Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: Uncategorized (page 1 of 5)

Cast-Iron Steak

To this day, my favorite cooking utensil is cast iron. I know, it has fallen out of favor in recent times due to the proliferation of Teflon and other non-stick appliances. I can understand the convenience of quick cleaning of a pot or pan. Even aluminum and stainless steel sometimes require a degree of elbow grease to get the thing clean. Point taken. But cast-iron is not that hard to clean. Just wash in hot soapy water, using a scrub brush or sponge. Yes, you can use soap on cast-iron. Today’s gentle, modern soaps will not strip away the pan’s seasoning. I’ve been using soap to wash my cast-iron for years, and they’re as beautiful as ever. After washing, wipe clean, and store. Some recommend rubbing a thin film of oil that’s been heated for a couple of minutes.They say it keeps better. My experience is that, after being completely wiped dry, the thing will store forever with or without the film of oil. Some folks recommend cleaning cast-iron with a hefty dose of  kosher salt, and then scrub clean. Honestly, I’ve never tried it this way but, if it works, more power to you.

The other thing I enjoy is a good steak now and then. And cast-iron is perfect for cooking steak. It’s fast, easy, and the results are sublime. The union of two perfect ensembles. Note that with the recipe given, any good cut of meat will do—porterhouse, flatiron, flank steak, whatever. But if you’re short on change and want to do chuck steak, go right ahead.

This time I served the steak with that perennial favorite, potatoes. In this case, parsley potatoes. Simple: boil 2-3 large potatoes until tender, and cut into chunks. Mix 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice with 1/4 fresh chopped parsley. Toss potatoes with parsley-lemon juice mixture, and you’re set.


1 1/4 pounds of your favorite steak, about 1-inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1.  Wash steak under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Season steak with salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano.
2. Heat oil in a large 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak and cook 3 minutes. Flip over and cook 2-3 minutes more for medium rare. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice steak and serve with potatoes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Quick Shrimp Fixes

One thing you know about this blog is that I love shrimp. Just review the previous posts like Shrimp Aglio e Olio (1/9/15), Shrimp with Garlic (3/21/15), and Shrimp with Cream Sauce (1/2/16) and you get the idea. What I like about shrimp, apart from its texture and taste, is that it’s so easy to cook. Whether you broil it, steam it or stir-fry, the trick is quick cooking, 2-3 minutes over medium heat until its turns pink.

If there’s one drawback about it, is the preparation. That is, removing the shell and deveining. Here’s a secret. You don’t need to devein shrimp, unless you’re a purist (which I ain’t). In some cultures, they eat the shrimp whole, eyes and all. That vein down the back of the shrimp is part of the intestinal tract. Now, before you start thinking about eating intestines, you won’t fall ill from eating it. In Chinese restaurants, I’ve never seen anyone remove the vein. It’s all a matter of preference. Also, convenience. With small shrimp, no one even bothers. But even with large shrimp like prawns or jumbo, it could take hours to devein the thing. Fortunately, most suppliers these days offer shrimp that has already been shelled and deveined.

The recipes given can be done quickly and efficiently. The white bean ragout can be served over rice. With the shrimp and vodka, I prefer it over pasta, whatever type you like. But, if you want to serve it with a grain, go right ahead. In terms of cuisine, I discovered long ago, do what suits you best.

(Note: I first had this dish in my young manhood, years ago, at one of my favorite watering holes, Ye Olde Tripple Inn at 54th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. When I saw it on the menu, I told Mike, the owner, “I’ll have the “RAG-OUT.” He corrected me: “Dummy, it’s called “RAGOO.” To which I replied, ‘Okay, I’ll have the ‘RAGU.'” The Tripple Inn is no longer with us, but memories are made of this.)       

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 pound large raw shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder and crumbled dried rosemary, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook 2 minutes. Add 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) rinsed Great Northern Beans (white beans) and cook 2 minutes until heated through. Serve over rice. 4 servings.


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 small onion, chopped; and 2 cloves garlic, finely minced. Cook, stirring, about 4-5 minutes, until softened. Add 2 tablespoons tomato sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup heavy cream. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste, and let the sauce bubble until it starts to thicken slightly. Add 1 pound large raw shrimp to the sauce plus 2 tablespoons vodka. Cook, stirring, over medium heat  2-3 minutes more. Pour sauce over cooked pasta, either strand, tubular or other. Toss well and serve. 4-6 servings. 

New Book: The Centurion

NEW BOOK ! THE CENTURION by Oswald Rivera.

It’s available in Paperback at Amazon.com

Also: Available in Kindle Edition at Amazon.com

NEW BOOK: The Centurion by Oswald Rivera

“It is the first century of the Common Era. Imperial Rome is at the height of its power, with an empire stretching from the moors of Scotland to the sands of Arabia.

It is at this time that in Judea, a remote backwater of the empire. Marcus Valerianus of the tenth legion, is sent on a scouting mission seeking Jewish rebels. Instead, he encounters a young boy from nearby Nazareth, wandering in the desert.

The boy talks of a “Father” who rules over all, and how he is doing his “Father’s work.” Thus begins the Tale of The Centurion, and the startling secret that will change his life forever . . . . . . . ”

– – – –

Biftec Empanado – Breaded Beefsteak

For the longest time in Puerto Rico, before the advent of  American style fast food joints, breaded steaks were a popular staple in mom-and-pop takeout places. These emporiums were called cafetines or “little cafes,” and almost every town had one. Here the breaded steaks were enjoyed by the regulars. The idea transferred to the mainland and the cafetines became cuchifrito places, and they abounded at one time in what was called Spanish Harlem in New York. Today the term used is East Harlem, and most of the cafetines are gone, along with the migration of second generation Puerto Ricans to Florida.

I’m nostalgic for those old take-out places. They would serve the breaded steaks with french fries, or as a sandwich in a roll or Italian bread. At home we would have it as an entrée with rice and beans. In the old neighborhood, biftec empanado was prepared two ways: either with bread crumbs or cracker crumbs. I knew of one individual who mixed cracker crumbs with corn flakes. And the rule of thumb was always that the meat should be cut thin. Some neighbors pounded the meat into the thinness of  scalopine. In my family, we preferred thicker bictec empanado–and I still make it this way. Let me add that, for those who are shy of beef, chicken breasts or cutlets can be substituted.

In the recipe given, we do it the traditional criollo way by pounding all the spices in a mortar and pestle. If you’re a modernista, or don’t own a mortar and pestle, you can blend minced garlic cloves, the oregano, black pepper and salt to taste, along with olive oil and vinegar, and rub that onto the steaks. Then follow the rest of the recipe as given.

(Breaded Beefsteak)

4 club steaks or beef round steaks (8 ounces per steak, about 1/2-inch thick)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
12 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Rinse meat under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Put garlic cloves, oregano, peppercorns and salt in a mortar. Pound with a pestle until crushed.
Add olive oil and vinegar and mix thoroughly.
3. Rub the seasoning into the steaks.
4. Dip each slice in the eggs, then coat with bread crumbs, pressing crumbs into both sides with the heel of the hand.
5. Heat oil in a large skillet, frying pan or deep fryer until golden brown (about 4-5 minutes depending upon thickness). Drain on absorbent paper towel and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.

Creole Burgers

Long before the advent of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, hamburgers served in Puerto Rico came replete with onions, lettuce and tomatoes. And on plain rolls, not the usual hamburger buns. This transferred over with the first great migration to the mainland in the 1950s. This was the essence of what of what we call “Creole Hamburgers.”

Naturally, this all changed with the coming of the fast food joints. So that today on the island, just as in the mainland, wherever you go, it’s the trendy fast food abomination that rules. Thank the gods that in my tribe we still prefer burgers the old fashioned way—large and spicy. The archetypal  “hamburgesa criollo.”  And, yes, traditionally, we crush the spices in a mortar, a cooking instrument ubiquitous in our cuisine. For the newer foodies out there, a mortar and pestle, weather, stainless steel, aluminum, or wood, can be found in any Asian or Caribbean food market, or even in a good hardware store. 


1 pound lean ground beef (can substitute ground chicken or turkey, if preferred)
10 whole black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1. Place meat in a bowl.
2. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt. Blend in one tablespoon of the olive oil and vinegar.
3. Add spices to the meat and mix thoroughly.
4. Shape into hamburger patties.
5. Heat remaining olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet. Add patties and cook over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes per side for rare and 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
6. Serve on plain or seeded roll, or toasted English muffin. Top with tomato slices and lettuce, and go at it. What we kids did (which use to drive my mother nuts) was splatter gobs of mayonnaise on the bun rather than use ketchup or mustard. To each his own.
Yield: 4 servings.


One of the most popular dish is our repertoire is picadillo (pee-kah-dee-yoh). It’s also common in Cuban cuisine. And it’s one of the easiest entreés to prepare. It’s basically a ground meat stew. But you can use ground chicken, turkey or lamb in lieu of beef, if desired. The Puerto Rican version differs from other types in that we add sofrito to the dish.

Sofrito is a base flavoring that is prevalent in our cooking. At it’s basic, it’s an aromatic mix of herbs and spices that is used in countless criollo dishes. This concept can be found in other cultures as well. One example is the India mix garam masala. Sofrito can be quickly whipped up in a blender or food processor. You can find processed sofrito by the jar in almost any supermarket or Caribbean store. Let me add this proviso: most suck. The home product is best. That being said, the only marketed one I can recommend is the sofrito made by Ricomida (myricomida.tumblr.com). It’s the only one that’s as good as the home made stuff. I’ve tried it and it’s the genuine article. If, for some reason, you don’t have the inclination to make your own, or can’t find the Ricomida brand, then mix a teaspoon of turmeric and one minced clove garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and use that as a substitute. It won’t be kosher, but it’ll come close.

Traditionally, sofrito is served over steamed white rice. This time around, I experimented and served it with quinoa, a grain from Peru (it was a staple of Inca cuisine) that has gained popularity in the last few years. Hell, want to be even more adventurous, you can serve the sofrito over pasta. 

In my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, the wine I recommend with the dish is Demestica, a lively red wine from Greece. But, since this is a Spanish dish, you can also serve it with a good Rioja. My favorite Rioja is Marquez de Riscal. If you can’t find it, then go for Marquez de Iberica. Both are good accompaniments to the picadillo.

(Ground Meat Stew)

4 tablespoons olive
1 pound ground beef (sirloin preferred)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium green pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-nch cubes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons sofrito
10-12 pimento stuffed olives

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or kettle. Add beef and cook on high heat until meat loses its red color. Drain excess pan drippings.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and bell pepper and sauté until onion is transparent and meat is browned (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a separate skillet or frying pan, heat remaining olive oil and stir-fry potato cubes until golden (about 5-7 minutes). Remove potatoes and drain on paper towels.
4. Return beef to stove and, over low heat, add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, sofrito, potatoes and olives. Stir to combine. Cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
    Yield: 4 servings

Braising Meat (and Poultry)

One of the easiest ways to prepare meat and is by braising. But some of my acquaintances complain that they can’t get it right. For the record, according to Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary (I love that name “Funk & Wagnalls”) denotes braising as: “To cook (meat) by searing till brown and then simmering in a covered pan.” That’s it. The only caveat I would add is that you can also cook poultry the same way. It’s fairly quick and easy. And, if done right, will render a juicy cut of meat.

The other thing to remember about braising is that the cooking time varies with regard to size and shape of meat, its quality, it’s lean or fat composition, and the extent the meat has been marinated, if any. Lastly, it goes without saying that frozen meat or poultry should be thawed before cooking. That being said, follow the steps given below and you shouldn’t have any problems.

In the recipe given I use pork chops. But it can apply to steaks, lamb chops, fish steaks, spareribs, ham, chicken cutlets, turkey sections, duck pieces—whatever your heart desires. Also, I prepared the meat Nuyorican style. That is, I employ a mortar and pestle to grind fresh the ingredients, and then rub the seasoning into the chops.Finally, we dredge the meat in flour before cooking. If you want, you can skip the flour, season the meat with salt and pepper and cook in olive oil and/or butter. Your choice.


8 lean pork chops, 1/2-thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (I prefer barley flour)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Rinse chops under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt.
3. Place chops between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly with a mallet.
4. Rub seasoning into pork chops.
5. Place flour in a plate, and dredge chops with flour on both sides.
6. Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes per side).
7. Add chicken broth. Cover pan tightly and cook until vapor begins to escape. Reduce heat to low  and simmer, covered, until meat is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove meat and drain on absorbent paper towels. If desired, you can make a gravy by whisking in more flour to the pan, and stirring over medium heat until browned. Gradually stir in milk (making sure no lumps form). Continue cooking until thickened. If gravy becomes too thick you can thin it with a little more milk.
   Yield: 4 or more servings.

The Easter Ham

Here we are again, the Easter holidays. This year, as has happened before, Easter and Passover are in close conjunction. This year, Passover begins on Saturday. Good Friday is the day before. Most Christians do not know (or conveniently forget) that the Last Supper was a Passover dinner wherein the Good Lord  hosted his disciples before his crucible in Golgotha (according to the gospel of Matthew). The gospel of Luke calls it Calvary. Be it as it may, Easter dinner was a big deal in our family back in East Harlem. And it was always lamb. Sometimes my mother would make lamb and a roast pork shoulder (pernil) for those who didn’t like lamb. But lamb was the mainstay. 

It wasn’t until I traveled down South that I discovered that ham was the biggie. And by that I mean a big, juicy Smithfield ham. This ham is a specific type of ham that comes from Virginia. It is usually a country ham that been naturally cured in salt and brown sugar. The other type is a smoked ham, which is cured in a brine consisting of sugar, salt and spices, and are fully cooked. You get them bone-in (with the bone) or boneless for easy slicing. Of course, if all fails or you can’t get these items, then there is canned ham, like Spam, but larger. This is the last option, short of death. There is also what is know as “Virginia ham.” This is similar to the Smithfield, but it does not come from Smithfield Virginia proper.

Now that I’ve got you properly confused, let me say that I used a smoked ham for the following recipe. It’s the only type I could get at the time. And it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was pretty good since I cooked it in maple syrup ( a suggestion from my wife—who loves maple syrup, especially from Vermont). The recipe is amazingly easy, and the result are fabulous. Not the Nuyorican pernil, but a good substitute.


1 smoked ham (3-4 pounds)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Prick ham all over with the tines of a fork; and rub with ground cloves. 
3. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the maple syrup and combine.
4. Rub ham with maple-butter mixture, using a brush or, of you don’t have a brush, using your hands.
5. Place in a baking pan and bake 15 minutes per pound or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  
6. Place in serving dish or platter and slice thinly.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Poached Fish with Broccoli

Recently, my wife bought me a fish poacher. You know, one of those elongated contraptions with a rack used to facilitate the boiling, or poaching, of fish. I must say it is convenient; and a healthy low-fat way to prepare seafood. You simply poach the fish in water, broth or vegetable juice seasoned with herbs, spices, or even wine. You can even poach the fish in milk. The possibilities are endless. This can work with fish fillets or, as I prefer, any whole fish be it sea bass, striped bass, bluefish, red snapper, monkfish, catfish, you name it. In the recipe that follows I tried it with a mullet; a fairly inexpensive fish that provides a great, delicate taste.

As noted, the cooking liquid for the fish may vary. In  French they call it a court bouillon. And it usually consist of water and wine blended with spices and one or two vegetables such as carrots and onions. My recipe is simpler than that I used plain water and seasoned the fish beforehand Nuyorican fashion with all the ingredients. In this case: olive oil, vinegar, pepper, oregano. For more a flavor profile I added two spices common to Indian cuisine, coriander and cumin. So this poached version has an international flavor to it. Along with it I decided to make some stir-fried onions and broccoli florets. Yes, unlike one of our past presidents, I do love broccoli—and it went pretty good with the poached fish. 

The good thing about poaching is the ease of cooking. Once the fish is simmering in the container, there is nothing more to do. Just wait till it’s done.  The rule of thumb is to cook the fish 10 minutes for each inch of thickness. I just peek at it from time to time until it’s tender. You can also save the cooking liquid in the refrigerator or freezer for later use as fish stock.


1 three pound whole fish, cleaned scaled, but with head intact
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (red or white)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
1 head broccoli, florets only
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons water

1. Rinse the fish well and pat dry with paper towels.
2. With a sharp knife make four to five incisions on each side of the fish.
3. Drizzle fish all over with olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with pepper and oregano, patting ingredients into the surface of the fish. Do the same with the coriander and cumin.
4. Lower the fish into a poacher with a tight-fitting lid, or a deep sauce pan or other oval casserole or pot large enough to hold the fish. Place the crushed garlic inside the fish.  Add enough water to cover half of the fish, about 2-3 inches.
5. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan, and boil for exactly 5 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes more.
6. While fish is cooking, heat olive oil in a medium skillet or fry pan. Add the onion and broccoli and sauté, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover pan, lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes more or until broccoli is tender but still firm. Season with salt and pepper.
7. When fish is done, remove with slotted spoon from liquid and place on a serving dish, surrounded with the broccoli and onion (or you can serve the broccoli and onion on the side, if you wish).
    Yield: 4 servings.

Super Grains: Whole Millet with Fish Fillets (Filete de Pecado al Horno)

In this post we cover another of our super grains: millet—which has been called the world’s healthiest food. Why? It’s a food source of magnesium, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack, especially in people suffering from diabetes or atherosclerosis. It also has phosphorus, which helps in the development and repair of body tissue. And it is high in fiber, which helps prevent gallstones. On top of that, it’s quite tasty.

The grain has been cultivated in China for 4,000 years. From China, it made its way to Europe by 5000 BCE. Today it’s also an important crop in India and western Africa. We Americans are contrarians, so we grow it mostly for bird feed. That’s right, bird feed. But don’t let that deter you. Whole millet is a great food—economical, nutritious, and easy to cook. I knew nothing about millet until my young manhood, when I saw Akira Kurosawa’s classic flic, Seven Samurai. In it, the villagers who hire the samurai to protect them, feed them (what else?) millet. At the time I thought, If it’s good enough for honorable samurai, it sure as hell is good for anyone.

The recipe given  below combines this fabled grain with baked fish fillets, Puerto Rican style. It’s a blending of two cultures, and a great mix. And it shows how versatile millet can be. You can make it with poultry, pork, beef, you name it. It makes a great breakfast mixed with cream or milk with a little maple syrup on top. So, be a samurai tonight, eat some millet.


2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups whole millet (preferably organic)
2 cups boiling water or chicken broth
4-6 boneless. skinless fish fillets, such as flounder, sole, turbot or cod (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon white or dark Puerto Rican rum (optional)
Half of a small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste

1. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the the oil, add the millet and toast gently until the grain is tan and slightly brown.
2. Add the millet and remaining oil. Stir, cover, lower heat and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes or until desired texture and all the water is absorbed.
3. While the millet is cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Rinse fillets under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
5. In a small saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons butter and flour over moderate heat, and boil for 1 minute.
4. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Add the rum at this stage, if using.
5. Lower heat and add onion, garlic, bay leaf, pepper and salt, Stir together for about 1 minute.
6. Place fillets in a greased baking dish. Pour sauce over fillets, dot top with remaining butter.
7. Bake uncovered, for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
    Yield: 4 servings.

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