Puerto Rican Cuisine in America

Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes


By Oswald Rivera

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Puerto Rican cuisine holds a unique place in the culinary world with its blend of Spanish, African, and Native Caribbean influences. In Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, Oswald Rivera shares over 250 family-favorite recipes that explore this one-of-a-kind style of Caribbean cooking. There is everything from hearty soup like Sancocho to savory delicacies such as Cabro Borracho (drunken goat) and Camarones Guisados (stewed shrimp) to rich desserts like Flan de Calabaza (pumpkin flan). Plus, with a suggested wine pairing for every dish and 90 delicious drink recipes, readers can enjoy the perfect Puerto Rican meal.

Throughout the book, Oswald explores Puerto Rico’s unique history, its people’s migration to New York City, and his youth growing up in Harlem, as well as the growth of the Nuyorican culture in the United States. Refreshed with new illustrations throughout, this edition features a new preface by the author.



First, there’s the matter of the correct oil. By that we mean a vegetable oil.

Most of the appetizers, snacks and side dishes in this section are deep fried. They all come under the heading of frituras or fritters. These are fried vegetables, some with meat stuffing, which are mainly for noshing between meals. In Spanish Harlem, as in every small town in Puerto Rico, you’ll find a host of cafes that sell these savories. Apart from frituras, you also have cuchifritos, which are fried pork products such as pork rinds. Within their native environment, frituras and cuchifritos are regarded as delicacies. Elsewhere there arises a negative connotation because to the health conscious fried food has a bad rap. It’s a truism that most things taste better when they’re fried. But frying entails fat, and fat is the bugaboo of everyone who aspires to better nutrition. The fact is that food absorbs very little fat when frying is done properly. If you don’t believe that then check the Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of good cooking. Problem is, most people do not know what proper frying is.

First, there’s the matter of the correct oil. By that we mean a vegetable oil. Whatever you’ve heard about saturated and non-saturated fats, just remember that vegetable oils have a higher smoke point than animal fats. In the old days, deep frying consisted of dipping everything into hot lard. Tasty but disastrous to your heart. The smoke point is the temperature at which fat begins to smoke and break down, usually around 450° Fahrenheit. This varies from one fat to another, but it’s wise to have an oil whose smoke point is well over 375°F. The oil I prefer is safflower oil. Canola oil or any good quality vegetable oil is acceptable.

Second—and some may dispute this—use enough oil. We are not stir frying in a wok. This will not work for Nuyorican cooking. Use a large, heavy bottomed pot or, my favorite, an electric fryer with reliable temperature controls; and fill with enough oil to cover the ingredients to a level at least an inch over the food. Some chefs would argue this point and insist there should be enough oil in the pot so that food can be stirred and moved around freely.

When cooking, set the controls for 375°F if you have a fryer. If not, then use a fat thermometer. Or use the time tested method: splash a drop of water or flour in the pan and see if it sizzles.

Fry your ingredients in small batches. The more food you have crowded in the pan or skillet, the lower the temperature falls. Let the oil come back up to temperature between batches. If you fry in haste all you’re going to get, after the first crisp-brown batch, is a soggy mess. Always reheat the oil between batches.

Following the above rules should provide you with tasty yet healthy fried foods. Remember, not all fats are bad and not all frying is bad. Just use common sense and moderation.

Speaking of moderation, there is the question of what beverage to consume with fritters and appetizers. You’ll notice right off that in this section we don’t include any recommendations on wine. Actually, the term appetizers is misleading. We don’t have appetizers as such. What are termed appetizers to us are like tapas in Spain, savories and tidbits that are enjoyed with dry sherry as the backup. We like cuchifritos and frituras with beer. If one insists on wine, then any good dry white will do, even fino sherry. I suggest staying away from Sauterne or what are known as “mellow semi-sweet wines.” But don’t be afraid to experiment.



      YIELD: About 25 fritters

       ½ pound dried salt cod (prepared for cooking, see page 99)

       3 cups flour

       ½ teaspoon dried sage

       1 teaspoon baking powder

       6 whole black peppercorns

       2 cloves garlic, peeled

       1 cup and 2 tablespoons water

       3 tablespoons achiote (see page 10)

       Vegetable or corn oil for frying


  1.  In a bowl combine the flour, sage and baking powder.

  2.  In a mortar, crush the peppercorns and garlic. Add 2 tablespoons of water and mix this seasoning with the flour.

  3.  In a bowl combine the flour and a cup of water to make a batter.

  4.  Add achiote and stir until batter attains a yellow color.

  5.  In a heavy frying pan or skillet, add vegetable oil to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat on moderate flame until oil is very hot (375°F, see page 22). Reduce heat to low. Drop a tablespoon of batter into skillet. The mixture will fry very quickly. As soon as it’s set, place a teaspoon of flaked codfish in the center of the fritter. With a small spatula lift part of the fritter, omelet style, to cover the codfish. Cook on both sides until golden.

  6.  Repeat by spoonfuls, draining the fritters on paper towels. While cooking, the fritters will puff up somewhat. Do not turn or overcook. Discard any scattered pieces of batter that land in the oil while frying.



In my parents’ home, yautía (ya-oo-TEE-ah) is probably the most popular of root plants served at the table. It is even more popular than potatoes, with which it shares some characteristics. It has a stark white color when peeled, and a crunchy or creamy taste depending on how long it’s cooked. Yautía also makes great fritters that are good for noshing or with a meal.

      YIELD: About 8 to 10 fritters

       1½ cup yautía, peeled

       3 tablespoons baking powder

       2 teaspoons sofrito (see page 9)

       2 large eggs, lightly beaten

       ¾ cup finely grated parmesan cheese

       Salt and ground black pepper to taste

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  Finely shred the yautía, using either a hand shredder or food processor.

  2.  Place in a medium-sized bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix well with the hands.

  3.  Fill a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Heat oil until very hot. Drop in a tablespoon of the yautía mixture and fry until golden brown (about 3 minutes to a side).

  4.  Repeat by spoonfuls, removing fritters with slotted spoon and draining on paper towels.



Okay, let’s get it settled once and for all: there are those of you out there who have this thing about canned food. This recipe calls for the use of canned corn. Yes, canned corn. In Puerto Rican cuisine we don’t have this negative outlook on tinned food. We do not deny its benefits. The old caveat goes that if it’s in a can it can’t be as nutritious or as flavorful as fresh or frozen fare. I’ll concede the point: Nothing compares with fresh victuals. But opening a can now and then has its advantages, not the least being time and convenience. There are still certain things that we eat out of cans in the Rivera family: tuna fish comes to mind, peas, certain types of mushrooms and, naturally, beans. Don’t think that because it comes from a tin it has to be bad.

      YIELD: About 10 to 12 fritters

       ½ cup flour

       1 teaspoon baking powder

       1 8½-ounce can creamed corn

       1 egg

       Salt and ground black pepper to taste

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  In a bowl, combine all ingredients except oil and mix well.

  2.  In a cast iron pan or heavy bottomed skillet, add vegetable oil to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat until oil is very hot. Drop in a tablespoon of the mixture and fry in the shape of thin fritters until golden brown.

  3.  Repeat by spoonfuls, removing the fritters with a slotted spoon and draining on paper towels.



      YIELD: 12 to 18 tostones

       3 green plantains

       2 tablespoons salt

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  To remove skin from the plantain, cut tips at both ends, cut a slit along the length of the plantain and peel off. To facilitate easier handling, some cooks dip plantains in hot water for 5 minutes and then remove the skin. Once plantains are peeled, cut into diagonal slices about 1 inch thick. Reserve peels: typically, the unbroken skin of the plantain is used for flattening the tostones.

  2.  Combine 4 cups of water and salt in a bowl and soak plantain slices for 30 minutes. Drain well.

  3.  Fill a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Heat oil until very hot (375°F, see page 22). Deep fry plantains for 5 to 7 minutes.

  4.  Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

  5.  Place a plantain slice between two plantain peels, envelope fashion, and pound flat with the palm of the hand. Repeat until all slices are pressed. Return plantain slices to skillet and cook until golden brown (about 5 minutes longer). Drain on absorbent paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt.

NOTE: I’m told that in other parts of the Caribbean, notably Jamaica, the plantain slices are deep-fried just once. They are not pounded and refried. I have tried tostones this way, but it just doesn’t come out the same. For those who follow our method, you can acquire what is called a tostonera in any Latin market. This consists of two pieces of wood or plastic that hinge over to enclose and flatten the plantain slices. Here, again, I defer to tradition. I’ve tried these newfangled contraptions and find them wanting. Nothing beats the plantain peels and the flat of the hand for forming genuine tostones.




      YIELD: 12 to 15 pieces

       3 ripe plantains


  1.  Take 3 ripe plantains and cut in half crosswise at a slant.

  2.  Boil in water (combined with 1 tablespoon salt) until tender (about 4 to 5 minutes).

  3.  Drain and let cool. Cut a slit along the length of the halves and peel. Cut into diagonal slices 1 to 2 inches thick and serve.


      YIELD: 12 to 18 pieces

       3 ripe plantains

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  Peel 3 ripe plantains. Cut into diagonal slices about ½ inch thick and 3 inches long.

  2.  Deep-fry in hot oil until slightly browned and tender (about 3 to 4 minutes). Drain on paper towels.



      YIELD: 8 to 10 stuffed plantain balls

       3 ripe plantains

       2 tablespoons sofrito (see page 9)

       ¼ cup tomato sauce

       ½ pound lean ground pork

       2 tablespoons raisins

       ½ cup flour

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  Place plantains in a pot with water to cover and boil until tender (about 4 to 5 minutes). Let cool, peel and mash. Set aside.

  2.  Heat sofrito in a medium skillet or frying pan. Add tomato sauce and sauté over moderate-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add pork, ¼ cup of water and raisins. Stir to mix. Cover and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3.  Spread flour evenly on a flat plate. Place some of the mashed plantains on the plate and flatten into a circle.

  4.  Place a tablespoon of the pork filling in the center and bring the edges together to shape into a ball.

  5.  Fill a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Heat until oil is very hot. Deep-fry plantain balls until light brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.



In our tribe, the person who made the best dumplings was my grandmother, Adelaida—who was known to all as Dõna Lala. What I remember about Grandma Lala is that she was a heavy smoker and liked her brew, especially Ballantine Ale. Even so, she lived well into her eighties. Our sweetest recollection is of Sunday mornings when she would prepare mounds of domplines to go with the ham and eggs. She had it down to a science and could make a batch in minutes.

      YIELD: About 20 dumplings

       4 cups flour

       1 teaspoon baking powder

       2 tablespoons shortening

       1 cup lukewarm water

       ½ teaspoon salt

       Vegetable oil for frying


  1.  Combine flour, baking powder and shortening in a glass bowl.

  2.  Add salt to water and add to flour, a bit at a time, while mixing with a wooden spoon until it forms a doughy consistency.

  3.  Remove this dough to a lightly floured surface and knead continuously with hands until soft.

  4.  Form kneaded dough into a horseshoe shape and set aside.

  5.  Fill a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Heat until oil is very hot. Break off a small piece of dough and shape into a round patty. Drop patty into skillet and stir-fry until golden (about 5 minutes). Repeat until dough is all gone. Remove and drain on absorbent paper towels.

NOTE: If a little color is desired, 4 to 5 tablespoons of achiote (see page 10) can be added to the flour during the first step. This will render truly golden-yellow dumplings.



Alcapurrias could be a traditional Caribbean word or island slang of more recent derivation. Wherever the word came from, the snack is very popular with islanders and Nuyoricans alike. Alcapurrias are classed with the frituras and cuchifritos of the take-out joints. Basic alcapurrias are made with green bananas; what we call Guineos (Ghee-neh-oss). We lump green bananas in the bianda category and normally serve them boiled and drizzled with olive oil. So you’re probably saying to yourself, who the hell would eat green bananas? Simple: anyone who knows how good they are, cooked in a sauce or, as we have it here, stuffed with ground beef.

      YIELD: About 15 alcapurrias

       6 whole black peppercorns

       2 cloves garlic, peeled

       ½ teaspoon salt

       1 teaspoon dried oregano

       1 tablespoon olive oil

       1 teaspoon vinegar

       1 pound lean ground beef

       ¼ cup tomato sauce

       3 pounds green bananas

       1 large green plantain

       ½ cup achiote (see page 10)

       Vegetable oil for frying




On Sale
Mar 10, 2015
Page Count
336 pages
Running Press

Oswald Rivera

About the Author

Oswald Rivera is the author of two cookbooks in addition to Puerto Rican Cuisine in America and two novels.

Learn more about this author