Caribbean and Campeche cuisine: stories of smugglers and pirates
There is no greater pride for the people of Campeche, perhaps after their ever-present watchtowers, sentry boxes, and walls, than that produced by sitting at a table, before visitors or the family itself, and presenting a series of dishes that are accompanied by a story, or why not, by a poem. There is no parallel in Mexico or abroad: the way of eating the pompano, the marine species, and even the market announcements have motivated songs, verses, and music.
Apparently, to the spell of the sound of pots and pans, the overflowing local imagination summons its demons, good and bad, to a banquet where the main guest is creativity itself. The similarity between Caribbean and Campeche cuisine goes beyond numerous ingredients; a multitude of dishes now considered local specialties in Campeche have a common origin with the islands, particularly with those of Spain, to which this region remained linked through close commercial and cultural contacts. Of course, the kinship is even stronger with Cuba, where carne mechada, ropa vieja, gallina en pepitoria, pork empanaditas, chicken or fish escabeche, and copitas nevadas or floating islands are just some of the stews and desserts that are prepared in a similar way.
This close relationship is not casual; we can suppose that the link derives from the Spanish migration, at first coming from more or less the same region: Andalusia and Extremadura, to later accommodate Catalans, Valencians, Basques, Navarrese, and Galicians, among others, whose culinary traditions had to be substantially transformed to adapt to a new region: the Caribbean.
The process, until the 18th century, was quite homogeneous in the Greater Antilles -Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico- and along the entire continental coastline bordering it to the west and south. The Yucatan Peninsula participated to a great extent in this same phenomenon, although it was nuanced by the indigenous presence, a culture that influenced it more than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Thus, the peninsular cuisine has great similarities with its neighboring island region, to which it was more closely linked, with the exception of Veracruz, than to other regions of Mexico itself.
However, we could not consider it strictly within the scope of what the researcher Sokolov (1991) has called "pan-Caribbean cuisine", due to its different historical development, since only the influence of the strong Mayan tradition would be enough to clearly differentiate both cuisines.
Land of adventurers and settlers
The Caribbean, that enormous sea that unites North, Central, and South America, sometimes called "the American Mediterranean", was in colonial times the place in our continent where the struggles resulting from the differences between European countries were most intensely manifested, a series of never-ending alliances and conflicts, which since the 16th century followed one another almost without interruption. As a result of these constant political ups and downs and the European nations' desire for conquest and exploitation, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, and even Danish nations passed through these waters.
In this sea, as the European powers established their bases, each island was fought over with blood and fire, until in the 17th century, when an already exhausted Spain formally recognized the presence of other countries in the Caribbean. Martinique, Jamaica, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, St. Barthelemy, Curaçao, Aruba, and many more of the Antilles ceased to be the object of discussion, with the Spanish focusing on the defense of their mainland territories.
Finally, after many years of struggle and coexistence with the native populations and among themselves, the colonists were adapting to an environment totally different from the one they were used to, but always trying to acclimatize and transplant the ways of being and eating of their countries of origin. Thus, food began to change from island to island according to the country that dominated them; for example in the English possessions: Barbados, Saint-Kitts, Tobago, and several others, live partridges were imported and kept in cages, in the same way, that the French of Martinique, Saint Lucia, and Guadeloupe brought turtledoves that were kept in aviaries.
The contacts between the Yucatan peninsula and the Caribbean islands were at this time much greater than it might seem at first glance. Suffice it to recall that all trade had to be carried out by sea and that, especially after the liberation of trade as a result of the Bourbon reforms, the peninsula and Campeche in particular, had active contact with many ports in New Spain and abroad, especially with several ports in the Caribbean, with Campeche ships reaching the other side of that great inland sea, as far away as Maracaibo and La Guaira, in present-day Colombia and Venezuela.
Pirates and smugglers
Another factor that makes it important for our purpose to take a look at the food supply of the islands, regardless of the country to which they belonged, is smuggling. This activity was so frequent that in several years the merchandise that entered the plazas under this concept could exceed, or at least equal, those declared at customs. It was not strange that at that time some people in the Yucatan Peninsula drank Jamaican rum or that the sugar for chocolate came from Barbados or that in some houses there were French wines, Dutch cheeses or bottles of English beer, products prohibited for import unless they passed through the Spanish monopolistic trade system, which became considerably more expensive, sometimes reaching absurd prices.
Smuggling has always been considered a criminal activity and the names of pirates, corsairs, buccaneers, and filibusters were quickly associated with it, although often so mixed that they seemed to mean the same thing, partly because they were dedicated, in addition to plundering, to illegal trade.
We must remember that pirates were "bandits" who seized goods carried by other vessels without giving this fact a political justification. The corsairs, on the other hand, had a "corso" patent, a kind of permission from their government to seize the ships and merchandise of enemy powers, with the Spanish generally being the victims. Supported by their countries and at the same time free, they soon fell into anarchy, attacking any ship, returning in practice to piracy. Many times the corsairs tried to force the places they besieged to negotiate, and when they refused, they were forced to hand over the stored merchandise.
The buccaneers owe their name, on the other hand, to the Caribbean word "boucan", which designates the way of preparing smoked meat, an activity to which they were originally dedicated. Their way of life was based on the hunting of wild pigs and the sale of the prepared meat to the boats that traveled along the uninhabited coast of Santo Domingo. It was not until several years later, when the Spaniards destroyed the forests in which the buccaneers operated with the purpose of driving them out of the island for good, that these hunters began to attack ships, transforming themselves into "filibusters".
The feared filibusters did not recognize themselves as belonging to any European country and organized themselves into a society, "The Brotherhood of the Coast", located on the legendary Turtle Island, a brotherhood that came to have thousands of members and became famous throughout the world.
The nucleus of this colony was formed with the survivors of the Spanish persecutions in Santo Domingo, who were gradually joined by adventurers from all over the world, shipwrecked sailors, victims of pirate attacks, and hundreds of persecuted Europeans who saw in La Tortuga and its Brotherhood the only way to achieve freedom. When Father Labat, a notable missionary who traveled throughout the Caribbean, visited Tortuga Island in the early 18th century, he found it uninhabited, as the population had moved some time ago to the western coast of Hispaniola, in present-day Haiti.
Both buccaneers and filibusters played an important role in the economic development of the Caribbean, especially in the 17th century and the following one, when the European powers, engrossed in their struggles, could not satisfy the needs of their growing colonies, almost completely isolated by the rigid monopolistic control, leaving no other resource than smuggling to be able to exchange the merchandise that otherwise would have remained hidden waiting for the arrival of a ship of the same nationality, with the consequent risk of deterioration.
Apparently, the ways for the illegal introduction of articles were several, but the most frequent are reduced, according to a testimony of the time, to two: the unloading of merchandise in any point of the smooth coast of the peninsula, before the accomplice look of some sentinel of the numerous watchmen located along the coast. It was called "tráfico a la pica" ("traffic with the pike"), because of the weapon used by the sellers to defend themselves in case the buyers wanted to take all the merchandise by force.
The trade was carried out at night and the colonists were called with a cannon shot and those who wanted to traffic approached in their boats with the goods for the exchange or with sounding silver, credit was never given. The second way, in the port of Campeche itself as well as in numerous cities of the Caribbean, consisted of French, English, Dutch, and even Danish ships approaching the coast with the pretext of urgently needing water, firewood, or provisions; or of serious damage that impeded navigation. Permission was then requested from the authorities for the vessel to enter the port, accompanying the request with a generous gift, which generally had a good effect. Once permission was granted, a sort of ceremonial was followed to "prevent" the goods from being disembarked, sealing one of the hold doors, but making sure that a second way was always left open, and mysteriously at night the boxes of goods were replaced by wax, honey, hides and Yucatecan cottons.
The pretext for the mysterious buyers to sell the products thus acquired consisted in arguing that the foreigners did not have enough money to pay for the groceries or the requested repairs, so it was necessary that some similar boxes of the acquired cargo were put up for sale, boxes for which no precise account was ever kept, so that all the merchandise ended up being sold.
This is how illegal trade became the means of redistribution of goods throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf, as well as the cheapest form of product exchange, an illicit negotiation that continued long after the opening of trade at the end of the 18th century.
Salted meats in the Caribbean and Campeche
But leaving aside their economic function as smugglers, the buccaneers also brought to the Caribbean their system for preparing smoked meat. Father Labat has left us a nice description of a buccaneer camp and the dinner prepared:
...they had many dried types of meat. Others they were larding and two or three pigs just slaughtered. We dined very merrily and with an appetite. I had had wine and brandy brought, but my negro had forgotten the bread. With them I ate roasted and boiled bananas with meat and then the fatty and lean pork in the form of bread and meat, accompanied by hot sauce. Whether the air, the road, or the novelty had given me more appetite than usual, or whether the meat was more tender and appetizing, I think I ate about four pounds.
In spite of having swallowed almost two kilos of that stew, Labat still innocently confesses to us:
...we slept wonderfully, hunger more than dawn awakened us. It was hard to conceive that having eaten so much just a few hours before, my stomach had already digested it. My six men and my negro felt the same need as I did, and the hunters told us that there was no need to wonder about it, for they felt as much appetite as we did and it usually happened to them, because pork eaten in this way is more easily digested.
It is interesting to note a couple of things in this description: the use of plantain cooked with meat, a custom still in vogue in Campeche, especially in the preparation of the Campeche stew and the preparation of pork rinds, because when they say that they ate the fatty and lean pork as bread and meat, they are referring in the first case, without a doubt, to this frying.
Roast suckling pig
Take a fat piglet, kill it, and peel it either with a candle, scraping it with a knife, or with hot water. Then it is opened in half, by the belly and chest, and the guts and other giblets are removed. It is washed well and just split. Each part is placed in a spike, made of sticks of yaya. Put two little forks stuck in the ground. It is put in the middle of the fire and then the espicho is placed in the forks so that the part of the piglet remains on top of the fire, where it is turned until it is toasted with a golden color. It is served with a sour orange sauce, salt, garlic, parsley, and finely chopped onions, with green plantains, roasted or fried according to each person's taste.
However, the most interesting thing is the excellent quality of the meat prepared in the boucan, which according to our informant was elaborated in the following way:
When they kill the pig they skin it and cut all the meat into strips about an inch and a half thick and as long as the piece of meat they carve allows. They sprinkle those strips lightly with crushed salt and leave them there for twenty-four hours, after which they shake off the salt and spread those strips on shelves placed in a tightly closed box in the manner of a stove, in the bottom of which they light a clear fire into which they throw the skins and bones of the pigs they have killed.
As soon as those skins and bones feel the fire they produce a thick smoke that carries away all the salts of the burning matter and those salts, penetrating easily into the meats that are on the shelves, remain there enclosed when those begin to dry, for they are left in that box, which is called boucan until they are dry as a log. Then they are made into bundles of one hundred pounds each, which were formerly given for three pieces of eight, that is, three pesos or escudos of Spain.
This meat can be preserved for years, as long as it is kept in a dry place. In that state, it is dark and does not give any desire to eat it. But it changes color as soon as it is put in warm water for a few moments. It swells, it becomes reddish, with a pleasant smell, it looks like fresh meat, it can be grilled, roasted, stewed, stewed and in a word, in all the sauces in which fresh pork meat is put, with the difference that it is infinitely more tasty and delicate, because it is impregnated with the salts released from the skins and burnt bones, which can only be very good.
In short, the procedure itself consisted of two parts: salting and smoking. The differences with the Spanish system, which was partially used in Campeche, are great. In Spain, for salting, the meat must remain at least two weeks in the salting room, as opposed to the twenty-four hours mentioned by Labat, in addition to the fact that it was necessary to place a weight that exerted pressure on the upper part of the salting room.
A Peninsular recipe from the early nineteenth century gives us the way to prepare a ham: the bones are removed, without tearing the meat too much, cleaning it of all waste or blood, deep cuts are made and it is stuffed with ground salt, and in this way it is put in a brine for three days then hung to air for a day and put in a strong press for another three, from which it is removed and before hanging it, ground saltpeter is put on it and it is smeared with almagre (a type of vinegar). Saltpeter is added to the brine.
The elaboration of hams in the town of San Francisco de Campeche was a successful activity in the second half of the XVIII century and its production was praised as one of the possible exports of the region, although at the beginning of the following century another report indicates that one of the limitations for the export of salted meats was, ironically in a producing region, the low quality of the salt used, probably due to its almost null purification.
Smoking is a method that has two objectives: to impregnate the meat with aromatic products and to ensure its drying, thus guaranteeing its adequate preservation. In general, this method consists of placing the pieces of meat, once salted, over a slow fire that produces a lot of smoke. If the smoking is carried out in a "smoking chamber" such as the boucan described by Father Labat, it takes about eight days, after which the pieces lose approximately a quarter of their weight and acquire the dark color that characterizes them.
The first known recipe in the peninsula in which this method is used is that of a "Lengua en Adobo" ("Tongue in Adobo") provided by Doña María Ignacia Aguirre, at the beginning of the 19th century, in which the tongues are salted for three days, put in the press for another day, and then soaked for 48 hours in a marinade made from vinegar, ground Tabasco pepper, roasted garlic, oregano, green pepper leaves, and crushed ginger. Subsequently, the tongues were pressed for a day, and then finally they were aired and smoked, which guaranteed their preservation for a long time.
Of course, the traditional Spanish system did not contemplate the use of skins and bones to produce smoke as the buccaneers did. In Mexico and the Caribbean, it was frequent to smoke with aromatic leaves such as guava and avocado in order to give the meat a good smell, although the type of firewood used was fundamental.
In general, Caribbean meals were prepared with lard, a custom also typical of the Yucatecan peninsula, in contrast to much of Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries where olive oil was preferred, and France and England where meals were covered with generous amounts of butter. Butter was a commercial product of great demand in the islands and in Campeche, the quality of that elaborated in its region was praised for its whiteness and goodness to be integrated into the most different dishes. Although butter could be obtained through smuggling, the harsh climate caused it to go rancid after a short time, while lard, in its almost liquid state, and olive oil resisted the heat better. However, the high price of the latter meant that it remained as a resource for seasoning, carefully dosed to improve the flavor, being mentioned in several recipes as "good oil" or even more typically as "eating oil".
And besides pork...
The good climate and fertile vegetation of the Caribbean coasts allowed large livestock to spread rapidly. Thus, by the end of the 16th century, we know that in Hispaniola and other islands, the herds had spread both on ranches and freely throughout almost all their territory, with thousands in the wild, considered a hunting product, an activity to which many whites and blacks were dedicated to obtaining the hides, a commodity in great demand in Spain, leaving the meat abandoned, which caused epidemics (Acosta, 1985:195).
According to another friar of the time, meat was so cheap in New Spain that all the poor ate it (Ajofrín, 1986:75). However, it is more probable that the consumption of the popular classes was limited to the giblets, of which numerous forms of preparation still survive. Of course, the main place is occupied by mondongo, with its numerous variants: criollo, habanero, Cuban, and the well-known Andalusian; but the legs, livers, kidneys, brains, marrow, tongue, and small intestines were not unimportant. All of them were very common and an important part of the daily diet, much more than steaks, ribs, minced meat, sausages, stews, stews, and "ropa vieja", reserved for merchants and landowners, or for holidays, when it was possible to spend more.
But the most widespread form of consumption of beef was in the indispensable pots and stews, the daily food of most Creoles and Spaniards. The "Cuban pot" had, for example, veal kidneys, along with pork, bacon, and chicken, mixed with all the vegetable products of the Caribbean countryside: plantains, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beans, malangas, yuccas, cabbage sprouts, turnips, eggplants, tayotes, Castilian pumpkins, tomatoes, garlic, and onions. All seasoned with cumin, coriander, black pepper, and saffron.
Goats were less common in the islands, and both meat and skin were used, but especially tallow, which was used for lamps, although it was not considered of very good quality. The rams were mainly demanded by the Spaniards, accustomed to their ample consumption in their native land, but in the Caribbean region, they were scarce and expensive, compared to the prodigal quantity of cattle and pigs.
From the sea and the sky
After pork, the great favorite of the islands was that of the turtle, which must have been very abundant at that time and which had an additional advantage over any type of meat: a turtle captured in the hold of a ship could survive several months feeding on the water and the small organisms that seeped into it. The ways of preparing a turtle were extremely varied: it is put in all kinds of sauces, it is made in soup, as if it were beef or mutton, it is grilled on skewers, it is eaten in pieces covered with slices of bacon, in marinade, stewed in fricassee, its intestines are very good and its legs are excellent, says a traveler of the time. Apart from the custom of transporting them alive in the holds of the ships, we have news that another way of preserving them as a provision for the voyages consisted of salting and smoking them.
Manatee meat was also still consumed, still considered a fish, the "fish with hands", although the French already called it a sea cow, recognizing that it is a mammal. It was very celebrated for its exquisite meat, compared to pork, but even tastier. The recipes for its preparation were similar to those of pigs, frying it with lard of this type.
In this respect we must remember that salting and smoking were almost the only ways of preserving food and that Europeans, except those coming from the coasts or used to navigation, were not accustomed to the consumption of fresh fish, that is why one of the most appreciated goods in the region was cod, and since the supply was difficult, substitutes were sought, such as sea bass, which enjoyed wide favor, even becoming export merchandise from several ports, among them Campeche.
Practically every region had a recipe for preparing cod or substitutes, there were recipes ranging from the best known "a la vizcaína", to other rarer ones such as "a la granadina", with parsley and lots of garlic; "a la canaria", with saffron and potatoes; "a la italiana", with sweet chiles; and an endless number of other recipes named after American and European cities. Lima, Veracruz, Camagüey and Rome figured in this universe of dried fish.
Among poultry, the favorites were still chickens, hens and turkeys, both fresh and smoked, but especially the latter, turkeys or guajolotes, considered festive dishes. Besides them, in some places partridges and turtledoves were raised, as well as pigeons and pigeons.
As a result of hunting, wood pigeons were in great demand, especially when the seeds of the palo de campeche -palo de tinte- matured, which, according to the stories, these birds passionately liked, fattening them wonderfully and giving their meat a very pleasant smell of cloves and nutmeg. The pigeons gained so much weight that they were very easy to hunt, the slightest touch of a projectile was enough to make them fall to the ground, sometimes shooting two or more birds with a single shot. The way to prepare them was very entertaining, since each hunter plucked his prey, splitting it in half and skewering it diagonally on a spit from one thigh to the opposite wing, planting his spit in front of the fire, turning it from time to time, although it was recommended to eat it almost raw, seasoned with just a little salt and lemon or sour orange.
From the land
In the islands, where corn is difficult to grow and wheat is a luxury import, the common bread was based on yucca, a tuber that was cut into small pieces and then grated, to be later squeezed, resulting in a thin and very large and wide tortilla, which when dried was eaten as bread. The name of this product was cazabe (cassava), a food that enjoyed great diffusion due to its durability and resistance. Europeans, mainly the English, soon adopted it and it was carried on ships instead of sponge cakes or wheat flour cookies. The only disadvantage of cazabe was its poor taste, but it was considered very healthy and nutritious. The cassava breads had to be eaten moistened, because dry they were rough and scratchy, but soaked in water or broth they produced an excellent porridge.
Although the cassava was not used by the majority of the population of the peninsular, it was surely known and enjoyed high esteem among the sectors dedicated to navigation, especially in Campeche.
No less important were the sweet potatoes. The edible part of the plant is the tuber, while leaves and stems were used as fodder for horses and oxen, but especially for pigs, which were extremely fattened, providing firmness to their meat and bacon. The sweet potatoes were a good part of the diet of the modest class settlers, they were cooked in a pot with little water and salt, covering them with their leaves. Shortly after, the cauldron was lowered from the fire and covered with a thick cloth in order to enclose the smoke inside and finish cooking them over low heat. That time was dedicated to the preparation of a spicy sauce with lemon juice, crushed chili, and salt, which was the complement of the sweet potatoes that were eaten once peeled, dipping them in the sauce.
Baby goat or venison suckling
A baby goat, lamb, or small deer is taken, the skin is removed, the guts are taken out and thrown away, as well as the rest of the giblets. After washing, it is chopped with bacon, ham, parsley, mint, garlic, marjoram, onions, and fine spices, both peppers, and coriander, well crushed, hard-boiled eggs, and capers. It is stuffed on the inside with butter and on the outside with salt. It is cooked and then put in a casserole to boil with lard, vinegar, and oregano until it is cooked in a slow fire, and you will see what an exquisite snack it is.
The sweet potatoes were also used in stews, because as Father Labat mentions: when they are cooked with meat to eat them instead of bread, as our buccaneers, hunters of Santo Domingo and many colonists do, it is enough to wash them well without peeling them and put them in the pot when the meat foams. They are cooked this way and taking advantage of the fat of the meat, they communicate to this one their juice and their smell. They are peeled and cut into quarters when you want to cook them with the meat as it is done with turnips, carrots, and other roots, then they melt entirely and give a thick stew like puree, very good taste.
They could be elaborated in other ways and some of the most liked were as jams and candies: they are eaten in desserts as fruits. After cooking them under hot ashes, they are peeled and served sprinkled with sweetened orange juice. They are often eaten hot, without adding anything to them, because being cooked that fruit always carries its sauce with it and is always good. I even think it is healthier that way. Dug and extracted in dry weather, the sweet potato is preserved for more than a year. They were so popular at that time that they gave rise to a proverb: "those who return to Europe after having eaten sweet potatoes, return to the islands to continue eating them".
By this time a grain that had surely become an important part of the diet had already become an important part of the region: rice, a crop introduced by the Arabs in the south of Spain, but which was soon harvested in some very humid regions of America, such as the south of Campeche. Already in the 18th century, it had been built into one of the exports of that port, being taken to Havana and Veracruz, praised for its whiteness, thickness, weight, and taste, and compared to that of Valencia, the most famous in Spain.
Among the vegetables used in the Caribbean, we have the native tomato, corn, cassava, sweet potato, beans, malanga, yam, okra, and pumpkins, which were soon joined by bananas, onions, potatoes, eggplants, cabbage, garlic, carrots, peas, cucumbers, beets, scallions, celery, watercress, turnips, radishes, among others that have been shaping the way of feeding the islands. Fruits, on the other hand, had more problems, because, with the exception of a few, the European fruits from more temperate climates did not withstand the adaptation process. Only the native guavas, pineapples, avocados, papayas, and mameyes, just to mention the best known, could join the Asian and African fruits that were quickly accepted and spread, such as bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, limes, sour oranges, tamarinds and mangoes, and some other Mediterranean fruits that although they were produced were less frequent, figs and pomegranates among them.
As a center of exchange between different countries, a multitude of spices were known and traded in the Caribbean and formed an important part of a large number of recipes: parsley, thyme, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard, pepper, coarse pepper, oregano, cumin, saffron, aniseed, achiote, sesame, sugar, paprika and dried coconut; they mixed their flavors with wine or cane vinegars, olive oil, honey, cane molasses, and sherry wine, configuring the richness of flavors and smells that characterize the area. The diet of the Caribbean inhabitants was complemented by a large number of Spanish and European products that were exchanged for island sugar and other goods that were scarce in Europe. Raisins, olives, almonds, capers, prunes, figs, apples, walnuts, and chestnuts joined some cheeses such as the Dutch patagras, the "ball" or gouda cheese, and some preserves such as Serrano ham and anchovies, to finish configuring one of the regions of the world where the confluence of products and cultures so different created such rich and varied gastronomy, synthesis and conjunction of the four basic flavors: sweet, salty, bitter and spicy.
Stews and casseroles
Perhaps due to the scarce indigenous presence in the Caribbean, violently eliminated after several epidemics and forced labor, the colonial culinary laboratory in the islands was frankly influenced by the traditions of the European conquerors. Although some forms of preparation with strong native roots remained in the popular taste, such as barbecues and roasts, the great majority of the recipes of the time leaned towards the use of casseroles. The pots and stews, of daily use, were joined by casseroles and less frequently by frying, although sometimes frying was only one step in the preparation of the baroque stews and casseroles.
In the Yucatan peninsula, the indigenous forms of preparation were preserved as the Mayan population resisted the violent process of colonization. Thus, tamales, "pibiles" or barbacoas, asados, "salcochos" and adobos, alternated with the European forms of cooking, configuring the peninsular culinary panorama.
The taste of the islands: el sofrito
A fundamental part of the recipes of the Colony and even of our times is the use of "sofrito", a Spanish tradition that did not take long to be naturalized in the Caribbean, where other ingredients from the New World were incorporated into this mixture, a basic recipe that in turn returned to Spain to end up defining a large number of dishes now considered of the strongest Hispanic tradition.
Returning to Carballo (1995:25), we can affirm that sofrito: "is the cornerstone of Caribbean cuisine, the flavor of the islands. It is the Caribbean version of the sautéed fragrant vegetable mixtures used in many different cuisines - the Italian "battuto", the French "mirepoix", and the Catalan "sofregit". Like its European counterparts, sofrito is used as an aromatic base in the preparation of many soups, stews, and sauces.
As with any form of everyday preparation, sofrito recipes vary greatly. In its simplest version, sofrito can be a mixture of chopped garlic and onions, lightly sautéed. The recipe can also include vegetables and herbs, such as sweet green or red chiles, tomatoes, and cilantro. There are countless versions, and each region, city, neighborhood, family and even the cook him or herself takes pride in preserving the "authentic" recipe, but in fact, all sofritos begin with the basic ingredients already mentioned, and almost all Spanish Caribbean recipes begin with "make a sofrito with...".
Cut in small pieces the liver or offal of the pork or mutton, herbs in water with salt until it softens well, add some ground Tabasco Castilla pepper, garlic, onions, tomatoes in pieces, the corresponding lard, boil again thickening the broth with some toasted bread or flour, and flavoring it with orange or vinegar, it will boil for a while.
The cuisine of Campeche and the Yucatán peninsula are inscribed in this vast Caribbean world of sofrito, to the point of building a defining factor that unites it with the other former Spanish colonies. The basic regional recipe has as its starting point the white lard where garlic, onions, and tomatoes are fried, to which is added, according to the recipe, some variety of chili, from the mildly sweet, red or green; the strongest "xcatic" or güero; to the violent but tasty habanero. The old recipe books speak of other scents that were added to the mixture to make it even more complex, coriander oregano, pepper, cumin, saffron, or achiote are some of these scents now practically in disuse.
By José Enrique Ortiz Lanz, Source: Diario de campo. This work is an excerpt from a book chapter by the author via INAH