Cuban Dinner Party / by Anthony Michael Contrino

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Even with a hectic schedule, I love to host the occasional dinner party.  I recently had some good friends over for dinner.  While I wanted the meal to be on point, I also didn't want to spend my time stuck in the kitchen.  Sometimes I get carried away and lose sight of the point of the dinner party - to spend time with friends and family.  Not this time.  With spring finally upon us (sort of!) I wanted to create a fun menu.  So I put on some Cubano salsa music and started to create my menu.

Below are all the recipes you need to throw a Cuban fiesta for 6 or so guests.  I've also included a timeline to help keep you on track.  If you stick to the plan, aside from making some a la minute cocktails and clearing plates, you'll be in on all the action!

Disclaimer:  Usually I pre-plan a post.  This time the food came first, so you'll see a mixture of Instagram photos, stock photos and a few I had a chance to take after the fact.  


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Snack Board // Serves 6

 Spanish olives

Pickled baby peppers

Marcona almonds

Grilled artichoke hearts

Cornichons

Sliced Ibérico ham

Sliced chorizo

Wedge Manchego cheese

Goat cheese log

Wedge Gruyere cheese

Savory plantain chips

Crostini

Bread sticks

Honey

  1. Arrange all ingredients on a large cheese board.

 TIP:  There are really no rules here.  Use what is readily available in your area.  Do try to include a variety of textures and flavors. 


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Ropa Vieja // Serves 6

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips

1 green bell pepper, cut into strips

1 Spanish onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, sliced

Two 1 ½ pound flank steaks

1 ½ cups beef broth

1 ¼ cups pureed tomato sauce

2 tbsp. tomato paste

½ tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Warm the oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven.  
  3. Add the bell peppers, onion and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
  5. Pat the flank steaks with paper towels to remove any excess moister.
  6. Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper.
  7. Sear the steaks on both sides, one at a time.  Remove the meat.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the broth.  
  9. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  
  10. Remove from the heat.  
  11. Return the steaks and vegetables to the Dutch oven, cover with a lid and cook for 4 hours.
  12. Use a fork to shred the flank steaks.  
  13. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

TIP: The stringiness of the pulled flank steak is why ropa vieja translates to “old rags.”  Braised flank steak has a little more bite and chew than you may be used to.  If you’re looking for a more tender cut, swap out the flank for chuck.


Stewed Black Beans // Serves 6

2 14.5-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, diced

1 large Spanish onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

8 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup manzanilla olives, chopped

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 ½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. cumin

1 ¼ cups chicken broth

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Mash 1/3 of the black beans; set aside.
  2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, high-sided skillet.
  3. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp.
  4. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 4 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
  6. Add the olives, tomato paste, oregano and cumin and cook an additional minute.
  7. Add the broth and beans (whole and mashed) and lower the heat to low.
  8. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered, until the flavors have melded and most of the liquid has evaporated.
  9. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

TIP:  Taste before seasoning.  You may be surprised that you do not need to add additional seasoning.


Arroz Blanco // Serves 8

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 head garlic, cloves separated, smashed

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed

2 tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. garlic powder

  1. Add the olive oil and garlic to a large sauce pot.
  2. Cook over medium heat until the garlic is golden brown.
  3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic, discard.
  4. Add the butter and stir to melt.
  5. Add the rice and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often, until lightly toasted.
  6. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to sit for an additional 15 minutes; do not remove the lid.
  9. Fluff the rice with a fork.

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Blood Orange Mojito // Makes 1 cocktail

2 large wedges blood orange 

1 large wedge lime 

1 sprig mint, plus more for garnish

½ tsp. demerara sugar

1 ½ ounces simple syrup, recipe follows

2 ounces light Caribbean rum

Club soda

  1. Muddle the blood orange, lime, mint and demerara sugar in a highball glass to release the juices and oils.
  2. Add the simple syrup and rum; stir.
  3. Fill the glass with ice.
  4. Pour the club soda into the glass leaving a ½” of space from the rim; stir gently.
  5. Garnish with a strip of blood orange peel and a sprig of mint.
  6. Serve immediately.

Simple Syrup  // Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Pinch sea salt

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan.  
  2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved; do not bring to a simmer.
  3. Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate until cool.
  5. Store in the refrigerator up to 7 days.

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Coconut Passion Mousse  // Serves 8

2 tsp. gelatin

1 cup passion fruit puree, divided

2/3 cup sugar

¾ cup cream of coconut

1 tsp. Mexican vanilla extract

2 cups heavy whipping cream

Toasted coconut, for serving

Micro cilantro, for serving

Edible flowers, for serving

  1. In a small bowl combine the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of cool water; allow to set.
  2. In a small sauce pan combine ¾ cup of the passion fruit puree, the sugar and the gelatin mixture.
  3. Cook over a medium flame until the sugar and gelatin are dissolved.
  4. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a large bowl.
  5. Add the remaining passion fruit puree, cream of coconut and vanilla.
  6. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, whip the cream to medium peaks.  Fold the cream into the passion fruit mixture with a whisk until fully incorporated.
  8. Pour the mixture into 8 ramekins.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.
  9. Garnish with toasted coconut, micro cilantro and edible flowers.

TIP: Make sure you mix the cream of coconut well to re-emulsify and remove lumps.  Also, passion fruit can be pricy and hard to find.  You can substitute with any other tropical fruit juice, preferably with no added sugar.


TIMELINE

2 DAYS BEFORE

  • Make the simple syrup for the Blood Orange Mojitos.
  • Make the Coconut Passion Mousse to completion.  

1 DAY BEFORE

  • Prep the vegetables for the Ropa Vieja.  Store in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator.
  • Make the Stewed Black Beans to completion.  Store the sauce pot in the refrigerator.

4 HOURS BEFORE

  • Make the Ropa Vieja.
  • Start making the Arroz Blanco up until the addition of the water.

1 HOUR BEFORE

  • Make the Arroz Blanco.  Do not remove the lid until ready to serve.
  • Cut the citrus for the Blood Orange Mojitos.
  • Set up Snack Board.

30 MINUTES BEFORE

  • Finish making the rice.  Leave covered until ready to serve.

SHOWTIME

  • Make the cocktails as your guests arrive.
  • Warm the Stewed Beans.
  • Remove the Ropa Vieja from the oven and allow to rest, covered.

TIME TO SERVE THE MAIN

  • Shred the Ropa Vieja.
  • Fluff the Arroz Blanco.
  • This isn’t fancy food.  Place a scoop of rice, beans and ropa vieja on a plate and garnish with some micro cilantro.  Serve with a brioche roll to sop up any residual sauces.

15 MINUTES BEFORE DESSERT

  • Remove Mousse from the refrigerator to temper and garnish.
  • Brew coffee and tea, if serving.