“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed.Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”
Julia Child, My Life in France
Thankfully in my case, I have no cat so one didn’t fall into this delicious stew I had prepared a couple of weeks ago. While there are so many great sounding recipes I am anxious to try out in my new cookbook, The Cuban Table, I’ve been testing the waters you could say by first making the simple and delectable dessert natilla, and now most recently, a cornmeal stew with crab. If you’ve never had cornmeal before, you’re not missing “that” much. On its own, it’s rather plain tasting and as the cookbook notes, its “synonymous with hard times,” (cornmeal is extremely inexpensive to purchase and you can definitely get full from just eating it, hence that’s all what some people would eat at one time), so it’s not the poshest or most extravagant of foods. However, that’s where sauteed vegetables, spices, and crab come into play.
To keep things simple and costs somewhat lower, I just went with canned crab meat. This is the type of crab I use when I make my own crab cakes and for use in a stew I saw no reason to have to purchase fresh lump crab meat. Unlike some stews that take a while to cook, this was pretty quick to whip up and if you’re cooking for just two, you will definitely have enough for a second meal. The only thing is it’s imperative that you are whisking the cornmeal constantly when adding it in with the water (as the recipe below notes); I thought I was but I still ended up with some rather chunky lumps. It didn’t detract from the taste and as the great Madame Child once said, “the cook must learn from her mistakes” which I plan to.
This is the perfect dish to make on a cold winter’s night. And although I had always envisioned one of Cuba’s more iconic dishes as being the first entree I’d make (i.e. Cuban sandwich, ropa vieja), I’m quite pleased with my little ‘ol crab dish all the same.
Harina con Cangrejo
recipe adapted from Ana Sofia Pelaez’ The Cuban Table
FOR THE CORNMEAL
1 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE ENCHILADA
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and diced
1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and diced
1 medium white onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
One 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 dried bay leaf
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimenton (Spanish-style paprika; regular paprika will also work)
2 6 ounce cans of crab meat, drained
Tabasco or similar hot pepper sauce
Fresh lime wedges
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy 5- to 6-quart pot. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly until well blended so that no lumps form (this is key). Lower the heat to medium-low, stirring frequently until the cornmeal begins to pull away from the sides of the pot but is still creamy and smooth, 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the green and red peppers, onion, and garlic, and saute until the onion is soft and translucent, 6-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, bay leaf, salt, black pepper and paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Add the crab and warm until just heated through, 3-5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Divide the cooked cornmeal into individual bowls and top with the crab mixture. Sprinkle with Tabasco sauce or lime juice to taste.