Unless you're a vegetarian or fried-pigskin-intolerant, I have an adventure for you. It requires about three hours. It's exotic, but does not require calling the phone numbers on the next few pages. Depending on who you are, it requires little or a lot of bravery. It's called cooking. You know, that thing people used to do before capitalism infiltrated the home kitchen? Before potato chips and granola bars and mac n' cheese?
If you have ever described yourself as "not a good cook," I have a theory for you. You think that you are missing the "good cook" or "creativity" gene, but I think it was capitalism, feminism (sorry ladies!), World War II, the industrial revolution, and the digital age that did it. If you were born in America, you probably know how to do what your parents did, which was more than likely serve something that was actually cooked up by their corporate parents, Lean Cuisine, Stouffer's, McDonald's, Wendy's, et al. Those companies cook for one reason, and it's not to pass on the sheer human pleasure in experiencing the awesomeness of the food.
But that is why Jenny Sanchez, a Nicaraguan-American, gets up from a horrible night of rheumatoid arthritis pain to hobble around her kitchen and teach me (and therefore you) just how to cook chancho frito and vigoron. (That saying, "share the love," shows such desperation because if it's true love, sharing goes without saying.) In this dish, waxy, firm, mildly sweet yuca, dry crispy pork skins, lime-dressed shaved cabbage, and tangy tender fried pork-rib bites all come together right at the end. Any attempt at packaging this dish will fail. It has to be made directly for dear people to eat right now. Shelf life: zero. Table life: about 15 minutes.
Are you with me? On this adventure, first we must pack our bags. Go to La Bodega Latina (at 863 Congress Street in Portland, the yellow corner store across from Maine Medical Center) to get these things:
ACHIOTE POWDER It's the secret ingredient in the pork. Also known as annatto, it looks and smells like chili powder, but it's not spicy. It adds tangy flavor and an inexplicable delicious-looking deep orange color to the food. Whole seeds from the achiote tree (Bixa orellana) are also available, but they're too hard for my coffee grinder. For this dish, definitely buy the powder form, available in small clear packets or a large spice jar.
YUCA Yuca is pronounced "Yoo Ka." It's a long, hard, thick, brown-skinned root, bigger than a sweet potato but with the same oblong irregular shape. La Bodega seems to always have it. So does Mittapheap World Market on Washington Avenue, and quite often, Hannaford. Don't get yucca — that's a cactus-like plant, a totally different species.
FRIED PIG SKINS They're like profound potato chips — salty, fatty, crunchy — with added animal influence. They come in clear bags. The brand Jenny bought was called Chicharrones, and she got them at Mittapheap. I've seen UTZ, that pretzel company, also sells a variety. I'm working on finding some local pig skin to fry.
Now, hop over to immigrantkitchens.blogspot.com for the whole recipe. Practice if you want before coming to Lindsay Sterling's cooking class on October 9, at the Freeport Community Center to cook it with her live. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot.