Cuban chef creates island favorites

I got a telephone call from Carolina Podesta. She was raving about the prepared foods at the store where she's a cashier: Broward Meat and Fish Co. in North Lauderdale. She kept insisting that the prices were so reasonable that even in this economy people could afford the store's fried whole red snapper and curryƒochicken.

I enjoy visiting markets, and I am familiar with the Broward Meat and Fish Co. in Lauderdale Lakes. So I decided to take a look at this new supermarket and visited the store on a weekend. I was duly impressed with not only the refrigerated cases filled with all sorts of Caribbean goodies but also the fresh-baked specialties including Cuban and Puerto Rican bread.

After my visit, I made arrangements to visit with the store's chef, Frank Reyes, to watch him make Ropa Vieja so I can share the recipe. Cuban-born Reyes doesn't speak English, but Podesta is happy to translate. I watch as he sautes julienned bright red and green peppers with onions and lots of chopped garlic. The aroma is heady. Then he adds shredded skirt steak, beef broth, sour orange juice, cumin and tomato sauce ("It can be any brand but has to contain roasted tomatoes," Reyes tells me as he shows me a jar of Ragu.). Then he adds a handful of chopped cilantro as well as culantro.

He stirs it all in a shiny metal pot, and then leaves it to simmer about 20 minutes. The broth reduces into a sauce around the shards of meat. Reyes serves it with white rice. He garnishes it with sliced stuffed olives.

After we finish cooking, Podesta takes me on a tour of the refrigerated display cases of prepared foods. There's a Cuban section, a Puerto Rican area and a Jamaican space, she explains.

They are filled with dishes such as sancocho; pasteles, some filled with yuca and others with green plantains; gandules; black beans; congris; yellow rice; Oriental rice with chicken, ham and shrimp; short ribs; chicken wings; pepper steak; deep-fried pork chunks; chicharones or boiled and deep fried pork skins; fried tilapia and snapper; braised oxtail; jerk pork and more.

On weekends, she tells me, they roast a whole pig. It's all the work of Reyes.

However, the store is the work of owner Ruben Lujo and his wife, Denise. When we ask Lujo about the Ropa Vieja his chef prepares, he says, "Everybody likes it whether they are Spanish or American."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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