Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available Native American foods.

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive Southern cookery; the mistresses of these slaves initially taught these, our people, receipts recalled from their individual heritages; then, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking, prized dishes were developed, which were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  These delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements; thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century.  A few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is an early example of a receipt book specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one; this promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients-one of which is our garden tomato-and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  (Note: any produce with seeds is considered a fruit!)  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content (3%), as well as the large amount of savory glutamic acid (as much as 0.3% of its weight), and ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats; this is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.

The tomato originated as a weed in Central American fields of maize and beans; extensive varieties existed there, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered Mexico in 1519.  Tomatoes were incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted them in their cuisine.

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson, in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.  Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris; there the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the affect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips, 2017/09/25).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing tomato ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole (2017/03/27), Rosemary Eggs (2017/08/21), and Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips (2017/09/25).

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 181-193.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  3. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 30, 206, 207, 214.
  4. www.nellositaly.com/the-history-of-the-tomato-in-italy.html
  5. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Adapted from an 1824 Southern recipe in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).  Yields 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

2 large firm ripe tomatoes  (Cut these in eighths, removing seeds and juice.)

2/3 cup shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 large eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for egg history, see 2017/08/21.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spay the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray-mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle; let sit while proceeding to the next step.

  2. Prep the above ingredients.  Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.  Shred and measure the leftover meat, set aside.  Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.  Rinse optional parsley well and chop fine.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet.  Mix in meat, heating for 1 minute; add tomatoes; cook for 6 minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs, using a spatula.
  5. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  6. When done, you may remove loose pieces of skin off tomato pieces, showing on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

1880’s Minced Cabbage

cooked minced cabbage

Along with last week’s post on escalloped salmon, I discovered this elegant, easy minced cabbage in Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, which was originally published in 1880 by Washburn-Crosby Co.  Its successor General Mills reprinted this worthy account in the twentieth century.  This latter company, however, is better known for publishing recipe books under the pseudonym Betty Crocker, who, unlike our illustrious 19th century writer Miss Parloa, never existed.

In 1921, before this transfer of title, Washburn-Crosby was first to use the name “Betty Crocker”.  At that time they were inundated with 30,000 entries in a contest promoting Gold Medal flour; many of these participants asked questions on baking.  Washburn-Crosby discerned that the replies would promote more influence if signed by a woman; thus, the inspiration for this sham, which was derived from the surname of a retired company director.1

General Mills continued in this tradition, after it was created in 1929, when it merged Washburn-Crosby with 26 other U.S. flour mills.2   This, then the world’s largest flour mill, initially portrayed this fictitious authority as a gray-haired home-maker in 1936; her image was frequently revised throughout the last century, as Betty Crocker was used as a major brand name for their various products.3

It is jarring when we learn the falsehood of long accepted traditions, like the authenticity of this established person, for truth is fundamental to our stability.  We implicitly search for verity in all things, cooking included.  Rejoicing occurs when a good source for teaching the basics is found, such as that required for food preparation and the execution of life present in my writings.  Indeed, the trust generated here grows into a comprehensive application upon many areas of our existence.

My prayer is that we will come to rely on my receipts, preparing them with the ease with which they are intended.  They may look lengthy at times, this is because I spell out shortcuts with care, for my blog is like going to cooking school.  Quickly we learn my simple, creative techniques; thus, we are able to adeptly use these recipes.

This effortless minced cabbage comes with the height of freedom.  Enjoy!

  1. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 434.
  2. Ibid., p. 456.
  3. Ibid., p. 488.

chopping cabbage in a food processor

1880’s Minced Cabbage  Yields: 4 servings.  Total prep time: 30 min/  active prep time: 10 min/  cooking time: 20 min.  This is adapted from a recipe in Miss Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, (Boston: Estes and Laurait, 1880), reprinted by General Mills in the 20th century.

Note: this is best when made ahead and reheated just before serving.

1 1/2 lb green cabbage

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut oil is ideal for quality and flavor here; avocado oil is also good; olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

  1. Chop cabbage either by hand or, more quickly, by using the slicing attachment to a food processor.  If using a food processor, cut cabbage in slices that will fit in its feeder (see photo).  Set aside.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan, in which you have placed a small piece of cabbage.  When it sizzles, add rest of cabbage and stir well to evenly distribute oil; cook until vegetable is limp, stirring frequently.  Meanwhile go to next step.
  3. Make roux in a small sauté pan: melt butter over medium heat, add flour, and stir vigorously with a wire whisk.  Cook only until mixture is a light brown, about 30 seconds; remove from heat and set aside.
  4. When cabbage is soft, add salt and stir well.
  5. Blend roux from step 3 into vegetable, cook until consistency of cabbage is somewhat thickened, stir frequently.
  6. When done, remove from heat.  May serve immediately or, better yet, enhance its flavor by letting it sit; when it sits, the cabbage juices form in bottom of pan.  Use a wooden or plastic cooking spatula to loosen the fond (carmelized pan drippings and browned bits, which add great flavor); stir these juices and the loosened fond into cabbage (see top photo for finished product).  Reheat just before serving.

1880’s Escalloped Salmon

ingredients for escalloped salmon

Maria Parloa blessed us with a recipe for escalloped fish in Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, which Washburn-Crosby Co. published in 1880.  This company’s successor General Mills brought her proven receipts back to America, by reprinting part of this book in their Special Silver Dollar City Edition, sometime in the mid-twentieth century.

Both these companies are known for their production of Gold Medal flour, which they successively produced; thus, this product has been on the market for nearly two and a half centuries.  (For more details on Miss Parloa, Washburn-Crosby Co., General Mills, and 19th century American cooking, see 1880’s Clam Chowder-2017/01/30, 1880’s Minced Cabbage-2017/04/24, and 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies-2017/10/30.)

This 19th century cook book was one of many written by Maria Parloa, who was an important figure in the gastronomical world of her day.  She taught an abundance of classes at her own two schools, as well as the Boston Cooking School, the home of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book, which was forerunner to the renowned Fanny Farmer Cook Book.

In Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, Parloa shared modern techniques and included 93 “essential” utensils for the kitchen, which boasted of such items as an apple corer, melon mold, and squash strainer.  Her writings catered to the affluent, for she recommended that a dinner for twelve need cost no more than $25, this at a time when an unskilled worker made about $1 per day.

In this book’s preface, the author’s desire for clear, complete, and concise directions is set forth, but these are vague compared to our present standards.  Her instructions, however, have far greater detail than those in many of the contemporary cook books of her day.

This recipe called for five pounds of fish, that which was normally required to sustain a family of six at the main, mid-day meal; by contrast, this same amount provided for twelve guests at a dinner party, as these hospitable affairs were always profuse in delectable dishes.  My directive only calls for one pound of salmon for four people, because this is a rich food for our relatively sedentary bodies; in these former days people were highly active, requiring many more calories than we do today.

As with this outmoded receipt, things call for adaptation; we must learn to adjust to the essential needs of any given time.  Our living God perpetually covers us in all instances of unforeseen change, bringing healthy modification, if we ask believing.  At times this process is slow; thus, patience is critical to success.

This is a joyful race we are running; nothing is too difficult for us!  We simply align our hearts to the “recipe” our Father is dictating at each turn, purposing to not be alarmed when our five pounds of fish becomes one pound, or with equal intention, staying calm when it reverses back to five pounds.

Recently I enjoyed escalloped salmon with friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time; our reunion was marked with excellence in both fellowship and food.  This dish is a winner for special occasions, especially when served with next week’s entry 1880’s minced cabbage.

References:

General Mills’, mid-20th century  Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 310.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Parloa

https://www.lib.umich.edu/blogs/beyond-reading-room/happy-172nd-birthday-miss-parloa

http://www.nber.org/chapters/c2500.pdf

 

baked escalloped salmon

1880’s Escalloped Salmon  Yields: 4 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 15 min/  active prep time: 45 min/  baking time: 30 min.  This is adapted from a recipe in General Mills’, mid-20th century Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).

Note: salmon may be prepared ahead of time following steps 1-8; when doing so, reheat this for a total of 1 hr before serving.

1/4 cup bread crumbs  (May purchase ready-made, or grind 2 slices of stale bread in a dry food processor; make extra, as these freeze well; for stale bread, leave pieces out for about 8 hours.)

1-1 1/2 lb salmon fillet  (A minimum of 1 lb is needed if fillet is boneless and skinless, more if there are bones and skin.)

1 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is best for optimum health; available in health section of local supermarket.)

1 cup whipping cream

1/8 cup water

1 tbsp flour

1/8 tsp white pepper, or to taste

Steamed rice, cooked according to directions on package

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. If salmon fillet is large, cut in pieces that will fit in a 3-quart saucepan.  Place in pan and cover with salted water-add  1/2 tsp salt; bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook until center of thickest part of salmon is opaque, when pierced with a fork.  Remove from liquid and cool fish; reduce broth over high heat.
  3. If preparing your own bread crumbs, grind 2 pieces or more of stale bread in dry food processor, pressing pulse button repeatedly until crumbs are fine.  Set aside, freeze extras.
  4. Heat cream over medium heat in a small saucepan, only until a soft boil is formed, stirring frequently; watch carefully.  As soon as it barely boils, reduce heat to medium/low.
  5. While heating cream, dissolve flour in water.  With a wire whisk, stir flour mixture into softly boiling cream, to which you have added 2 tbsp of reduced broth; cook until sauce is thick, beating frequently.  Season with 1/2 tsp salt and white pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings; set aside.
  6. Start rice, following directions on package (wait if you are preparing salmon ahead).
  7. Butter a small, 1-quart baking dish; place a light layer of sauce in bottom of dish.
  8. Skin and carefully debone fish, placing bite-size pieces in baking dish on top of layer of cream, as you go.  When all the salmon is thus prepared, press down on fish to make compact; cover the top with the remaining cream sauce.  (If you are making this ahead of time, place dish in refrigerator; in which case, an hour will be needed to bake cold fish; start rice when you place refrigerated salmon in oven.)
  9. Just before placing this in oven, spread bread crumbs on top of sauce.  If a skim has formed on top of cream, gently break apart with a spoon, making surface wet again, so crumbs can stick; then, bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven to meld all flavors.
  10. Serve with 1880’s Minced Cabbage, which is next week’s entry.

1880’s Philadelphia Clam Chowder

mincing clams

mincing fresh razor clams

My great clam chowder is adapted from a recipe in General Mills’, mid-20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book; this reproduced cookbook was originally published in 1880, by Washburn Crosby Co., the makers of Gold Medal flour.  (This collection also includes my all-time favorite oatmeal cookie, which I will share at a later date.)

I have enlarged upon this 19th century method of making this dish, by adding such flavor/texture enhancers as garlic, onion, celery, and unpeeled potatoes.  Miss Parloa calls her receipt Philadelphia clam chowder; it introduces the technique of straining the clams, thus lending a delicate touch to the fish soup.  I am not a big fan of clam chowder, but I love this because of its mellowness, resulting from the removal of the clam juice.

There is much to be said about the distinctive flavors of shellfish and fish.  Harold McGee shares this apt science in his excellent treatise On Food and Cooking.  He teaches why ocean and freshwater creatures vary so greatly in taste, the former having a much stronger bite.

Ocean water is about 3% salt by weight, while the optimum level of all dissolved minerals inside of animal cells is less than 1%.  Consequently ocean creatures need to balance this substantial salt mineral, that they are breathing in and swallowing; they do this with amino acids, amines, and urea, which their bodies produce.

Behold, these substances have different flavors!  For example the amino acid glycine is sweet, while glutamic acid is savory; shellfish are especially rich in these and other amino acids.  Unlike shellfish, finfish rely heavily on the amine TMAO for processing salt, which is largely tasteless.  Sharks, skates, and rays make ready the salt water with a slightly salty and bitter urea.  However, this urea and the amine TMAO are converted into stinky substances, by bacteria and fish enzymes in these dead, ocean-dwelling fish; thus, after they are killed, their meat tastes and smells powerfully bad with age, while that of their freshwater relatives doesn’t.

Freshwater fish have a gentler effect on our taste buds, because the water they live in is actually less salty, than that of their cells; therefore, they do not need to accumulate these pungent amino acids, amines, or urea, which their ocean-dwelling cousins require to process the dissolved mineral salt.

You can see that different shellfish and fish supply our mouths with unique experiences.  Seawater varieties use a diversity of amino acids, amines, and urea to balance the salt in their cellular systems; these differing substances boast of a wide variety of powerful tastes.  Their freshwater counterparts, which don’t require these salt equalizers, are bland by comparison.

Miss Parloa counters the strong flavor of clam chowder by straining the clams, removing their excess liquid, which has an abundance of the above mentioned amino acids.  (For more history on Miss Parloa and 19th century American cuisine, see 1880’s Escalloped Salmon-2017/04/17, 1880’s Minced Cabbage-2017/04/24, and 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies-2017/10/30.)  I take this illustrious chef’s simple inspiration and provide an even richer experience, with additional textures and mouth-watering thrills.  You will like this delicious, yet mild, chowder!

References:

General Mills’ Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s , Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).  This partial reproduction was printed sometime in the mid-20th century.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984, 2004), pp. 188-189.

Philadelphia Clam Chowder  Adapted from a recipe in General Mill’s, mid-20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s  Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).  Yields: 8 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 30 min/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 1 hr.

Note: if you don’t have large enough pots for the makeshift double boiler-see step 1 for photo and directions-just cook the soup over direct heat; this, however, may cause it to separate some, but this last option will reduce the cooking time.

1 1/2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic at high temperatures.)

1 large yellow onion, chopped

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

6 ounce drained weight minced clams, or 3 strained 6.5 ounce cans  (May use 6 ounces fresh razor clams, chopped fine, see top photo.)

2 stalks celery, cut in 1/4 inch dice

3 tbsp parsley, minced

1 lb potatoes, unpeeled, chopped in small 1/2 inch pieces

5 large cloves garlic, minced  (May use 3 cubes of frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s for easy prep.)

1 1/2 quarts milk  (Whole milk is preferable.)

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is best; available in health section at local supermarkets.)

1/2 tsp white pepper, or to taste

  1. make-shift double boiler

    make-shift double boiler

    Heat coconut oil in a 4-quart pot that will sit inside a slightly larger pot to make a double boiler, see photo.  (If you don’t have two large pots, cook the chowder over direct heat; cooking will be faster with this last option, however, the cream soup may separate some.)

  2. When a small piece of onion sizzles in oil, add the rest of the onions and sweat, cook until translucent.  Remove from heat when done.
  3. Fill larger pot 2/5’s full of hot tap water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  4. Meantime make roux, by melting butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat.  Add flour and stir constantly with a wire whisk; cook until light brown in color, about 2 minutes; set aside.
  5. Spray celery, parsley, and potatoes with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray: fill a spray bottle with a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide.  After spraying vegetables, let sit for 3 minutes, rinse really well.
  6. Drain canned clams in a colander.  If using fresh razor clams, drain and chop fine (see top photo).
  7. Chop all vegetables and garlic; add to pot of cooked onions.
  8. Add milk, clams, salt, and pepper to the pan of vegetables.  Fit this smaller pan into the larger pot, so it sits above the boiling water (see photo).  Watch water level while cooking to make sure water doesn’t boil dry.  Cook chowder until potatoes are soft, about 50 minutes.  Note: if preparing over direct heat, bring soup to a gentle boil; lower heat; and simmer until potatoes are soft-this option will lessen the cooking time.
  9. When vegetables are soft, beat in roux with a big spoon; cook 5 more minutes, or until soup is thickened.  Stir constantly.
  10. Adjust seasonings and serve.  May freeze leftovers; when you heat thawed chowder, however, it will be of a thinner consistency.  If desired, you may thicken with a small amount of roux-about 1 tbsp of melted butter cooked with an equal amount of flour-this amount will be adequate to thicken 4 leftover servings.
  11. I am passionate about this soup!