Sunday, January 24, 2016

Indio Viejo

     Nicaraguan Bitter Orange and Mint Shredded Steak Stew!
     Indio Viejo translates as "Old Indian."  I am not sure if the name "Old Indian" refers to the rusty look of this shredded meat stew or if the name refers to the Mesoamerican origins of the recipe.
     Indio Viejo is a traditional Pre-Colombian recipe.  Natives of Central America made this stew with wild game meat and local acidic fruit, like Naranjillo (Lulo).  Naranjillo tenderizes meat, just like old world citrus fruit.  Frozen Naranjillo Fruit can be found at Latino food markets.  All it takes to make Naranjillo Juice is to put some in a blender.  
     Because bottled Bitter Orange Juice is available for a low price at most Latino food markets, Bitter Orange is used to make Indio Viejo more often than Naranjillo in modern times.  Bitter Orange is also called Seville Orange and it is often used to tenderize meat.  A big bottle of Bitter Orange goes a long way and it will last a long time if it is kept chilled.
     Yerba Buena refers to mint varieties that are native to Mexico.  There are hundreds of mint varietals worldwide and several nondescript Mexican mint species are sold as Yerba Buena.  The herbs Basil and Perilla are actually in the mint family of plants, so it goes to show that many relatively unknown varieties Mexican Mint can have some very complex flavors.  Yerba Buena is used in Native American and Spanish recipes.  Mint and bitter orange is a classic flavor combination.
     Achiote is traditionally used to flavor Central American stews and it gives Indio Viejo its rusty color.  Leftover or day old tortillas are commonly used to thicken stews throughout the Southwest, Mexico and Central America.  Tortillas are used to thicken a traditional Indio Viejo too.  

     Indio Viejo: 
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.  
     For this recipe, a cheap tough cut of beef is best.  Chuck Steak, Top Round Steak or Flank Steak are good choices.  
     Bottles of bitter orange juice can be found in most grocery stores and Latino food markets.
     Step 1:  Place an 8 ounce piece of beef chuck steak in a container that is slightly larger than the steak.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of bitter orange juice.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Marinate the beef in a refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.   (The meat can be marinated overnight if it is extra tough.)
     Step 2:  Place a sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add the steak and marinade.
     Add enough water to cover the meat with 1" of extra liquid.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped seeded green jalapeño.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer the beef till it becomes very tender.  (About 2 hours.  Add a splash of water as necessary.)
     Step 4:  Remove the beef from the broth and set it on a cutting board.  (Leave the sauce pot on low heat.)
     Allow the beef to cool.
     Shred the beef steak into small bite size pieces and set them aside.
     Step 5:  Place 3 small 5" wide corn tortillas in the hot broth.
     Remove the tortillas from the broth as soon as they start become soft.  (This does not take much time.)
     Place the wet corn tortillas on a cutting board.
     Mash the wet tortillas till they look like a paste.
     Step 6:  Return the mashed tortillas to the sauce pot.
     Stir the tortillas and broth with a whisk occasionally, till the mashed tortillas melt into the broth.    
     *The stew sauce should thicken to a medium thin sauce consistency.  Add water if the sauce is too thick.
     Keep the thickened bitter orange broth warm over very low heat.
     Step 7:  Heat a wide sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add 1/2 cup of sliced onion strips.  (About 3/8" thick.)
     Add 1/2 cup of sliced green bell pepper strips.
     Add the reserved shredded beef.
     Sauté till the vegetables start to become tender and the shredded beef lightly browns.
     Step 8:  Add 1/3 cup of plum tomato wedges.
     Sauté till the tomato and vegetables are tender.
     Step 9:  Add the tortilla thickened bitter orange stew broth to the meat and vegetables in the sauté pan.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Step 10:  Add 1 teaspoon of Yerba Buena or finely minced fresh mint leaves.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.  (If necessary.)
     Gently simmer the stew for 10 to 15 minutes.
     *Check the consistency of the sauce.  Add a splash of water if the stew is too thick.
     Step 11:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Ladle the Indio Viejo into a shallow stew bowl or casserole dish.
     Set the casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with cilantro sprigs.
     This stew has an interesting bitter orange flavor!  The first taste is quite bitter, but after that, the bitter orange flavor becomes more comfortable with each spoonful.  In fact, the flavor practically starts to become addictively good tasting! 
     Indio Viejo is perfect for hot tropical summer weather and it is also nice for warming up a chilly day.  

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