Few things leave me speechless. If you knew me well you’d agree. I was the kind of kid who probably made her mom wish she were deaf once in a while.
This week — in what must be an auspicious alignment of the planets — two things did leave me stunned, if only briefly: this “Surf and Turf” Rice, and another even more incredible event.
I first heard the news from a friend blogger (and fellow nominee) on Facebook, to which I hastily replied in monosyllables, and possibly an excess of punctuation. I then got an email that made it official: Our blog is a finalist of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blogs Awards in the Regional Cuisine category.
This, my beloved reader, is the food blogging equivalent of an Oscar nomination. We are most certainly honored by the nomination –and did I mention stunned?
We are elated, even if it is in the equivalent of Best Movie in a Foreign Language; but considering a most brilliant French blog won last year, I am fine with that.
Now, let’s go back to this colorful, mouthwatering dish.
I’ll have to forgive you if at first glance you thought it was a paella. It isn’t, but it was inspired by one: a dish made by my friend Sagrario when we spent two days working on her magazine. It occurred to me that it could be adapted to typical Dominican ingredients with equally good results. It worked.
I used camarones de Sánchez, shrimp from a local town that is famous for its tasty shrimp, and longaniza (spicy pork sausage) instead of Spanish chorizo. But the change I am happiest about was using bija in lieu of saffron.
Bija is a tree that grows locally; the seeds of its alien-looking fruit have been used since before the first European stepped off the boat. Bija, also known as anato, achiote — and annatto in English — is used throughout the Caribbean, where it has come to be known as “the poor man’s saffron” (yeah, I know turmeric bears that name too, but it is hardly used around here).
The seeds can be ground, steeped in oil, or gently cooked in oil to extract the color. The fresher the seeds the more color they will yield. Its taste is gentle so it will hardly affect the final dish, letting the other spices and ingredients speak louder.
In the end I had a very juicy, flavorful and colorful plate of “surf and turf” rice. The perfect dish to celebrate good news with.
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon of bija (annatto) seeds
- 1 lb [0.25 kg] longaniza , cut into 1" [2.5 cm]-slices
- 2 red bell peppers
- 4 cloves of garlic , crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup of diced auyama (West Indies pumpkin)
- 1/3 cup of olives
- 2 cups of long-grain rice
- 2 1/2 cup of boiling-hot chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 1/2 [0.7 kg] lb shrimp , peeled and deveined
- 1/4 cup of green peas
Heat oil over very low heat in a large (3 quart [3 lt] thick-bottomed pot.
Cook bija in the oil, stirring gently for a minute, or until the oil turns bright orange in color.
Scoop out the bija seeds leaving the oil. Add the longaniza and increase heat to medium-low. Cook longaniza until it is light brown all over, stirring as necessary.
Add peppers, garlic, bay leaves, auyama and olives. Cook and stir for a minute.
Add rice and cook stirring until all the rice is coated in oil (about a minute).
Pour in the chicken stock, stir to mix all the ingredients. Taste and add salt to taste if you find it necessary.
Simmer over medium-low heat until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Mix in shrimp and peas.
Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes.
Uncover and stir, moving the rice from the bottom to the top. Cover again and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Uncover and taste rice, it should be cooked through, it it isn't, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.