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Recipe: Congri Rice

Arroz Congri / Moros y Cristianos
(Congri Rice / Christians & Moors)

This is a traditional Cuban rice dish where you cook the rice in the same water you soak and cook your beans in.  The black beans & rice version goes by the charmingly racist name Christians & Moors, though few people call it that anymore and you’ll find it in Cuban restaurants as “arroz congri”, or congri rice.

Ingredients, software:
Beans, black, dried: 1 lb.*
Bacon, thick cut: about 6 – 8 rashers (maybe ½ lb), cut into lardons
Green bell pepper, chopped
Red pimento pepper**, chopped
Onion, white or Vidalia, chopped
Garlic: 5 cloves, minced
Rice, long grain: 4 cups
Oregano – 1 tsp. dried or fresh (use more if it’s fresh)
Cumin – ½ tsp.
Bay leaf – three will do ya
Salt and pepper to taste
Chicken broth or stock, just in case

Hardware:
Pot for your beans
Large cooking vessel of your choice for the rice, something with a heavy lid. I use a Dutch oven because this is a large amount of rice and I like the way it conducts heat evenly.

*You can use dried beans here if you like, but I theorize you shouldn’t cook the beans independently if you do, and you definitely want to keep whatever reserved liquid is in the can.  Canned beans have already been cooked and cooking for much longer would likely turn them to mush.  Unless you like mushy beans, I guess.
**You can find these in small jars in the latin food aisle of most major megamarts.  They’re basically pickled red bell peppers, but the flesh is softer and much sweeter.  A small jar containing a single dissected specimen will do ya fine.

Procedure:
Part I: Prepare your beans:
1)     
Sort them, soak them overnight, you want at least 12 hours, don’t go more than 24.  Keep the juice!  In fact I boil my beans in the same water I soak them overnight in.
2)      Don’t salt your beans: Not yet anyway.  Wait until you’ve boiled them for about 20 minutes before you salt the beans.
3)      Boil your beans on high heat for a long time.  Add your bay leaf to your beans here.  At least 40 minutes, adding salt about 20 minutes in.  As your beans are boiling you can safely move on to setting up your mise en place for Part II.  Since the first few steps of part 2 take about 15 minutes, and you’ll need the beans to have finished cooking for step 6 of part 2, well, I’ll let you figure out your timing on that.

Part II: Rice construction:
1)      Put some heat to your large cooking vessel.  When good and hot, toss in your bacon.  Let the fat render out completely and the bacon to crisp up nicely.  Then, remove your bacon, but keep the bacon fat.
2)      Cook your onions in the bacon fat, with a pinch of salt.  Cook through until they are translucent, then…
3)      Add green peppers and red pimento.  Cook until the green peppers are soft, about 5 – 6 minutes, then…
4)      Add your garlic.  Cook for just a few moments, until your kitchen smells awesome.  Note: At this point, you have achieved sofrito, the Caribbean version of the French mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) or the Cajun/Creole Trinity (bell peppers, onions, celery).  Then…
5)      Add your rice, and toss around quite a bit.  You want the rice to soak up as much of the bacon fat as possible, and to start to cook in the fat without frying in it.  It should take about 5 – 10 minutes, but your rice will eventually start to turn just a bit nutty.  Right at this moment, and not a moment later, you will…
6)      Add the bean juice.  Notably, not the beans themselves, just the juice of the beans.  You will want to measure out your liquids before hand – to cook 4 cups of rice you need about 4.5 – 5 cups of liquid, so if you don’t have 5 cups of bean juice, supplement that with chicken broth or chicken stock.  You will also want to salt the bean juice, or whatever broth you’re cooking with.  If you don’t salt now your rice will taste flat.
7)      Sprinkle with the oregano and cumin, put the spurs to her and bring to a boil.  When a boil is achieved, knock the temperature down to medium/low to maintain a good simmer, cover, and let the rice cook for 20 minutes.
8)      Once cooked through, add your beans, and stir, get everything well incorporated and taste your rice.  If it’s not cooked through, add a cup of broth, cover for another 5 minutes and give it another taste.
9)      Once everything is good and incorporated, and your rice is cooked through, let it rest for a good 10 minutes off of direct heat.  Do not uncover during this period.
10)  After your resting period is up, add your bacon, stir once again, and serve.

Notes:

  • You can choose to not use bacon for this dish to make a leaner version (though why on Earth would you?)  If that’s the case, use olive oil to cook your sofrito instead, you’ll want a good bit of it at least two tablespoons, otherwise you really won’t have enough to help pre-cook the rice.
  • That reminds me of an important safety tip: When you go to add the (hopefully still hot) bean liquid to the rice, be aware that the rice is incredibly hot.  Much, much hotter than necessary to boil a drop of water, so there will be steam produced immediately.  Incorporate gently, and watch your hands and face is what I’m saying.

Please Explain

I think of myself as a rational man.  Throughout my daily life I try to follow reason wherever I can, fancy whenever it suits me, and imagination to spice things up.  People also tell me that I am fairly intelligent – certainly, I think I am smart, though I do not try to measure myself against others in that arena.  I do not say this to brag, but only to illustrate the point of vexation which I have reached.

I have finally found proof of the existence of the supernatural – of a power beyond the world of men.  I admit that my rational intellect has been defeated.  Brain and logic lie broken, thin reeds snapped in the torrent of evidence that towers before me.  For all my intellect, all of my cunning, all of my wit, and all of my compassion, I have reached the end of my measures as a human being.  I submit – I cannot comprehend any longer.  The truth is clear: It is only by the existence of some unholy beast that a douchebag like Chris Brown continues to have any kind of a supportive fan base.

For serious.  Someone, please, for the love of sanity, explain this phenomenon to me.  Here stands before us a vile, despicable exemplar of humanity, a festering bilge pool of self-satisfied smugness and rage… and yet there he remains, thrust upon a pedestal because he’s… what?  Rich? (Huh?)  Talented?  (Seriously?)  Handsome?  (Ugh.)

No, there can’t be that many stupid people in this world.  I know – a fool and his money and all that, caveat emptor, sucker born every minute, yadda yadda thank you P.T.  This guy is such a piece of filth he uses the Bible to justify his “haters gonna hate” message (citing 2nd Corinthians 10:12).  And there are people applauding him for it.  Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.

Thus, like some reedy hero in an H.P. Lovecraft story, I stand here, at the crevice of madness, caught between logic and irrationality – between everything that the world should be and everything that is awful and horrible and just wrong with the universe.  And my sanity slips from my fingers, drip by tiny drip, just gone, and all that is left is a madman whispering in the darkness.  O’rlyeh!  C’thulhu f’tangh!

There is a mad god loose upon the universe, something horrible and vengeful and hateful that will destroy everything that is good and beautiful in the world.

Culinary Exploration: Pork, Cookies and Sourdough

So this weekend I kind of went on a baking/roasting bender.  My electrical bill is going to be disgusting this month but I think it was well worth it.  Three things did I accomplish: roasted pork shoulder, chocolate chip cookies, and sourdough bread rolls.  I’m jotting down my observations and recipes for posterity.

Roast Pork

The parts list on this is pretty small: pork shoulder (went with a bone-in shank end, about 10 lbs), salt, and rub.  The rub I used was my rib rub, which is a combination of brown sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, black pepper, and garlic powder.  In that batch I also had some chili powder, which I made myself for an earlier chili experiment, which turned out pretty good but I did not write down for posterity, so I’m not sure what the parts list on that looked like (it amounts to about 5% of the total rub.)  Now normally I throw my pork shoulders into a long brine (crushed garlic, salt, soy sauce, sriracha, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken stock) before rub-down and roasting, but this time around I did a pure dry rub 24 hours before cooking time.

Hardware-wise I just had some heavy duty aluminum foil and a roasting pan.

Give the shoulder a good pat down and rub with the rub and salt for proper seasoning.  Cover it in foil and stick in the fridge for 24 hours for a good resting/marinating period.  Take it out an hour before cook time so that the meat comes to room temperature, and heat up your oven to 275 degrees.  Put the meat in your roasting pan and put it in the oven for the day.  I put the meat in the oven at 8:00 am, went to a softball game at noon-time, then out to lunch with friends.  (Also, yay Slightly Tainted on another solid win!  Woo!)  When I came home at 4:00 (err… you probably shouldn’t leave appliances on and leave the house… fire and all that stuff… ahem), I could smell the amazing wafting scent of roasting meat from the hallway.  I pulled out the pork just at the 8 hour mark, did a test pull and the meat apart like butter.  Wait an hour and pull apart with two forks.

I was afraid that the meat was going to be dry, but there was a lot of great juice left in the meat to keep it beautifully tender.  There was also a lot of jus in the pan, so I just scooped it right up and turned it into a sauce for dipping.  (Put it in a pan and boil until thickened.)  It was like its own BBQ sauce.  I have pork for… oh, forever and a half.

For next time: Next time I’ll stick to the brine, and get better aluminum foil.  Mine sprung a leak somewhere and a lot of the juices spilled out into the roasting pan, which defeated my plans for a basic self-created braise.  Some aspects of the meat were a little on the dry side because of this.  Also, I still have to figure out how to deal with the skin.  It’s an unfortunate waste to leave good pig flesh behind because it turns into a gummy fatty mess.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

These monsters were the size of your face.  I used a basic chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, nothing particularly complex about it:

Butter, 2 sticks, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups AP flour
2 cups chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips)

Cream the butter and sugar together (basically, beat/whisk/blend sugar into the room temperature butter so you get a whipped and creamy consistency, like it has taken on some air), then add the eggs and vanilla and salt.  Sift flour and baking soda together, then incorporate the flour mix into the creamed butter.  Alton Brown of Food Network (from whom I modified this recipe, who in turn modified it from the Nestle Tollhouse Cookie Recipe) recommends incorporating the flour slowly, in thirds, into the mix.  I was lazy and/or just plain forgot and dumped the whole thing in there.  It was not a big deal!  My hand mixer could handle the job well enough, though I’m sure it would have been easier had I followed that simple recommendation.  After the flour is incorporated into the batter, throw in your chunkies (ie, chocolate chips – though you an easily add nuts, pralines, caramel, or bacon to the mix as well.)

I used a disher/ice-cream scoop in the 2-ounce range to scoop out large golf-ball sized orbs of dough, all told a full dozen cookies.  Bake in a  375 degree oven for 13 minutes, or until the edges brown up.  The cookies will be the size of your face, and deliciously chewy.

Notes: No particular observations.  I used this very recipe once to make chocolate cookies – I did not add chocolate chips but instead added about 1/4 cup of cocoa powder (Dutch processed) to the batter.  I also had reversed the sugar/brown sugar ratio (1/2 cup of brown, 1 cup white), which made the cookies come out deliciously crunchy and crispy.  (More brown sugar = chewier cookie, according to Mr. Brown.  My own experiments have borne this out.)

Sourdough Rolls

I have, for a long time now, been pondering the mysteries of sourdough, and whether or not it was possible at all to make my own sourdough bread.  A few months ago I decided that, doggone it!, this summer was going to be the summer.  No longer would I be forced to go to the market to buy little packets of wee yeast whenever I get the hankering to roll up a batch of dough and kill some microbial critters.  (Plus, you have to buy in batches of three, or the little jar which you’re never going to use – how wasteful!)  So I dedicated some time to learning about sourdough starters.

Ultimately, my research concluded that starting a starter was a (relatively) simple thing!  Just get some flour, throw it in some water, leave in a dark, warm place, et voila!  Well I did that… and a few days later had a gray flat mess which did not look like it had much in the way of fungal activity at all.  There were a few bubbles when I fed the thing some more flour, but overnight the mixture would separate, with a mass of flour hanging out at the bottom of my container, and a gross grayish liquid riding on top.  A few days later, I had signs of mold – so I threw the first experiment away in shame (also, a bug had gotten into the mix, because I had left it partially uncovered one night.)

I was disappointed, but not entirely ready to give up.  One day, not long ago, I was browsing Netflix for something to watch and came across the documentary How Beer Saved the World.  (I found it way too beer-centric, but then it would be.)  One thing that I did get out of the documentary which I previously had not thought about was the original recipe for beer – or rather, how anthropologists theorize beer first came to pass: after gathering barley to cook (and, presumably, eat), early homo sapiens left the barley out when they went to fetch/hunt a side of meat.  Rain came, filling the container of barley with water.  Some time later when the first men came to gather their goods, they saw that their barley had fermented into a bubbly gooey mess.  The first man drank it, and saw that it was good!

Now, I find it highly implausible that early homo sapiens would stumble upon beer in such a ridiculous fashion, and that their first instinct upon finding this uncooked frothy goop was to taste it.  More like, I think that early man turned the barley into a mush with water, and stored it in a jar intending to cook it, or perhaps they went ahead and cooked it into whatever passed for gruel.  Either way, they had leftovers, and stored the left overs for later.  When they came back to the leftovers, the goods had been invaded by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and thus beer was discovered, and the world became a better place for it.

Anyhow, what I got out of this was the idea that perhaps the flour I was using was too refined to capture live yeast.  After all, I started my first starter with plain simple bread flour.  I decided instead to use barley flour if I could find it.  (Also, I recently had a side dish with barley pearls and loved it, so I was in a pro-barley mood.)  When I went to the Stop’n’Shop, however, they did not have barley flour.  They instead had organic rye flour – so I figured that was close enough!

Indeed it was!  A cup of rye flour, a cup of water, some mixing, and a day later I have a mass of stuff bubbling out of the container.  (Literally – I had placed it in a 2 cup sealed plastic container as the larger two-quart model disinfected in bleach overnight – again, mold, yuck.  When I came to the following morning, the brew had been so active that it had popped the seal on the container and spilled out all over the sides – more than doubled in capacity!)  I was excited – so I transferred the new rye starter to the larger container, fed it, and watched my yeastlings bloom.

Anyhow, you have to wait a week, feeding the starter daily, before they say you’re good to cook with your starter, so here I am:

1 cup of starter
2 cups plus 1 1/2 cups of bread flour*
Tablespoon of honey
Heavy pinch of salt*
1 cup plus 1/2 cup of water*
1 pad butter

*I created this dough via the sponge method: you mix most of your ingredients into a wet sticky dough and leave it resting overnight so that gluten develops and you get good yeast activity.  Items marked with an asterisk were added after the sponge rested overnight.

So you assemble your sponge – starter, 2 cups of bread flour, honey, and 1 cup of water into a big metal mixing bowl.  The dough will be very loose and very wet and very sticky.  Mix with your hand, then let it rest for a long time.  Recommended rest time is 18 hours in the fridge – I did 8 hours on the counter.  When I came back the sponge had more than doubled in size and the flour had taken in all of the moisture (it was basically a big wet gooey mess.)  I added the remaining cup and a half of flour to the dough, a heavy pinch of salt, and started adding water to the dough until it took on a solid, sticky, tacky consistency that I could still work with.  I mixed that up well with my hands, and turned that out into my work surface (my new massive wooden cutting board which I will never, ever, let see the inside of a dishwasher.)

I let the dough rest for 20 minutes and then shaped it into a log, which I bisected.  I then rolled the two halves into about 8 inch logs, and cut those into half, then halved again, so I had 8 pieces all told.  (I would lie and say they were roughly equal pieces, but they weren’t, unless you have a very loose definition of “roughly.”)  Roll out the separate pieces – each no smaller than a golf ball, some about 1.5 times that size – into a ball, then flatten them into a disk.  Bring the ends of the disk together and pinch sealed.  Place in a half-sheet pan lined with a silicone mat.  Let them proof for an hour, and they’ll puff up to a respectable roll size.  I cut an “x” onto the top of the rolls (one roll was a little bigger than the others, so I did a double-x on him) to allow for oven spring, and then melted a pad of butter, which I painted over the tops of the rolls.

I baked in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  The internal temperature of the rolls was 195 degrees +/- 1 degree Fahrenheit, as well as golden brown, so I pulled them at that time, figuring that they could coast the final few degrees to full done-ness.  (200 – 210 degrees is usually what you want to see out of your baked breads/cakes.  That’s basically the temperature at which all of the water has converted to steam in your baked goods and you have a solid mass of goodness.  The closer to 210 you get, the dryer your baked good.  195 was pretty much perfect for these rolls.)

Notes: I have multiple.

1) My research indicated I might have to use commercial yeast anyway for my sourdough goodies, but my starter had been so active so far that I decided to see what kind of mileage I got out of it flying solo.  (I figured if I didn’t get a good rise out of the sponge rest, I would warm up a package of commercial active dry yeast.)  I was not disappointed!  My dough had a good rise all around, a fantastic texture, and a slightly tangy taste that got better the next day.

2) Traditionally, crusts have never been my thing on bread.  My last few experiments have yielded either crusty, nigh-impenetrably armored loaves, or flaky, not-quite-crusty crusts.  Since the only agent I changed, aside from the starter, was the pad of melted butter to finish off the loaf (I’ve used egg washes and olive oil coats before), I will have to attribute my sturdy-but-yielding crust to the butter.  Very pleasant to the touch, pliable, but reassuringly sturdy, and most importantly, giving to the tooth.  Very happy with the results, I hope I can recreate!

3) My flour numbers might be off.  I floured the work surface multiple times during the rolling out sessions, so that a lot of added flour worked itself into the mix.  I don’t think it was more than a half cup, and I’ve heard that a number of other factors can have an effect on this (humidity, temperature, etc.), so be ready to add a little more flour or a little less flour as necessary.

Some Nights

Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights I call it a draw
Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights I wish they’d just fall off
But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I still don’t know what I stand for…

-Some Nights, Fun.

I started writing this post – or a post much like it – some time ago.  Months, at least.  It has been a while, after all, since I have felt the desire – the need – to put down words to paper.  (Or photons, as the case may be.)  This is not the post that I started writing months ago.  That post was about why I wasn’t writing.

This post is about why I have to.

It’s strange to one day wake up and realize that you’re no longer broken.  That whatever was taken from you is suddenly there, like a misplaced treasure from your past you stumble upon incidentally in your every day life.  So that’s where I put it!  There is familiarity, there is happiness, there is completeness.  “At last!,” you might belt out, “my arm is complete again!”

I guess, you might say, I have found my muse again.  Or something, I’m not sure.  Does that mean that life is okay?  No.  But it means that it’s getting better – that whatever was fundamentally wrong with the universe yesterday no longer stands that way.  My perspective has evolved beyond the self, into a kind of peace-in-war.

I found a martyr in my bed tonight
She stops my bones from wondering just who am I?

I have hurt some folks in my wounded pride.  I don’t know if I owe any apologies – certainly most who walked into that dark place inside of me were given plenty of warning (some weren’t, I fear, and if this were a better world I would even make it up to them somehow, but I fear that time and opportunity is long past.)  If you’re reading this and I hurt you in some fashion, then I am truly sorry.  I should have been a better man.

But that was yesterday (and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death…), and today I think of the morrow.  My mind blazes as it expands outward, scanning the possibilities and probabilities, seeking the how instead of the why.  I begin to scheme again, to plot, to plan.  I want to make the world – my life, at least – a little better.

Well some nights I wish that this all would end
‘Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights I fear you’ll forget me again
Some nights I always win

I always win.

Summon the Spirits

Today I would take the clarity of knowing what one wants, even if there is no clear path to getting there, than the darkness of knowing where one is, and wishing nothing more than to be anywhere else.  Once more the warrior fades, receding into the empty darkness, echoes in a vacant field. With that cold and unrelenting sharpness of reality, I accept – accept and move on and evolve.  Best to say that I persist.

“I know now with certainty who I am, but I’ll be damned if I’ll ever know the point.” – Colonel T.C. McQueen, Space: Above and Beyond, The Angriest Angel”.