Some of you have wondered what Michael’s been cooking for dinner, so I thought I’d start there, as I know he would say, “So glad you asked!” Last Sunday, he came home in ecstasy from the market, having found fresh langostinos like he hasn’t seen in years. “Huge prawns, with the heads on, and only five dollars a pound!” he crowed, as he showed me one of the brute crustaceans laid out on a cutting board.
But he was already back in the kitchen, prepping for dinner. He’d also found a perfectly ripe pineapple (Sunday is the day when tropical produce comes up from the coast) and his plan was to grill the pineapple and prawns in our fireplace. This required building an elaborate fire at just the right time, about 5:00, so as to have coals perfectly ready for cooking, about 6:30. My job was to set the perfect table, or rather the two little tables in front of the fireplace where we spend every evening, this being our cocktail lounge, entertainment center (laptop, speakers, movies), dinner table, and the after-dinner hang-out until bedtime at about 9:00 or 9:30.
OK, back to Michael for the recipe (with apologies for my food photos, much lacking; I took these at night.)
“With a knife, split the prawns down the middle, belly side, leaving the heads on and just enough of the shell to make a hinge. Rinse those that look like they had a bellyful of something, but don’t devein. Butterfly prawns flat and skewer from the side, four to a skewer. Then I make a sort of aioli-based marinade with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and bit of black pepper and garlic. Put in mini-blender, and if you have the right mixture it looks just like aioli. With a brush, slather prawns on both sides with this marinade.
Cut pineapple into ¾” slices, and lay on grill first. When almost done, slide onto one side and throw prawns on. With a hot fire, it only takes 2-3 minutes on a side.
Warn your dinner companions you expect the return of their shells – those they don’t eat, that is, because the blazing fire turns them into tasty crispy bits. Collect shells and heads for the next day, when you will want to boil them with garlic, shallots or onions, white wine, and a bit of anise or fennel. Blend the stock and run through a fine sieve, pressing all juice out of the shell pulp. Discard shells. Return stock to stove and add olive oil, butter, cream or whatever you like to make a delicious prawn bisque.* I also added some blended cooked tomatoes and potato for thickener. To gild the lily, I finished my bisque with sautéed shiitake mushrooms.”
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And now, since it’s another Sunday, let’s visit the market. The open-air weekly market that until a couple of years ago had always been in the streets along an avenue not far from our house. So when the Municipality of Cañar built a huge new market, some complained it didn’t feel right to have the market under cover (where it acts as a wind tunnel), and all in one place on the edge of town. It felt empty the first few times we went, but now the place is buzzing, full to capacity with produce vendors (all seemingly selling the same thing), lunch stalls with roasted pigs, rolling spice carts and plastics and household goods, with the surrounding streets full of vendors who don’t want to pay for a stall.
The photo above is the small animal market, where country people come to town with sacks of live cuyes, rabbits, hens and roosters, and sometimes kittens and puppies, to sell in the plaza at the market entrance.
Here is Michael’s favorite fish and crustacean guy, César, who comes from Cuenca every week.
And his meat lady, who cuts him special thin strips for cecina, paper-thin slices of meat beef or pork, that he marinates for BBQ on the fire.
Well, that’s my dinner and market report. Please let me know if you’d like to know about food and cooking in Cañar. For example, how to prepare the perfect cuy, a staple of the Andean diet? Michael is not a fan of either cooking or eating cuy (guinea pig) but I’ve discovered lately – especially in the midst of a hard day’s work photographing a fiesta, say – that I can enjoy chewing on a tasty, well-roasted leg (excluding the paw), and appreciate what it means to have concentrated salty protein amidst the bland carbohydrates of potatoes and mote (hominy), other staples always served with cuy.
And I promise to get better at food photography.