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Cooking television in Latin America

I am catching on to the differences between cooking in Central America and cooking in the United States. One way to see this is to watch some of your celebrity chefs in action and then compare them, as I am doing, to celebrity or at least well-known chefs in Central America, in my case Costa Rica. A recent show that I watched is a good illustration of this, I think.

The chef in question was preparing a steak dinner, which isn't a lot of hard work for most professional chefs to begin with. He had a very thick tenderloin steak, which he prepared with a lot of flourish. At the end it was cooked perfectly rare but had no sear on the outside, just an even browning. This is because he did not use a hot grill to make the crusty surface that we usually see at least around the edges of a cut of meat at the steak house.

He arranged the meat on a plate and then accompanied it with mashed potatoes, which again is not much of a chore for most restaurants. The final side dish was what appeared to be two or three vegetables rough-chopped in a food processor. It looked like carrots, celery, onions and maybe something else that didn't stand out from the orange carrots. I was not impressed. Think what he could have done in Costa Rica, with the local produce that abounds here all year around!

The first thing I would use to substitute for mashed potatoes would be platanos. You can cut them into rounds, saute them in classy olive oil or butter (or both), and then serve them delicately browned and arranged beside the steak. You could also make a sauce by reducing the pan juices from the steak, possibly with a balsamic vinegar. Platanos will retain a starchy quality much like potatoes, and there is no reason not to give them a savory treatment. Unlike bananas, they are not innately very sweet and hence are more versatile when used in general cuisine.

For another side dish, the large, round green squashes that I see here provide excellent color on a plate when they are steamed to keep them just tender and not cooked until they turn grey. You could also take those chopped vegetables and wrap them in a cabbage leaf for a kind of European ambiance.

It seems to me that the chefs who cater to foreign tastes are not trying very hard to introduce newcomers to Costa Rica's abundance of produce, as well as that of Central America in general. Steak, potatoes and greens are not very far from Southern Arizona, and in fact you are more likely to come across Spanish Rice and other tasty menu items if you go to a good restaurant in Tucson like Maynard's in the downtown train station area, or the Hotel Congress across the street.

I have more to say about what I saw on Costa Rica food television in forthcoming articles.

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