Sunday, February 1, 2009

Harina de Maiz Con Patas de Cangrejo (Cuban Polenta with Crab Legs)

It doesn't get more messy and home-style than this. These are crab legs and claws cooked in a flavorful cornmeal pudding with a strong cuban sofrito and spices. This dish is VERY MESSY! The crab legs and claws are smothered in polenta, you got to use your hands and teeth and dig in that's how you eat this, and a spoon to eat the polenta, but for the most part you'll be using your hand and mouth to break the crab leg pieces and suck the polenta stuck to them, the delicious polenta even get's inside the crab legs so good. I suggest you eat this with family and close friends because it is not a dish to be practicing one's "manners"

Cubans refer to cornmeal used to make "polenta" type dishes as "Harina de Maiz" which means "Flour of Corn" if translated directly. We use regular fine yellow corn meal for this stuff.

Cuban cornmeal based dishes are almost non-existent in Cuban restaurants from what I have seen and I really don't know why they aren't in Cuban restaurant menu's. I'm sure many would love them.

In Cuban cooking cornmeal was used to make cormeal porridges similar to polenta that are flavored with typical Cuban seasonings, and then meat or seafood is added, such as pork, shrimp, or crab that's how it is in my household. Also cornmeal can be boiled with water or milk and sweetened with sugar to have it as a breakfast, or simply just boiled with water and salt to use in place of rice in Cuban cooking. We also have a dessert called "Majarete" (Sweet Cuban Corn pudding) which can be made with a really fine ground cormeal. Eventually in my blog I will have all the cornmeal dishes that I enjoy in my house posted to share with all of you.

Anyways in Oriente provinces (Eastern Cuba) my grandma told me that plain boiled salted cornmeal was usually associated with "poor people food" as it was cheap and filling, and during the depression it was popular. OF COURSE she says that many people consumed it simply because they enjoyed it (such as her and her family which where never poor in Cuba and fortunate enough to leave before that revolution and Castro's conquest of Cuba)

Just so you guys know when I speak of Cuban cooking I speak of pre-castro, as in 1950's and way more back as in the food my grandmother and grandfathers family cooked a long time ago and passed on through generations which eventually ended up with me still preserving their cooking and eating habits.

-2 lbs. crab legs and claws (washed well, and torn into segments like seperate them at each joint into sections)
-2 cups yellow cornmeal
-10 cups water
-1 medium onion minced
-1 medium or small green bell pepper minced
-1/2 a head of garlic peeled mashed to a paste (garlic press or mortar)
-extra-virgin olive oil
-salt to taste (about 2 tsp. or more)
-1/2- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 teaspoon "Bijol" (annato seed/ achiote powder)

(1)Have everything chopped and ready. In a large pot, bring 10 cups water to a boil WITH NO SALT.

(2)Meanwhile heat generous amounts of olive oil in a pan, sautee onions and bell pepper until translucent (5-7 minutes) add garlic and sautee until fragrant. You may add a few pinches of salt in there. Stir and set aside in pan leave it alone. Turn off heat.

(3)Get cornmeal and put it in a bowl, wash it in cold water twice. Yes you heard wash it to remove excess starch. You do this by putting it in a big bowl, adding water and swooshing your hands, then letting it sit less than a minute so the cornmeal sinks back down just a bit and pouring water out. Do this twice.

(4)Add this to the boiling water and stir constantly (this is the toughest part if you don't stir constantly it will lump on you) stir well on high heat until it comes to a bubbling boil (you do not want this hot bubbling cornmeal to jump at you it hurts). When it's boiling lower to low heat, cook it for a total of 15 minutes.

(5)When cooking for 15 minutes, lower heat to very low, add cumin, bijol, salt to taste, and "sofrito" (onion, garlic, bell pepper sautee in olive oil), stir well, add crab legs and claws and brin to medium heat stir gently for about 5 more minutes until flavors come through, taste if it needs more salt.

(6)It's DONE! You do not want to serve this piping hot it WILL BURN YOU! Let it sit a bit, then serve it.

You serve this as a stand alone dish if you wish a light salad or some vegetable dish in a separate plate may be served.


My grandmother does this "a lo Gallego" very rustic and carefree, the crab shells really add much flavor to the dish, IT IS MESSY AND FUN! I suggest you try it :)


La Vita Deliziosa said...

isn't polenta the best? I am working on posting a Polenta blog at the moment as well.

Mamey said...

Nathan: This is one of my favorite down home dishes! There is a little place in South Miami that serves 'harina con jaiva' almost everyday. I can't remember the name, but I will try to find out for any readers who may be interested.

Nathan said...

La Vita Deliziosa,
Polenta is the best I love it! Looking forward to your posts :)

One of my favorite dishes to. I love with shrimp to, some "Harina de Maiz Con Camarones" is very good, you make it the same as the recipe I posted, except you just stir in clean shrimp towards the end. If my grandma wants to make a quick "Tamal en Cazuela" she'll cut pork really small, then brown it, and make the sofrito cooking the pork with it, but when she makes it with pork she adds tomato to the sofrito and let's the meat cook a bit.

It sounds good with "Jaiva" to. :)

Karen Brown Letarte said...

This looks amazing, Nathan! I didn't know that cornmeal puddings were popular in Cuban cuisine too. I love polenta, but rarely eat it, as it is not good for my blood sugar... I never would have thought to try it with crab legs, it must be delicious!

Nathan said...

Karen Brown Letarte,
It is delicious the crab legs bones gives it a very delicious strong crab flavor, it's flavor comes through very well. Glad I can share something new with those interested :) Ugh I wish stuff like Polenta, white rice, and bread didn't have such high glycemic index's and spike insulin, I eat stuff like white rice on a daily basis, and it's so hard to avoid that stuff, I hope I don't diabetic ever (good thing it doesn't seem to run in my family because no one has it, not even my Grandmother who is 84, eats white rice everyday and goes through a 3 pounds bag of sugar every month)

I think like with everything moderation is key.

Núria said...

Here in Spain, during and after the war, people would eat Farinetes (catalan word that translated would be harinitas). I think it was something really similar to what your grandmom tells... something it would fill up hungry people's stomachs.

I've never done it myself and the addition of crabs makes me want to try it :D

I finally bought some yuca!!!!!!! Hopefully this weekend will be the day!

Nathan said...

Im excited to know how your Yuca comes out :)If you've never had cormeal/ polenta or "Harina de Maiz" I suggest you try it it is VERY delicious and versatile.

Mamey said...

Nathan: The polenta is also a good match for 'bacalao a la vizcaina.'
Some local Cuban restaurants make 'bacalao con papas' and wrongly call it 'a la vizcaina.' Back in Havana my Mom would alternate between the two on most Fridays, but sometimes she would make 'pargo frito,' or 'serrucho en escabeche' instead.

Nathan said...

I have a couple questions (that I hope you can answer me)

What is the difference between "Aporreado de Bacalao" and "Bacalao a la Vizcaina"?

What makes Bacalao a la Vizcaina be "a la Vizcaina" like what part makes it be considered "a la Vizcaina"

I asked my grandmother she told me "Apporeado de Bacalao" is just "Bacalao desalado, en un sofrito simple na'mas tomate, aji, ajo, cebolla y sal, na'da mas ni menos y si quieres puedes meterle papas o boniato"

Then "a la Vizcaina" she told me it had more spices, it has the sofrito, sometimes wine, and bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt, etc. and potatoes.

I'm still unsure though.

Bren said...

i looove polenta. imma have to try ur version. im always so curious to see how we cook different ways...

Anonymous said...

Instead of using water, is milk acceptable? If so, is the proportion the same?

Nathan said...

Sorry milk is not acceptable here (you could still do it no one can stop you, but I wouldn't suggest it, why would you want to mix milk into this? it's just not used for this type of thing)

We have a dessert that uses a finer cornmeal that uses milk but for this I really don't recommend it.

We've never use it for this type of stuff... and it would just be funky in my opinion...

Anonymous said...

Mamey: Where's the restaurant? ?