May 25th, 2011 by Jonathan Sills
While Queens may have the reputation for being the most ethnically diverse area in the United States, our very own borough of Brooklyn is certainly not bereft of global flavors. From the side-by-side Mexican and Chinese neighborhoods of Sunset Park to the century-old Italian areas of Carroll Gardens and Bay Ridge, to the more recently established Caribbean community of Crown Heights, there is rather more than a smattering of diverse flavors available to the curious epicure. Even gentrified Park Slope and Prospect Heights reflect the enduring presence of their Puerto Rican and Dominican populations with a wide selection of places offering “Spanish food”, a phenomenon which took me a while to decipher as it certainly isn’t Spanish in the European sense.
Dishes typical of Spanish-speaking countries, especially those ringing the Caribbean, but which also may be derived from actual Iberian cooking — known predominantly on the east coast as Spanish, or Spanish American — it’s basically a catch-all term that to me connotes delicious, often with tropical ingredients, but always complex and filling food. We’ve made mention of several of these neighborhood eateries in several previous posts – El Viejo Yayo, Los Pollitos, Bogota among them – but our most recent crush is on the wonderful Windsor Terrace institution, Elora’s.
Serving Mexican and Spanish food, whereby you can select from the greatest hits of Mexico as well as these Spanish-speaking Caribbean classics, Elora’s serves all these in such volume that one dish could easily feed a hungry family of four. And it is perhaps because of this, and their consequently narrow profit margins, that our regular server at Elora’s should, by rights, be enjoying the benefits of a comfortable retirement.
Pushing 80 years old, Don Nicolas is without doubt the oldest but also the most charming and interesting waiter we have ever had the good fortune to be served by. Born to Sicilian immigrant parents in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and trained as a tango and opera singer, it is his daughter for whom the restaurant is named. His musical career spanned several decades and took him the length and breadth of the Americas, before he retired from singing, settled in Brooklyn and went into the restaurant business with his marital family.
On our most recent visit while we waited for our heavily-laden plates to arrive, Don Nicolas was explaining to us the secret of his youthfulness – “if I stop moving, I become stiff and I might not get started again! When you are young you don’t think about these things and spend all your time on the couch!” Indeed, many less energetic thirty somethings might have struggled with the amount of food he was charged with lugging from the kitchen. But manage he did, depositing immoderate orders of pernil, bistec encebollado and chicharrones de pollo on our table before returning spritely with sides of beans, rice, and tostones. Still not done, he surveyed the table and in a trice was back with a deep bowl of raw garlic in oil. “Prefieren un poco de salsa de ajo por su tostones, no?” (you’d like a little garlic sauce for your plantains, right?), he asked.
When we congratulated Don Nicolas on his fitness and asked if his health is a reflection of his restaurant’s hearty fare, he responded diplomatically that he enjoyed the beans and rice and the pollo guisado (stewed chicken) most weeks, but found the Mexican dishes to be too hot for his Argentine tastes. “No tenemos alimento picante en Argentina,” (we don’t have spicy food where I come from.) he explained.
In fact, chicharrones de pollo, deep fried chicken, or more accurately translated as chicken cracklins’, are a popular Dominican dish, sometimes also claimed by Puerto Ricans as their own — we’ll leave it to them to fight over where it truly originated — in which chunks of chicken are marinaded for a lengthy period in adobe, lime juice, rum and either soy sauce or worcestershire sauce before being lightly dusted in corn starch and tossed into hot oil. If you like fried chicken (and those who don’t must ask themselves some searching questions) then you should try this recipe. It goes perfectly well with the tostones we had at Elora’s or the beans and rice we prepared more recently, but it is just as good on its own with a jigger of hot sauce and a cold bottle of Presidente Dominican beer. And, sure, it won’t necessarily help you live well into your 80s, but it will make the next couple of hours more enjoyable.
- 1 chicken, butchered into primal cuts then cut into 2 inch chunks
- 1 liter/1 quart vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup rum
- 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1 tablespoon each of ground cumin, dried oregano, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder for the adobo rub
- 1 teaspoon each of paprika/pimenton and ground red pepper (not strictly traditional but delicious and helpful with obtaining the right color)
- 1/2 cup corn starch or plain flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Combine all dry spices in a bowl and sprinkle evenly over the chicken pieces and massage in.
- Cover and allow chicken to marinate for up to 24 hours in the fridge
- No more than 3 hours before serving, add lime juice, rum and worcestershire sauce to marinating chicken.
- Heat oil in a large pot (a big wok is a good alternative) to around 350F
- Drain chicken of marinade and allow to drip dry for 10 minutes or so.
- Sprinkle (or roll) chicken with corn starch, shake off excess
- Fry your chicken until crispy and golden brown in batches, sprinkling just-removed pieces with salt.
- Serve with rice and beans or tostones and lime wedges as garnish.