Bitches Brew

This last week, it was hot. Too hot for hiking, too hot for walking and talking. Too hot to do much more than sit in a camp chair outside in your underwear (which I did) and definitely too hot for cooking (which I didn’t do).

My little house on the hill has a curious way about air circulation. When it’s cold outside the wind blows through cracks in the walls and window sills like they are made of straw. A feature which is nice at night because I can have the security of a shut window without sacrificing the comfort of a cool summer’s breeze. Yet when the temperatures rise, the house seems to swell. The hot, bloated wood seals up the cracks and roasts the little piggy in his straw house. Needless to say, the last thing I wanted to do was crank up the gas burners on my stove and rustle up some grub.

Yesterday, I was blessed with a thunderstorm that I relished for two reasons; first, it brought cool temperatures and second, I &*%^ing love thunderstorms. And this was no normal, quick and violent thunder show. This thing lasted over 7 hours. Around 1pm, I noticed clouds on the horizon and thought I heard a distant rumble. By 2 o’clock, the clouds were hopping over the Andes like a flock of deranged sheep, casting electric shocks back and forth between their thick wool coats. By 9 o’clock, I was still watching over the lake with my camera in hand, ready to take another shot at capturing lightning on film. After hours with my finger on the shutter, I can only say that I have A LOT of pictures of grey clouds.

Because that first day of cool temperatures was mostly taken up by nature taunting my photographic reflexes, I had not had a chance to cook. So today–as mother-earth and Zeus shared nature’s equivalent of a menthol cigarette to unwind after yesterday’s frolic—I set to making a grand feast.

One of the first things I noticed during early shopping trips in Bariloche was the lack of spicy additives. No spicy sauce, no peppers, no hot spice mixtures, nothing. I had mostly come to accept adding copious amounts of black pepper to my food as an alternative, but then I hit the jackpot. On the same day, I found two different kinds of fresh peppers and a package of what appeared to be a very hot spice, or possibly paprika. With these new flavor profiles in hand, I decided to make a spicy chicken stew based on several cuisines almost all of which conflict with one another.

Before I get into the preparation, let me first set up what my kitchen is like. Being that I am in a studio, my kitchen, living room, bedroom, breakfast nook, gym, library and billiards room are all in the same 18′ x 18′ square. And since I am a regular size human who requires a regular size bed, it is mostly the kitchen appliances that make the required space sacrifice. My refrigerator is small, or what they call a ‘mini-fridge’. This type of fridge is mostly used by college students to store beer and clean urine samples in. It is not ideal for storing even moderate amounts of semi-perishable foodstuffs. My stove appears to be a prototype for early models of the Easy Bake Oven, but built for psychopaths instead of little girls. It is a tiny, two-burner, gas using, one foot wide fire threat whose oven door I have to keep shut with a propped up chair; much in the same way a person would prop a chair against a door to keep an axe-murderer out of the bedroom. The cutlery, pots, pans, and utensils situation is brutal. It requires anyone who wishes to cook here to be more McGuyver than chef. For example, the tea kettle has no whistle or warning system. Instead, it simply begins to shoot boiling water out of its spout and onto the wall when ready. And, on more than one occasion I have used the corkscrew to dig bamboo splinters out of my hand. Lastly, there is one complaint that I always hear when people critique kitchens: counter space. I do not have counter space, I have counter spot. An area barely larger than my cutting board is all I have to orchestrate the 5 ring circus that is cooking in this studio. So with these facts in mind, let’s cook.

 

Counter Spot

"stove"

 

The recipe I chose to use was more improvised plot than actual plan. I essentially purged my ‘mini-fridge’ until both pots were filled, and then added a bunch of hot peppers. This seemed to satisfy my two requirements of the stew which were: 1) that there be a lot of it and 2) that it be spicy. I started with the peppers.

Up until my stay in the studio I have never cooked with real gas burners, and I must say I like them. It’s a small dose of daily pyromania, you don’t have to wait for them to heat up and they allow me to do cool gas burner things like roasting peppers. I have seen people roast peppers over gas burners on tv and always wanted to try it. The instructions are simple: turn the burner on, put the pepper on it, burn it intentionally and put it in a paper bag to facilitate a steaming process which is beneficial for removing the charred skin. The only problem was my lack of paper bag. The solution was to rip pages out of my notebook and crudely fold them over the peppers. I have no idea if it made a difference.

I then set about chopping things up for the stew. I broke down the chicken I had bought at the market, disappointed to find, for the third time in a row, that most of the feathers were still in the skin. I chopped potatoes, onions, carrots,cilantro, garlic and peppers. Finally, a dose of salt, pepper and of course, the special pepper mixture. Before I added any, I quickly used my translator to determine exactly what type of pepper and gauge how much I should put in. The name: aji molido. The translation: ground pepper. An answer so vague as to be mildly insulting. I put a cautionary amount in.

The ingredients were combined, along with the juice from a grapefruit and a few lemons. Water to top everything off and onto the stove. As it began to simmer I concocted a very improvised salsa/salad to top the stew with. It consisted of cilantro, tomato, onions, lemon juice, white beans, corn and a few roasted peppers.

I thought this grapefruit looked like a jellyfish after I wrung it to death.

 

For those who think Valentine's Day is a real holiday.

By the time I was finished, the ‘kitchen’ was a disaster. Luckily, because it is the size of a shoe box, it didn’t take long to clean up. I let the stew cook for about an hour and a half, toeing the line between salmonella and hunger. And for all my work, the result was consistent with nearly every other chicken stew I had made here, only very very very hot. Luckily, because I had added all three new pepper ingredients to the stew, I have no idea which one is the culprit, or if it was the combination of all three that rendered my stew the spicy bitches brew that it turned out to be.

P.S. For those not ‘in the know’, Bitches Brew is an excellent jazz album by Miles “High” Davis.

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~ by Hutch on February 13, 2011.

One Response to “Bitches Brew”

  1. I have recently discovered that I am a pepper lover… especially white pepper… LOVE the stuff.
    But you truly are one brave bastard… I’m a little more respectful of the term “spicy”… or at least my gut is, than you seem to be. =) Cooking looks like an adventure there, (I love your cooking set up… kind of like camping every day for months) but if anyone was up for that kind of a challenge it was you, Patrick!

    Thanks for that last bit of info … I was apparently not “in the know” =/

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