Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An American Girl's Interpretation of Venezuelan Pabellon Criollo

When I was a Senior in college at what is now St. Andrews University, I got to go to Venezuela for a month during our January term. It was technically a class in Marine Biology, and I was a Chemistry Major. I'd love to say that I had the absolute time of my life, especially since I saved up all my summer money to go on this trip, but in the end, it was just okay. I had wanted to go so badly because so many of my friends were Biology majors and they had gone in years past and had the time of their lives. They were all friends beforehand, so they had gotten to go as a bunch of friends. My problem was that all of my friends had already gone in years past, so the folks I went with I can barely remember the names of to this day. But I made the best of it, got to enjoy someone else's culture, music, lifestyle, and food.
The food was probably the best part. We stayed in a small town and rented out their houses and went to the local restaurant for all of our meals. We had Cafe con Leche with breakfast (probably instant coffee, but it was damn good, nonetheless), white bread toast (I hate white bread, but this stuff was great), and arepas (little cornmeal fried patties with butter). Lunch would be any old thing, but after going out into the icy cold water all morning, tasted mighty good. Dinners were often chicken (especially tasty thinking it might have been the one that woke us up that morning) with more arepas, fried plantains (starchy banana-like thing), and lots of black beans and white rice. For special occasions, we'd have our black beans and rice with this amazing slow-cooked beef. I still feel like I remember the taste, but have never really come across a recipe that really did it justice.
Someone else's picture: Served like this (with plantains) I'm told is called Pabellon con Barandas, where baranda means "guard rail"; so the plantains are there to keep the rest of the food from falling off the plate!
Then the other day, I was in the nail salon waiting, and I started talking to the woman next to me. As it turns out, she was Venezuelan, so I told her how I had gotten to go there twenty-some years ago and what a lovely country it was (despite my own youthful angst, it was a lovely country). Then I asked her about that beef, as it is considered by many to be the national dish of Venezuela. Never having learned Spanish, I could never remember the name of it, which she reminded me, was Pabellon Criollo (I'd like to say I remembered that name until I sat down here, but, no, I still had to go look it up). She told me it was simply onions, garlic and peppers (mostly sweet peppers, not spicy), then you brown the beef and stew it for a long time and eat it with black beans and rice.
When I got home, I was inspired. I got out my new obsession, the Slow Cooker, and defrosted some stew beef, threw in some Knorr Homestyle Stock, some carrots, garlic, a little squeeze of agave syrup for sweetness, some Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile, and two cans of black beans (I don't care how easy you try and make it, I hate preparing dried beans.). While the original dish keeps the beans and meat separate, I decided to slow-cook them together so that the beans would sauce up the stew and all the flavors would meld together.  All in all, I think I did a pretty good job of reproducing the flavor I remember. Mine was spicy, though, whereas the original was not; nonetheless, I wanted that pepper taste to it, so I made the concession. I suppose if you wanted to, you could simply substitute mild green chile or even fry up some sweet bell peppers with some onion instead. I have excluded the onion from my recipe as my husband doesn't care for it--I could hardly tell the difference.
Since this is now my second try, I thought I'd record it this time!
What mine looks like so far--it's only been cooking for a couple hours.

Pabellon Criollo

1 lb. (or more) stew beef, cut into cubes
1 pod Knorr Homestyle Stock--Beef
2 cups (or so, if more beef is used) hot/boiling water
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
3/4 c. Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile (or peppers of your choice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 - 15 oz. cans black beans
2 T agave syrup
pepper to taste

Note: While most recipes would have you salt the beef, the Knorr stock is salty enough, so I let it go. Please check the taste before you go adding any salt to it.

Place the beef chunks into the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Dissolve the pod of Knorr stock in 2 cups or so of boiling water (this is less water than is recommended by Knorr, but the Slow Cooker doesn't allow for much evaporation, so I started with less liquid). Add the carrots to the Slow Cooker, then pour the stock over it all, which will allow you to judge if you have enough liquid so far to cover the ingredients. Add all the remaining ingredients. I added the black beans last in order to judge whether I should drain any of the liquid out. Overall, you should have enough liquid to cover everything, but not so much that it's all swimming.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. If desired, towards the end of the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to remove the pieces of meat, let them cool a little, then shred them with your fingers. Add the shredded meat back in for at least a half hour or so.
If you get into a crunch for time, or don't get started on it until late morning, cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then crank it up to high for a couple more hours. The meat might not be as meltingly tender, but that's when I'd recommend the shredding especially, as it breaks it up and allows the meat to soften for the last little bit of cooking time.
Serve it with white or brown rice of your choice.  I suppose if you wanted to make it a little Peruvian, you could serve it with quinoa instead!
Please let me know how it turns out!

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