Sofrito is probably one of the most misunderstood ingredients you may encounter in a recipe. The word itself means many things to different people, as Wikipedia helpfully sorts through in its entry on the subject. The frito in the name should clue you into that you will be pan-frying something to obtain a flavor base. Sofrito is not a pesto or chimichurri – it must be cooked with at least oil for the flavor to truly come through. Where do you want the flavor to come through? Soups, rices, beans, stews, picadillos (seasoned ground meat)… the list goes on. Sofrito and Spanish-style tomato sauce (the one in the small 8 ounce cans) are my secret weapon to make food that tastes like home.
Every sofrito is different – but most include peppers (cubanelle or green bell, and ajicitos – tiny non-spicy peppers), onion, garlic, cilantro and a saw-edge herb known as culantro or recao. Some people add tomato, others add oil directly to the mixture, or even cooking ham (smoked picnic ham). Traditionally, these aromatics are pureéd, but they can also be finely chopped like in a mirepoix/trinity and I just learned that other islands make liquid versions. That makes me feel slightly less remorseful about yelling to the TV in the No Reservations Puerto Rico episode. Anthony Bourdain’s companion, a New Yorker from Puerto Rican descent, showed him a bottle of homemade hot sauce at a lechonera and said that was sofrito. I was livid! Thankfully, local master chef Alfredo Ayala set the record straight on the classic preparation before the end of the show.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I am a sofrito snob. Up until a few years ago, I would only use my mother’s and recently I discovered a very good version at the organic farmers’ market that even she approved of. Most commercially available sofrito has a sour/vinegary aftertaste from preservatives, so it is best to make your own or to find someone to make it for you from scratch. I have been running low and with my parents enjoying a deserved vacation over New Year’s, I knew it was time to step up and make my own. To this day I am not entirely sure I got my proportions completely right because you cannot taste it and just tell, but by tasting while cooking you might be able to tweak and add extra herbs or aromatics if you deem so.
The most artful whirl this food processor has seen to date!
These are my mother’s suggested proportions. According to her, the greener, the better! Make sure to wash all your herbs thoroughly before pureeing everything in a food processor.
- One medium cubanelle pepper (the one in the picture is actually large)
- One medium onion (white or yellow)
- About four ajicitos
- Two large cloves of garlic (or three smaller ones)
- About a cup of cilantro, including tender stems
- About 8 recao leaves if you can find them. Otherwise, double up on cilantro.
- I also added about three brujo oregano leaves, mostly because I have an overgrown plant in my balcony garden.
Sofrito keeps in the refrigerator for about a week, however, you may freeze it in ice cube trays to extend its useful life. Some clever woman came up with that trick years ago, and like all good old wive tales and tips, it spread wide and fast!
Arroz con pollo… habichuelas… corned beef guisado… mmmmh…
This blog post was modified on January 13, 2011. Mother does know best! The original proportions called for one large clove of garlic and turns out that we needed to add two large cloves of garlic or three smaller ones.