HAVE YOU EVER tasted Puerto Rican pernil, a dish of roast pork marinated in sour wild oranges for several days to create a crisp meaty exterior with soft juicy insides? How about arroz con gandules, a rice and pigeon pea dish flavored with sofrito?a sauce of garlic, onions, cilantro, sweet peppers, and annatto seeds? If not, you aren?t alone.
?Puerto Rican food is one of the great unknowns of the American culinary scene,? writes Sylvia Lovegren in American Heritage (Oct. 2002), calling it the most underrated cuisine in America in the magazine?s annual overrated/underrated issue. (Fusion cooking was the most overrated.)
Incorporating elements of Spanish, West African, indigenous Taino-Arawak, and mainland American culinary styles, the island?s food?prominently featuring annatto, plantains, and yams?is intensely seasoned but never scorchingly spicy. Many dishes have a distinct yellow color (from the annatto). Ready for a taste? Good luck, writes Lovegren, ?unless you?re from the island yourself or have Puerto Rican friends who are willing to feed you.? Despite more than 3 million Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States, our chances of encountering these delicacies are surprisingly slim. There are only about 80 Puerto Rican restaurants in the 50 states, making it a great opportunity for enterprising cooks to open up a new culinary front.