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Feliz Dia De Los Reyes!

January 3, 2010

Christmas may be over for most of you but for Puerto Ricans we still have 3 Kings Day to look forward to on January 6th.  You may also know this holiday as the Epiphany.  In Spanish we say El Dia Del Los Reyes.  This is the last day or 12th day of Christmas as in the classic song although most people think the countdown to the big day starts 12 days before the 25th of December but actually Christmas day is the first day in the 12 Days of Christmas.  This is an extra special holiday for my family because we are proud to bear the surname Reyes! And the Reyes’ love to eat on the holidays so I want to share with you some of our traditional recipes for the holidays.

First off we have the traditional drink: Coquito! It’s a creamy coconut concoction made with rum. My mom is not shy with the rum but you can adjust the amounts to your liking.

Bottles of Coquito

What you will need:

  • 1 Liter of Bacardi Rum (You’re making a Puerto Rican drink, use Puerto Rican Rum!)
  • 4 cans of Coco Lopez cream of coconut
  • 3 cans each of condensed and evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ground cinnamon to taste
  • ground cloves to taste
  • fresh nutmeg to taste

I find the best method to mix all of these ingredients is in a large bowl.  Whisk everything together but the rum.  Taste the mix to make sure you have the right amount of spice.  Adjust if necessary and then slowly add the rum.  My mom usually uses the entire handle of Bacardi but you can add however much you like. Mix all the ingredients well and pour into bottles.  We use empty bottles of rum that we’ve saved throughout the year to store the coquito but you can use any glass container that has a well fitting lid or cap.  It is best to make the coquito a day or two ahead and store it in the fridge.  This allows for all the flavors to meld together and give you a wonderfully creamy and flavorful nog.  I call it proofing the nog!

Another must have at any Puerto Rican holiday celebration is the Pernil or Roast Pork.  In Puerto Rico it’s done the traditional way: a whole pig on a spit roasted over hot coals.

Lechon Asado - Roast Pig

We don’t have the time nor the space to roast an entire pig so we just use the pork shoulder.  Get yourself a good size pork shoulder from your grocery store or butcher and lots of fresh garlic, or what I had to do, get two smaller one because I procrastinated and all the big ones were taken.  Either way make sure you get enough so you have left overs for pork roast sandwiches.  Rinse your roast thoroughly with cold water and dry it off.  Set the meat aside and start peeling your garlic.  For a large roast we use about one nice fat head of garlic.  Dust off your mortar and pestle or as we call it, el pilon, and mash up the garlic cloves with some olive oil and dried oregano leaves.

Pilon Con Ajo

But if you are pressed for time put all your garlic cloves in a food processor and mince it with your olive oil then mix in the oregano.  Also while you’re in the grocery store take a trip up the ethnic foods aisle and pick yourself up a bottle of Goya’s Adobo seasoning.  It’s a staple in our spice cabinet.  The adobo contains salt, pepper, garlic powder and tumeric.  Place your roast into a roasting pan and dust the roast with adobo, then give it several good pokes with a sharp knife to create spaces for the garlic paste to crawl into.  Massage the garlic paste and some olive oil into the roast taking care to get your mixture into all the holes you made in the flesh.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for no less than 4 hours. Check it after about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.   My mom let’s he roast marinate over night then gets up at dawn and puts it in the oven and goes back to bed.  By the time she gets up again the roast is almost done.  About 15 to 20 minutes before the pernil is done remove the foil and turn your oven up to about 425 and let the skin on top of the pork crisp up, this is my favorite part! We call it chicharron…it’s a coveted piece of the roast.  This is what you end up with:


The crispy exterior gives way to a juicy interior that your family will gobble up quickly!  The garlic permeates the entire roast and makes your house smell like a Puerto Rican dream!  I cut into it and the meat fell apart, it was so juicy and moist. It’s the slow roasting that does the trick.

The pernil is always served with arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas.  This rice dish is always served at the holidays or at any special occasion.  Here’s what you will need:

  • A Caldero, it’s the workhorse of the latin kitchen. I recommend you pick one up for your kitchen.  You’ll find you can use it for many dishes.  Imusa has several good calderos.  If you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with a bodega you can pick one up there among other latin kitchen equipment.
  • 2 cups short grain rice
  • 4 -5 cups of hot water
  • 1/2 cup sofrito, this is a mix of peppers, garlic, cilantro and other things that we use to season a lot of our dishes.  Save some time and pick up a container of the pre made stuff in the freezer section of your local grocery store. Most stores carry sofrito now.
  • One 16oz can of gandules
  • 1/2 cup chorice sausage cut up into cubes. This addition gives the rice a nice smoky flavor.
  • 1/4 cup of roughly chopped green olives or capers, or you can use a mixture of both.
  • 1 packet of Sazon with achiote. This is a packet of seasoning you can find next to the adobo.
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

To your caldero you want to add the olive oil, chorice, tomato sauce, olives, sofrito and sazon and cook over a medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Add the gandules and rice and enough water so it comes up about 1 inch over the rice.  Start adding the salt by the teaspoonful until your satisfied with the taste.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook on high heat until most of the water has been absorbed.  At this point you want to stir the rice from the bottom to the top gently, but only do this once or twice otherwise you will end up with mushy rice. Not good.  Cover the caldero and turn the heat to low and cook for about another 30 minutes or until the rice in tender.

Arroz Con Gandules

Now if you want to be a true Puerto Rican you will the let the rice cook long enough so you get a nice crust on the bottom of the caldero until you get what we call ‘el pegao.’  This is the crispy layer of rice that forms in the bottom of the caldero but you can only achieve this ‘pegao’ by using enough oil so the rice crisps up.  It’s a skill that is learned after practicing this recipe several times.  But ultimately it’s the arroz con gandules that will make your holiday dinner extra special.

So I’ve given you 3 classic Puerto Rican recipes you can add to recipe box and wow your family and friends. But you don’t have to wait for a holiday to make any of these recipes.  If you make any of these recipes please let me know how they turned out for you.  Put your own twist on them if you want.  That’s what makes great times in the kitchen!

Happy New Year and Feliz Dia De Los Reyes!

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