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Sofrito

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Three Sofritos copyright Hector Rodriguez

Three Sofritos - Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican

Hector Rodriguez

What is Sofrito?:

Simply put, sofrito is a fragrant blend of herbs and spices used throughout the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It’s used to season countless dishes of stews, beans, rice, and occasionally meat. In most cases, it is the foundation upon which the rest of the recipe is built. Sofrito mixtures range in color from green to orange to bright red. They also range in flavor from mild to pungent to spicy.

Hundreds of recipes from the Latin Caribbean and other Latin American countries begin by instructing the cook to “make a sofrito”. It’s the first thing to go into the pot and establishes the flavor and seasoning of what’s to come. It is integral to Latin cuisine, which makes it difficult to believe that sofrito did not originate in, nor is it exclusive to Caribbean or Latin American cookery.

Origins and Historical Background:

How did sofrito end up in Caribbean and Latin American cuisine and where did it originate?

The word sofrito is Spanish in origin and means to lightly fry something, such as sautéing or stir-frying. It’s a technique that the Spanish colonists brought with them when they settled in the Caribbean and Latin America beginning in the late 1400s.

But, sofrito is much older than that. The first known mention of the technique is referenced as sofregit in the “Libre de Sent Soví” (circa 1324). It’s one of the oldest cookbooks in Europe from the Catalan region of Spain. Therefore, The conclusion can be made that sofrito has been an ingredient and technique in Catalan cuisine since medieval times. (Andrews, 2006).

We can see the correlation to sofrito in the derivation of the Catalan word sofregit, which comes from the verb sofrefir, which means to under fry or fry lightly. The Catalan idea of frying lightly meant to fry slowly over a low flame.

The first Sofregit was simply a comfiture of onions and/or leeks with bacon or salt pork added when available. Eventually, herbs and other vegetables where added to the mix. Tomatoes didn’t become a part of the mix until Columbus brought them back from the Americas in the 16th century. (Andrews, 2006). Today's Spanish sofrito contains tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, paprika, and olive oil.

Caribbean Variations:

Technically speaking, sofrito isn’t even a recipe or dish; it’s a method of cooking. Which explains why there are so many variations based on social and cultural factors. Flavor and ingredient preferences differ based on country or island and other socio-cultural differences. (Raghavan, 2007).

For example, in Puerto Rico they call their sofrito recaito. The pungent herb culantro and ajies dulces (sweet chili peppers) are the contributing flavor profiles. Dominican sofrito, called sazón in that country, uses vinegar for a flavor punch and annatto for color. Cuban sofrito employs tomatoes and red bell peppers to sweeten it up and add color, as well as diced ham. In addition, there’s a version of sofrito in the Yucatan area of Mexico (which borders the Caribbean) that uses habaneros for a spicy kick. Cynthia Nelson from Guyana, our Contributing Writer, has a similar recipe called green seasoning.

The way sofrito is consumed can vary as much as the recipe itself. Ordinarily, sofrito is the first thing to go into the pot and then it is lightly sautéed to bring out the flavors of the aromatics. However, in some recipes, the sofrito isn’t added until the end of the cooking time. Sometimes the sofrito is turned into a topping sauce for grilled meats and fish.

International Variations:

As mentioned before, the “Libre de Sent Soví” (circa 1324) is one of the oldest cookbooks in Europe. It had a great influence on French and Italian cuisines. It is common to find similar sofrito techniques in France (mirepoix), Italy (soffritto or battuto), Portugal (refogado) or other Mediterranean countries. The Spanish also took the technique to their colonies throughout Latin America, where it is still called sofrito, and to the Phillipines where it is called ginisá.

References:

Andrews, Colman. Catalan Cuisine: Vivid Flavors from Spain's Mediterranean Coast. p 37. Harvard Common Press, 2005. (COMPARE PRICES)

Raghavan , Susheela . Handbook of Spices, Seasonings, and Flavorings, Second Edition . pp 239 – 240. CRC Press, 2006. (COMPARE PRICES)

Santanach, Joann. The Book of Sent Sovi: Medieval recipes from Catalonia. Tamesis Books, 2008. (COMPARE PRICES)

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