Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tooth and claw

Neither of us eat a lot of red meat. I won't refuse it when dining out and we do sometimes have it at home, especially during the dry seasons when I've dusted down the barbecue.

But the majority of our meals here are vegetable and carb-based, and we eat fish three or four times a week. (Generally grouper and shark.) This is a longish explanation for why we weren't tucking into a traditional fiambre on Monday.

For most of last week we were finishing off our curtido, and just happened to pass the Carnicería San Jose opposite the AECID, where the pint-sized proprietor has been treating V to his doting eye for almost thirty years.

We wandered in and later emerged with several chunks of carne de res, which we duly fried with yaki-nori (strangely less expensive in London than in Tokyo), which I suppose serves to lull us into thinking we're not really eating red meat after all.

The butcher on the sexta avenida also sells some rather excellent slabs of high cacao-content drinking chocolate from Mixco, and insists that it is superior to the San Juan del Obispo product, "que solo tiene el nombre."

Monday is also the day that Don A comes round with our weekly ration of tiburón. I used to wonder just how fresh it was, because he appears to have walked for miles with it in his woven sack unrefrigerated, and anyway back in Britain Monday isn't considered the ideal day for going to the fishmonger. Fortunately we now have an professional fisherman from Tampa in the neighbourhood and his expert nose has declared Don A's shark pretty fresh by any standards: "two days since the catch, at most".

V's sister immediately offered up some recipe advice and appeared a little put out when we explained that we like our shark to be fried in olve oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs. There would seem to be a belief in these parts that pescado looks its best covered in breadcrumbs, but generally we only do this with very thin cuts of fish where the migajado helps prevent disintegration.

Another dangerous culinary fallacy cropped up recently on Secretos de Cocina, quite possibly the most cringeworthy cooking programme on the planet. Jorge 'Coque' Calderón is undoubtedly a proper professional chef (and a significant improvment on the mudo he replaced on this show), but his hands are completely tied by the need to prepare every dish with a major dollop of some glutinous processed salsa from Hellman's, Malher or Natura's. His less than impressive assistant had our eyebrows in an elevated position this week, when she turned on a tap before announcing "Hay que lavar bien los champiñones..."

Here's a really big secreto de cocina: don't ever wash mushrooms*. If they must be cleaned, put them in a bowl with some flour and shake vigorously, gently rubbing down any that have managed to remain soiled. Cover them in water and you might as well be eating the rubber soles of your shoes...just soggier and with less flavour.

A few days ago V caught sight of the pic I used for my guest post on back in August 2009: the ejotes envueltos, a dish we have somehow neglected to prepare again since then. And so, armed with our new electric whisk, we had another bash at it one lunchtime last week, this time with added spaghetti.

The white queso seco, tipo Zacapa — much favoured by Antigua's street vendors — is an acceptable analogue of Italian parmesan. Being European I tend to take my coagulated milk protein seriously, but I've learned the hard way in Guatemala that authentic local queso is generally cheaper and tastier than anything one finds taking the name of a foreign regional cheese in vain: parmesan, peccorino etc.

That said, we do like to intercept the yoghurt van that delivers once a week at Doña I's shop, because its occupant sells us 2.5lb bags of 'mozzarella' (marca Lactosa) for just Q55. This ability to snag wholesale prices from parked vehicles is just one of the advantages of living in close proximity to a well-stocked local tienda. I've mentioned before that Doña I is also prepared to act as a kind of remote agent by shopping in the market for certain foodstuffs on her client's behalf.

* That is if you can find any champiñones around here that don't cost more than cocaine.


Miss Trudy said...

My goodness, you guys are real foodies! Interesting post. My husband loves shark fin soup and a good fiambre. I'd rather have the fish or steak. In general, though, I leave the cooking to our cook, Catalina, who's a great hand at down-to-earth Guatemalan cuisine. Me, I can't cook to save my life, so I enjoy reading what others do in the kitchen.

scott said...

Great, more food porn to torment me. We went to Tikal Bakery here in the DC area over the weekend and had enchiladas, garnachas, and ceviche...but it's not the same. Ingredients are much fresher in Guatemala.

Speaking of tiburon--the shark ceviche in Monterrico is the best I've ever had, anywhere.

GC said...

Never thought of cevichising our Monday shark. Great idea, thanks!

Begonia said...

It is so easy to eat fresh, local food in Guatemala. Especially when the vendors come right by your door, blasting their wares over the loudspeaker.

In Guatemala you could easily limit yourself to foods produced within a 100-mile radius and still enjoy include seafood, tropical fruits, most grains and legumes, and temperate crops like brassicas, carrots, and beets.

Curious about the mushrooms. Button mushrooms seem easy enough to grow. You could order a mushroom starter kit online next time you go back to the UK. I wonder if there are any wild mushrooms that are safe to eat in the forested slopes around Antigua.

GC said...

The idea of opening up a dedicated mushroom store in Antigua (or funding someone else to do it)has occurred to me. The starter kit is a good idea though.

I have seen reports on the local news of hospitalisations caused by ingesting the wrong kind of mushrooms. We found some wild mushrooms growing near our home last year and I trusted my wife to know that they were the right kind.