Carlos Frias at El Palacio de los Jugos with an array of Cuban dishes
I think it was in the early 2000s that I started making an annual pilgrimage to Miami.
At first, it was ostensibly for work. I’m not just a pretty face and seized on the chance to have the Toronto Star – Canada’s largest newspaper for which I was food editor/columnist for 18 years – authorize my attendance at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival as a paid assignment.
I did just that for several years cruising the long, crowded, noisy tasting tents located on the beach, interviewing celebrity chefs and Food Network stars like Martha Stewart and hobnobbing with the glitzy crowd of who’s who and hungry wannabes at lavish outdoor parties along the way. Not a bad five days in mid-February for a food journalist used to sub-zero temperatures and based in the frozen north.
When I resigned from the Star in 2007, I was pretty well addicted to my sunny midwinter Miami escape. Most years, I went alone. One time, I rented a condo for a month and my friend Rita, then my daughter Esther visited.
On one occasion, I stayed at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel – in an 11th floor room with a balcony facing the ocean. I heard tales from an elderly bell-hop about the Rat Pack and Marilyn Monroe, how the famous men in that group treated her badly and what a stunning beauty she was. Today, they’ve turned much of the place into condos but the bar, its celebrated ceiling and the pool that appears in several well-known movies remain intact.
Miami – and South Beach in particular – is always restorative because of the sun, the ocean, beautiful art-deco, pastel-painted buildings, the lively vibe – and delicious food.
Hear my podcast of a few years ago for some of my tried-and-true favourite offerings. But this year’s visit has yielded some new discoveries – thanks to Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frias.
Enter El Palacio de los Jugos: a delectable cornucopia of Cuban food. There are four Miami locations. My partner Ross rented a car and we drove the 18 or so kilometers from our South Beach hotel to the one at 1545 SW 27th Ave.
What awaited us was amazing. Several vendors had long steam tables displaying hot food. There was a pork section comprising at least a dozen dishes, a seafood array of fish, shrimp and lobster totalling about 20 different creations and mostly root vegetables (my favourite is the creamy steamed yucca) and absolutely no salad! There were, of course juices as per the name of the place. There were also Cuban pastries, most notably the crisp, flaky one stuffed with guava paste.
Few vendors spoke English and I made myself clear by pointing.
I can’t wait to go back to Miami mainly to re-visit El Palacio. Too much luscious Cuban food, too little time.
Meanwhile, here’s a dish from Carlos for a sweet and simple meat dish – a kind of Cuban version of mince’n’tatties.
Carlos uses ground turkey in his recipe. I used ground beef. Sofrito is a sauce made from a variety of cooked ingredients such as oil, chopped onions, green bell peppers, garlic and various herbs, and is used as flavoring. I found it bottled in a Hispanic food store in Kensington Market. I used only ground beef and served the picadillo the first time on top of mashed potatoes, the second time as one topping for tostadas. Delish!
1 lb/500g ground turkey or lean ground beef (or mixture of both)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp cumin
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp capers, drained
1 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup sofrito
Chopped fresh parsley
In a large nonstick skillet, cook turkey or beef over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Stir in raisins, oregano and cumin; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in water, vinegar, capers, olive oil and sofrito; cook 5 minutes or until slightly thick. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with steamed rice and black beans.
Makes about 4 servings.