The principal cooking style in Puerto Rican cuisine is called “cocina criolla”, which literally means Creole cooking. Most Americans will associate Creole cooking with Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine, but that’s not the case here. In the Spanish speaking islands, “criollo” refers to Spanish Americans of European descent. Hence, “cocina criolla” is the cuisine created by the European (mostly Spanish) colonists using their traditional recipes coalesced with native Caribbean foods and cooking styles. Consequently, you will find both native and Spanish influences, cooking techniques, and ingredients in Puerto Rican cuisine.
Authentic Puerto Rican cooking starts with sofrito, which is the foundation of just about every Puerto Rican soup, stew or sauce. Cuban and Dominican cooking also use sofrito in their cuisines. Sofrito is a versatile, aromatic puree of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions, and garlic. There are many variations of this recipe; but the basic sofrito recipe found on this website is made from ingredients that are easy to find in any grocery store.
Adobo is another indispensible ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking used to season meat, poultry and fish. You can customize the recipe by adjusting the ingredients based on the spices you prefer. But, the basic spices are salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and turmeric. The most flavorful meat is coated in adobo and left in the refrigerator for a day, but applying the seasoning right before cooking works well, too.
Puerto Rican food has been heavily influenced by American trends and fast food in recent history. However, authentic “cocina criolla” is still a readily available treasure to be found on the island. Some authentic Puerto Rican dishes you might like to try are:
- Pasteles, which is best described as wrapped, green banana dough, stuffed meat pastries, traditionally served at Christmas time in Puerto Rico.
- Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas), which is Puerto Rico's national dish. It's a rice and pea dish seasoned with sofrito and diced ham.
- Alcapurrias are fried, gound beef filled, fritters from the Caribbean made from a mixture of grated yautia (taro root) and green banana.