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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

José Andrés’ recipe for comfort in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

By Vilina Phan

José Andrés knows food. Just look at the multi-hyphenate's accolades from Michelin stars to James Beard awards. But his latest efforts haven’t been in a traditional kitchen—instead, they have been focused on Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Just a few days after the devastation in 2017 he traveled to the island and started cooking—but not just any dish, he wanted the food to remain familiar and local, and so he prepared traditional foods like sancocho, arroz de tripleta, and paella as a way to provide comfort.

Courtesy of World Central Kitchen
These three dishes made sense as they’re everyday foods eaten in the home. Sancocho—the ratatouille of Puerto Rico—is a simple rustic stew that has innumerable variations (with each person claiming their family makes it best). Although it is found in many Latin American countries, the Puerto Rican sancocho has a few standout characteristics: corn on the cob, a variety of tubers (potatoes, yams, taro, etc.), guineos (unripe banana), sofrito, and sazón (a mix of spices). Often, Puerto Rican sancocho will also include chicken and smoked ham, top round beef, pork feet and chickpeas, or beef short ribs and chorizo. Mix in celery, carrot, ginger, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, and a dash of wine and rum and serve that over some rice, and it’s no wonder that Puerto Ricans felt hope as their minds and bodies were nourished.

Tripleta is quintessentially Puerto Rican—referring to triple meats of marinated cube steak, ham, and pork. It’s typically eaten as a sandwich and is considered street food. Andrés added his twist and served it with rice. He also made paella, another flavorful rice dish, which originated in Spain but is nonetheless familiar to Puerto Ricans, who love the seafood version of the rice dish.

Courtesy of World Central Kitchen
Andrés’ mission was to serve real food to people in need, and that is precisely what he and his team did. They drove around the island using food trucks, set up shop in towns and churches, and made sure everyone received food—they gave sancocho to children on the street and arroz de tripleta to families in remote mountains and beyond.

It has been one year since Hurricane Maria, and José Andrés is hopeful about the future of the island. Hear him in conversation with TV journalist Soledad O’Brien as he speaks about his experience in Puerto Rico on September 11 at 7:30pm, and celebrate the launch of his new book, We Fed an Island.

Unbound: José Andrés

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