interesting concept of over time, sort of the classic recipes gets lost. How do you think about that? In other words, your grandmother's food is the real Puerto Rican food. What's going on today is related to it, but not as good. I mean, how do you think about the evolution of food?

IM: I think that, you know, there's a lot of it that I don't really understand. And I don't think that a lot of Puerto Ricans, they also don't understand. But Puerto Ricans are what I call a spirited bunch that even though they don't understand it, they're going to defend it, they're going to die on that hill, regardless if they're right or wrong. So, like, you know, when we're talking like Mofongo, Mofongo originally would be served in a bowl with like, chicken broth, or something like that, or sauce or tomato-based sauce, because it has a tendency to be dry. Well, now the quick fix is to just slap on Mayo ketchup. And there are people that will if you don't several like that, they will get super angry and say, you know, oh, that's like traditional. And it's like, dude, Mofongo was around way before ketchup, like what are you talking about? Like you're sitting here defending ketchup as being traditional, when we literally probably have only been using ketchup from Puerto Rico for maybe like the last 30 years, maybe? Like is that really? Can you really call that traditional?

CK: So, for you just to define this, you say, which I think is really interesting. This is not a Puerto Rican cookbook. It's sort of a diasporan cookbook. So, what was the difference and what do you mean by that?

IM: Well, like the other day, somebody on Tik Tok asked me, you know, oh, is there is this book going to be made in English because you know, I don't speak Spanish. It's like, this book is entirely in English. This is why this book is for you. It's for us, you know, like, we're 5.5 Puerto Ricans, 5.5 million here in the States. That's more than Puerto Rico right now, for better or worse. And so, there are, you know, a ton of Puerto Ricans that live in the states who've never been, you know, to the island. But that doesn't mean that they still don't long or yearn for their, you know, their mother's land or their grandmother's land and they might not speak Spanish. So, there are like, there are personalities on social media, like Puerto Rican personalities that do a lot of cooking and stuff. But I always say that those Puerto Rican cooks personalities on social media they're the Puerto Rican for other Puerto Ricans. I'm the Puerto Rican for everybody else. I'm the Puerto Rican for the world for everybody.

CK: There's a few recipes here. They're really interesting. First of all, you talk about a quintessential Puerto Rican guava barbecue sauce that sounds I don't know why I've never had that but that sounds like a big a big improvement on regular barbecue sauce. So, what's in it, how do you make it?

IM: So, if you go to any like dough ____ shacks in Louisiana, they have you know pinchos right and it's just grilled chicken on a stick and skewers that they grill over, you know, coals or whatever. And the quintessential sauce that they usually use is the guava barbecue sauce. Now, today, most of them just use a cheap barbecue prepackaged sauce like Kraft and then just add guava paste to it. I don't do that, you know, whatever to each his own. The way that I do it is you know, I just start with like tomato sauce, a little bit of ketchup, whatever and then I add my guava paste to it. And because guava paste has a tendency just to be so sweet, which I really don't enjoy kind of like cloying sweetness. I add a little bit of soy sauce a little bit of fish sauce and a little bit of lemon to my now my mom has always she never made her own by barbecue sauce, but she wouldn't buy the best one she can and she would always add slice lemon to her barbecue sauce, always as long as I can remember. And for the longest time I hated it. I was like, why are you adding this frickin lemon in here? I hate it. And now I just can't see any other way of doing it.

CK: Is that your definition of growing up? Now we know you're you're a full adult.

IM: Maybe maybe it's like a rite of passage like you too will learn to enjoy the lemon.

CK: You do have your likes and dislikes clearly. Flan you know I don't like Flan (I don't like flan) it gives me huge heaves. Most flans tend to be wiggly look. But you say in a bad way. What's that's what I love about flan I like wiggly. Why? How come you don't like wiggly, it's wiggly and slippery. You had a bad experience with flan or something at some point.

IM: No I mean, any experience with flan is a bad experience. It's too slippery. It is literally just slip just kind of goes down your throat without you really necessarily having to chew. And that's not a good thing for me. But, you know, the way that Puerto Ricans do it, they make queso de flan, you know, which is more if it has like the good things about flan which is kind of like the caramel, which is almost like a like a burnt caramel almost, which I enjoy. And it has more of like a smooth cheesecake texture, kind of

CK: Well. I'll try it. But I like wiggly and slippery. I'm sorry. I guess we just agree to disagree. So, the next time I visit Puerto Rico, where should I go? How would I think about finding you know, the kinds of foods that you really get excited about?

IM: So, you know in Vieques, there's a ___. So, there's a whole, like not neighborhood, there's a whole area that just specializes in ____. So, you kind of have you know, a lot of places to choose from, you know, on what could be your favorite place. And you can just hop you know, and there's like a router de longganisa in the mountains like just this route of like various restaurants that just kind of specialize in dishes that include longganisa you know, there's I wrote about, you know, this man named Nando, who he's really all I think he's like in his almost in his 90s and he still making a sausage, smoking the sausage right there. And so don't just stick to San Juan like, first day, go to freakin Aquatate go out there and eat pork second day, go to the mountains, you know, you may want to get a driver because some of those roads are super crazy. Go and have you know try a bunch of different longganisa places and make your way to the west side and go and have those fresh oysters. Puerto Rico’s not known for his oysters and it should be.

CK: You talked about rice in the book right about how to cook rice. And you talked about the two to one ratio or which is just complete nonsense, I believe. (Right) Yeah, I totally agree. And in some cases, one to one is what you should use. Could you just talk about that? Because I think it's important.

IM: I remember in culinary school, everybody was afraid to make rice. Everybody would make pasta every single day pasta, pasta pasta, because nobody knew how to make rice. And even our teachers would say, you know, oh, it's just two to one. It's like, dude, what you know, and me coming from like a rice culture. I've eaten rice all my life. Like I have a body built by rice. I was like, there's just no way that is like, no, that's not how this goes down. You know, like, rice really depends on the type of rice you're using, where the rice comes from. Sometimes it depends on the weather, you know, I don't want to seem crazy, but some people will say it depends on how you talk to the rice. If you talk to your rice, like you talk to your plants, like you know better rice will come out like,

CK: Wait, wait, wait. Okay, I’m going to stop you there. So, you're talking to your rice and that changes how you cook it?

IM: Look, we're going to do good, we're going to do great, you're going to be a winner. And like, you know, some people have that technique where they dip their finger into the rice, right? And it comes to that first line finger and that means it's going to come up Puerto Ricans when they make rice, but they will stick the spoon in the middle of the pot in the spoon is standing by itself. That means it will come out perfect. I have yet to make that happen. That does not work for me. I have to measure.

CK: So, what's your view over the next 10 years in Puerto Rico, not the diaspora here. But you talk about you know, you talked about ketchup, you talked about the low quality of some supermarket ingredients, etc. Do you think there's going to be a resurgence like there has been in many other places of rediscovering what they've lost? Or is it just going to keep trending into more sort of convenience?

IM: Well, there already has been several resurgences It's just that there's a lot of having to go back to square one because of you know, Puerto Rico's financial crisis or because of natural disasters that keep occurring. You know, like, there are some people there that are doing really great work that are are growing their own food and starting small farms and teaching people about re-teaching people about the ingredients. I mean, there's a company called Puerto Rico Produce where they work with small farmers all across the island and they will deliver those products directly to your door no matter where you are. That service has been a great contributor to people getting access back to the things that they might remember from when they were small or maybe, you know, just from hearing their parents having access to that they never even have seen because they live in a city where they're only access to supermarkets like Walmart.

CK: Illyana it's been a pleasure. It's also been a lot of fun. We should do this again. Thank you.

IM: Thank you.

CK: That was Illyanna Maisonet and an interview we recorded before Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico. Illyanna Maisonet is the author of the new book Diasporican: a Puerto Rican Cookbook. You know in today's food world the issue is often authenticity. Illyanna points out the ketchup as an ingredient is not traditional when making Mofongo. But then again Sunday, gravy is hardly a classic Italian dish. In the old country meat was expensive and Sunday gravy, a pot full of spareribs sausage and stew meat was really not an option. And what about Fettuccine Alfredo? The original recipe never called for cream. So, traveling the world one hopes to find the authentic version of say Pad Thai or falafel but inevitably every village in every household has the recipe. Authentic is in the eye of the beholder. This means that we need to hold two opposing ideas at the same time. Authenticity matters, but recipes change over time. So, if you want to put ketchup in Mofongo please be my guest. But please try the original you might be pleasantly surprised you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's chat with Sam Fore about this week's recipe. Agua chili Nigro. Sam, how are you?

Sam Fore: Well, as always, Chris, how about yourself?

CK: Well as sometimes, but I was very well in February because I went to Puerto Vallarta. And friends of mine took me to a bar on the beach Cafe had had a big drink. But we also had agua chili negara, which is essentially ceviche a shrimp ceviche of each day. But instead of just lime juice, they have some other ingredients, including Worcestershire sauce, which gives it a very dark, interesting, almost fermented flavor to it. So, I was really taken by this and it wasn't just the alcohol I really liked it. And I found Worcestershire sauce and other similar soy sauce in other dishes with seafood. So, this was an eye opener for me. But it was one of the more interesting recipes I've come across. =

SF: So, what's kind of brilliant about this is that this regional sauce is like almost kind of inky. And that's not really something that you would expect on a shrimp dish, you know, by the beach, but it's got this kind of complex heat to it. It's not just that it has the soy and the Worcestershire. It's even got a little bit of Maggie, which is kind of a tie in with South Asian flavors. It is also one of those things in this recipe that I enjoy that the shrimp is not completely acid cooked. We're going to poach the shrimp in this recipe. So, we're taking a bunch of smaller shrimp and we're only going to cook that shrimp until it's just starting to curl. And so, once I have it to that point of just being barely poached, I am taking it and putting it into lime juice while it's a little bit warm, and then tossing it into the fridge until it is completely shut down. Now this gives the lime juice some time to create some bright beautiful acidity in this dish for the sauce while the shrimp is chilling down we've blended up the Worcestershire the Maggie the soy with some charred chilies and garlic. And the puree just ends up adding so much flavor and so much difference from a traditional sort of, you know, just lime juice and a couple of spices of ceviche. And as we serve it we can add you know, sliced onions and cucumbers and tomatoes and avocados and have all that freshness but the big thing is just how punchy that sauce is.

CK: You know what I love is when people have a dish comprised of one or two things like this, you know barely cooked shrimp and aqua chili sauce. And then you put a bunch of fresh things on top to make you feel virtuous. Tomato avocado, cucumber Yeah, this is this is fresh vegetables. It's a salad. It's a salad. Sam thank you agua chili negro is a different way and I might even say a better way of doing ceviche. Thank you,

SF: Enjoy. can get the recipe for agua chili negro at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik asked the question, what do we do when our favorite places close? That's up after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now. My co-host, Sara Moulton and I will answer a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: My name is Tim, from Burlington, Vermont.

CK: Excellent. A Vermonter. Vermonters always ask the best questions don’t you think?

SM: They do they're just the best. Yeah

CK: Okay, go ahead.

Caller: I'm currently in Vermont, but I grew up in Rhode Island. And in Rhode Island, I could find this just excellent Italian bread at the local bakeries or all the ___ bakeries. And it doesn't really usually have a specific name. It's just like called The Family loaf or it's just the bread that they have at the bakery. Usually, it's just like, do you want this large one or the small one? So, I've tried to recreate it by baking it myself, but I've been completely unable to, I can't find recipes, I usually end up with something that's more like a ___ or a sourdough. And I can't get the fine texture, crusty loaf that they just have perfected.

CK: I know the bread you're talking about. It's not a loaf that has a lot of flavor to it, though. It has a great crust, a thin crust on the outside, right in a tight crumb in a tight light crumb. Right,

Caller: Correct. Yes, it's a very mild flavor.

CK: Right. It's mild. What recipes did you try and where did you find them?

Caller: Most of them online. And I found, you know, kind of like rustic loaf breads and some of like baguette type recipes. (Yeah, those are different). They just yeah, they come out to course they're two areas. And of course, anything with the sourdough recipe ends up being sour in too strong a flavor.

CK: How you Google makes a big difference. If you Google classic Italian bread. Did you try that? rustics not going to do it

SM: To me, I think really crusty. And then a vary in the center.

CK: Classic Italian bread is what I would be what I would look for. I often go to Serious Eats when I'm looking for recipes. I like their website a lot. I would definitely start there. But I know exactly what you want. The problem is where these were too rustic. They were sourdough. They were different kinds of flours. They were too heavy, right?

SM: I mean, it's closer, really to white sandwich bread than it is to a baguette.

Caller: Yeah, I would agree with that for sure.

SM: So, like white sandwich bread. It has a tight crumb, but unlike white sandwich bread, it has slightly more of a crust.

CK: And the ones in the supermarket

SM: are squishy.

Caller: They kind of get the texture right, but they don't quite get the flavor right or the crust right for sure. The crust is usually too soft.

CK: Yeah, well, good for you. Because that's kind of a loaf that nobody takes seriously anymore. When it's done. Right. It is very good.

SM: Yeah, it's great for sopping up all those gravies

Caller: It makes excellent French toast the next morning.

CK: Yeah, and bread pudding.

SM: Yeah, because it's a good absorber.

CK: Well, if you find out let us know because yeah, posted on the website.

Caller: Alright,

CK: Tim, thank you.

Caller You're welcome.

CK: Thank you. Take care.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a call. 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling.

Caller: Hi, my name is Pam.

CK: How are you?

Caller: Fine. Thanks. I have a recipe from the January February 2021 issue. My husband made its the beef and potato curry with lemongrass and coconut. And we loved it and been debating what would be a good accompaniment to it if we didn't want to have it with rice.

CK: I think you probably want something fresh would add a carrot salad or a curried carrot salad is we have quite a few carrot salads. Probably you could use a cucumber salad of some kind, we have a number of those. Maybe something fresh and simple? Those are just a few. Sara?

SM: You know, I'm interested you said you don't want to serve with rice. Were you looking to serve it with another starch even though there's potatoes in there.

Caller: That's exactly why we didn't want to do it with the rice was because of the starch in the potatoes.

SM: I agree with Chris, you know, because when you make curry with coconut milk, it's rather rich, and slightly sweet. So, it's nice to have something fresh, like cucumbers or carrots. But I was also going to say another counterpart to something that's sweet. And a little heavy is something that's bitter, like broccoli rabe would be another thought. And you could just sauté it with garlic or just, you know, blanch it and sauté it and oil and that would be a nice counterpart.

CK: Or do what I do, which is I've totally given up on side dishes. I don't do side dishes anymore. Now. I mean, this is a dish. It has beef and potato and lemongrass and coconut. It has a lot going on. Right. So what I would do is forget entirely about a side. I’d just serve that and then make a really interesting salad that has maybe some bitter greens in it, right? Yeah, ___ in it or something or escrow or whatever. Something that phenols really great in the salad. So have a hardier salad. Yeah. And that becomes your side. It's also a good palate cleanser, right for the curry. So, I would just dump the side.

Caller: Okay, I love that idea of doing a salad. I know, with other curries in the past, we tend to we grow a lot of greens. And we will cook those in large batches and freeze them and then have them as a side kind of place of salad. And it's been surprising that we do enjoy that with a lot of different curries

SM: Yeah, no, it makes sense. It makes sense. Again, because they're bitter.

CK: Well, especially if you have a dish that's multi textural and lots of flavors going on. You don't need to add something else. Less is more. Right.

Caller: Okay, great. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your help

CK: Thank you. Thanks for calling

SM: Yes, bye bye

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Recently, we received a call from Scott Hankins, who had found himself in a particularly sticky situation.

Caller: My nonstick skillet does not have a lid. And I've always used the lid to my enamel coated, cast iron Dutch oven. The last time I did this, it got so stuck.

CK: I was going to say it's not going to end well.

Caller: No, no, it has not ended well. So, I've heated up the pan slowly. I've tried putting it in the freezer. Nothing's really worked so far.

CK: In short order inventive lid removal solutions came pouring in from our listeners.

Caller: I heard a bit on the radio today about a pan lid being stuck on top of a pan, presumably because of a significant vacuum issue. And I had one additional idea for you, which is, I don't know if you could get your hands on some kind of vacuum container. I don't know if a local lab might have something like that, but seems like that might work.

Caller: So goodbye guys. Don't tape it around so that ice only sits on the Dutch oven lid and aluminum will move before the cast iron and it'll pop open.

Caller: You’ve got to fill the frying pan up with water and boil it and keep it going.

Caller: Turn the chilled pan and lid over upside down so the lid is downward. Pour the hot water on the pan that might expand the pan enough to release the lid and break the vacuum.

Caller: You can unscrew the handle from the lid and that will release the vacuum.

CK: Ultimately, Scott chose a different solution. After fighting with his stuck lid, he left the entire pen in his workshop closet and promptly forgot about it. When he rediscovered it during a move he made attempts at drilling through the lid before surrendering the pan to its final resting place the garbage bin. Well at least with your help, you'll be better prepared the next time this happens. And thanks to everyone who called we'd love to hear your solutions for both ordinary and extra ordinary kitchen problems. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Let's see what Adam Gopnik is thinking about this week. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am well Christopher, how are you?

CK: I'm good. I've been a little philosophical of late and that's why I called.

AG: Yeah, just just the guy you want to talk to. Well, I am what I think Jaques was in As You Like It would say philosophical melancholy. Because my very favorite coffee shop in all of New York City suddenly and surprisingly closed just the other day.

CK: the one I went to with you

AG: The one I took you to the New Amity Coffee shop which had been there for 42 years, I went for, I don't know, 1000 breakfast, and there was a sign in the window saying after 42 years, we have decided to close and that was it. It was finished. And what made it so strange actually, Chris was that at that same time, another local institution in my Manhattan neighborhood, Wankels Hardware suddenly decided to close as well. Wankels was one of the strangest and most eccentric visual stores in all of New York because they had a beautiful window displays at Christmas especially a vacuum cleaners and sinks and toilet seats neatly wreathed with Holly and tinsel, just to show it off, it had also been there for almost 45 or 50 years. So, it was a double blow to our sense of continuity. It was truly terrible. And it was deeply depressing.

CK: Well, I do have a theory that I just interject for a second. I love hardware stores, the small ones. And I think you could track the decline of Western civilization by the decline of hardware stores. But because they really said something about community because they were the heart and soul for me of a town.

AG: Chris, you are so on my wavelength because that's exactly where I'm going. Except to add to it that the coffee shop or the diners it's often called outside New York City is the hardware store of of gastronomy. It's the place that people come together. And what struck me in losing the coffee shop is that of course, it's been replaced organically. But what replaces coffee shops now in New York City or any city in America,

CK: chain coffee shops

AG: They were replaced by cafes, right places where you get espresso with some variety of steam something or other or chilled, some thing or other and they don't have food, they tend to have a certain number of pre chilled and then sometimes microwaved less than goodies. But a cafe usually replaces a coffee shop. And here's the secret about the coffee shop. The key thing about the New York City coffee shop was that it served bad coffee. It was one of the few places where you still got bad coffee, old fashioned percolated coffee that had stood on a warming plate for the better part of two days. So, there's a kind of built-in trade off there. And it goes on all around the country. Actually, I was in Columbus, Ohio, and I stumbled on a wonderful diner that had somehow survived all the changes in the world. And it had great breakfasts and terrible coffee. It's a kind of marriage. So, what replaces the Greek coffee shop in New York is the standardized cafe. And if you think about it, Chris, what replaces the hardware store generically?

CK: Well, it's it's either Amazon (Yes) Or it's Home Depot?

AG: Yes, exactly. But I put a slightly different I'd say what replaces the hardware store is the software store. And the problem is exactly Chris, I think what you were saying a moment ago, right, is that the coffee shop and the hardware store, which we have lost our best representative of in the past couple of weeks, is that their cross class and cross kind cultural spaces, if I may put it that way. Everybody used to come to the New Amity, rich people from Fifth Avenue and middle-class people from Third Avenue and working people when I posted my melancholic social media notice about it, I got responses from a huge range of people. Those are the kinds of places in the same way that Wankel’s Hardware store was a place that welcomed everybody not in a self-conscious way, but just naturally everybody needs scrambled eggs, and everybody needs a working drill. Everybody wants good rice pudding, and everybody needs toggle bolts. And that sense of commonality as I say have that kind of cross class commonality is exactly what we are losing in our ever more polarized and silo-ized existence, if I can be still more solemn for one bare half minute. One of the things democracy depends on are those kinds of blending places. And that I think makes the loss of the New Amity and the loss of Wankels hardware, something more than just a neighborhood pain. It makes it a national crisis.

CK: Totally agree. I mean, there's a small hardware store near my place in Vermont. It's the classic little village hardware store. And they have everything. I mean, literally, and you go in and its family, the guy who works their lives across the street for me, and it's a very personal experience, you know, from the hardware store to the box store is a long way culturally, and it's an it's a race to the impersonal

AG: It's a race to anonymity is the way I'd put it. (Exactly) It wasn't just the rice pudding. It was exactly that blending and mixing that went on in the New Amity that we will sorely miss.

CK: Well, you could also think about it this way. It was about the waitress you know, who's pouring that second cup of coffee. It was that interaction, which you no longer really have. You know, I mean, the people Home Depot, very nice but it's not the same as my little hardware store.

AG: No, when we walked in last Christmas, our kids had been away at university. And we went with the kids for just an ordinary lunch of club sandwiches and milkshakes and the things they love. And it was like being in a Frank Capra movie, because all of the wonderful waiters who had known them since they were little, came over and said, oh, look at them, how wonderful. I'm so great to see you all. It was genuinely like the good parts of It's a Wonderful Life because it is a wonderful life. And though, however much we may criticize those things for nostalgia and sentimentality, that representation of the richness of common shared life is real and it is moving, and we are losing it.

CK: So, to try to end on a positive note. Is there anything that comes out of this, that gives you a sense of hope for humanity?

AG: Fortunately, I got their recipe for rice pudding before they closed, not knowing that they would close. I don't know if that's up for it, but at least it's constellation.

CK: Well, I'll offer one thing at least we don't have to drink bad coffee. That's a small consolation. The coffee's better the cultural experience is worse.

AG: Well said

CK: Adam, kind of a dark note, but I think one that we both agree with. Thank you.

AG: Thank you, Chris.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for today, we have over 200 episodes of Milk Street Radio, available on Milk Street or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street and everything we have to offer please go to 177 Milk You can download our recipes, watch our TV show, or explore our online store for everything from coffee sugars to Chinese cleavers can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and cooking questions and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.