Sort-of Ajiaco Soup

By Michael Elmore

Ajiaco is a traditional Columbian soup (specifically, Bogota) that is hearty and filled with some pretty delicious flavors, from a rich, velvet broth to starchy potatoes, and chicken that has melted away. Making it here in the United States, however, proves difficult due to two ingredients that are pretty difficult to come by: a potato variety specific to Latin America of very think skinned, and very small yellow potatoes, and guascas, or potato weed, an earthy herb.

One of my closest friends is Columbian, and while she traveled there this year pre-pandemic, she sent me photos of this dish, and the mouth-watering sight put it on the list of new things to try. I confess, I forgot about my list until recently while watching a food documentary that happened to talk about it. Being in self-isolation from my move, what better time to reach for new flavors than the present?

This recipe is not ajiaco. Unable to find the necessary potatoes and the guascas, I did my best to replicate the flavors described to me by my friend while she attempts to hunt down those ingredients for me so that I can make a proper ajiaco. However, whatever this dish may or may not be, it is certainly delicious. While the recipe looks long, it is a fairly straight forward dish, but be sure to read the recipe first before planning on making it! Buen provecho!

Ingredients:

  • 5 green onion stems (white part with roots only – reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ of an onion, cut in half (reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • 3 chicken quarters
  • 3 cups chili stock (make this ahead of time – soak dried chilis of your choice in a big bowl of water, then blend the next day. You can skip this step if you like by replacing this with more stock).
  • 5 cups good quality chicken stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 3 russet potatoes, divided (peel and grate 1 of the potatoes; peel and slice into ¼ inch rings for the other 2 potatoes)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cleaned and sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano

Directions:

  1. In a cheesecloth (I did not have a cheesecloth, and if you don’t, that’s alright – use coffee filters like I did), place the first three ingredients and enclose, then tie tightly with butcher’s twine so nothing falls out.
  2. In a large pot, add the chicken, the cheesecloth, all 8 cups of the stock, the salt, and the pepper. The stock should submerge the chicken completely – if not, add more stock or water. Bring to boil slowly over medium high heat, then reduce to simmer and cover. Slow cook on low, checking on it frequently, for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Check on the chicken, it should be cooked at this point, and very tender. Using tongues, pull the chicken out and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull apart into pieces (tip: save the bones to make some stock later).
  4. Add the potatoes to the pot, including the grated potato. Cook, covered, another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are extremely soft and starting to fall apart. Using a stick blender, blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds until thickened. In the alternative, if you do not have a stick blender, take half the potato mixture out and put into a blender, then return it to the pan, or add a roux.
  5. Add the corn and the Mexican oregano. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. The soup is done. You can return the chicken to the pot or you can serve it in a more traditional style and plate the soup separately, then add the chicken and corn piece to each bowl. Serve immediately or serve later by reheating slowly!

Under the Sea: The Grand Birthday Lobster Boil

By Michael Araj

It was my birthday last week, and my parents surprised me with a cooler of live lobsters. Those who know me know that I try to cook with new ingredients often (read: at least weekly) so I can learn about new ingredients and methods of cooking (and just in case I ever make it onto Chopped on Food Network). Despite this, I had difficulty a month back finding anywhere in my vicinity that sold live lobsters, but my parents came to the rescue in a big way.

I opted to make a Lobster Boil as I had been informed we would be having company over, and the recipe below follows. Few meals are as inclusive as a seafood boil – friends and family huddled over a mass of shared, delicious food can be the ultimate comfort food experience.

I then used the shells to make a lobster stock for Jambalaya, and that recipe will be posted later on separately. I did also take one Lobster and make a Lobster Curry, and I’ll share that recipe as well. I also apologize for the lack of photos – this was not originally intended to be on the blog, but enough people have expressed interest in how to do it that thought I would share!

Before we get started though, I want to say hello and thank you to our new followers. We’re happy to have you here!

So here where the lobsters that starred in the show:

Pictured here: Loki, Thor, Paul, and Dean, chilling on some ice and getting some rest.

Later on, we grabbed the pot and started pouring the liquids and first ingredients:

Add the onions, garlic, potatoes and the rest of the ingredients from Step 1 to the pot.

Next came the corn:

Due to the unseasonably hot weather here, we still have corn available!

Then, it was time for the seafood:

The heat started to open the mussels fairly quickly.

Let the feasting begin!

LOBSTER BOIL

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic – all cloves peeled and crushed (not chopped)
  • 8 Yukon Gold Potatoes, halved
  • 3 Thai chilis, sliced
  • 3 Mexican Style Beers of your choice (If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute seafood stock).
  • 2 links of Turkey Sausage (We had some dietary restrictions with our company, but you could easily substitute Andouille or Kielbasa sausages, and if you eat pork, would recommend doing so). Cut these into about 1.5 inch pieces.
  • 4 ears of corn, husked and cut into 3 pieces of each for a total of 12 small cobs.
  • 5 live medium lobsters (about 1-1.5 pounds each)
  • 4 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 pounds of shrimp, under 16, cleaned and deveined (alternatively, use frozen but make sure that they are cleaned and deveined as well)
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • Limes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, potatoes, chili peppers, and sausages in a large pot. Place 4 cups of water and both beers on top.
  2. Place pot on medium high heat to bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the corn. Cover pot and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together. You may want to make a double batch so you can sprinkle the mixture on top of the boil later.
  4. After 15 minutes has elapsed, add half the spice mixture over the ingredients already in the pot, then add the lobsters. Cooking time for lobsters will vary. We followed these guidelines to make sure that we treated the lobsters humanely before putting them in the pot: https://www.thespruceeats.com/ways-to-kill-a-lobster-1808804.
  5. After you add the lobsters, cover the pot. For the lobsters, you will need about 20 minutes for the first pound, and about 7 minutes per pound after. So after 20 minutes, add the mussels and shrimp and cover the pot again. Add the rest of the spice mixture. The liquid should be simmering and steaming during all of this.
  6. Cook for about 7-10 more minutes depending on size of lobsters and check on pot. Mussels should be open at this point (discard and do not eat any unopened mussels) and shrimp should be pink and opaque.
  7. Strain the pot and make sure to reserve the broth. Lay out the seafood wonders onto prepared newspaper or parchment paper. Garnish with chopped cilantro, more of the spice mixture, and lime wedges. Serve immediately.