Exploring Latin American

Tapping staff expertise helps create authentic dishes from our Southern neighbors.

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Rising to the occasion

Latin American cuisine might be wildly popular, but it’s not always easy to create. Labor is a major challenge for Brutsman—“it takes a long time to create 500 empanadas for one meal”—but by creating labor-intensive items during downtime, such as spring break, and doing small-batch cooking as much as possible at the station, Brutsman has solved the issue.

Thibodaux’s Curtis can relate. “Many items within this region are grilled. However, the home-style approach is often moist-heat methods, such as braising, stewing or steaming, so it’s important to have the proteins tender and made with just enough sauce so the flavors are strong and robust,” advises Curtis, noting ample marinating time as paramount. “If you add too much liquid to a braised or stewed item, the flavors are diluted and the finished product suffers.”

Keeping up with demand has been a challenge for MacRae—it’s not easy pressing 120 Cuban sandwiches and keeping them crispy. So MacRae developed a new method whereby the sandwiches are made in advance, pressed between sheet pans weighted with cans of beans in the walk-in and fried in clarified butter on a hot griddle to order. “It has worked so well, we have used that method to press all kinds of sandwiches on all kinds of sturdy breads,” she adds.

When sourcing is a challenge, get creative with substitutes, such as cilantro or parsley for culantro, Curtis says. When MacRae had trouble sourcing Seville oranges, she duplicated the tang with a recipe using lime, orange and lemon.

Perhaps most important, “your clientele has to be educated to accept these items,” warns Curtis, citing his struggle to introduce his customers to black beans instead of red kidney or white. “In order to increase acceptance, I slowly introduce them as components to other dishes, such as salsa, and over time people grow to accept the new items.” 

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