If you don’t walk away from this food column learning anything, please take in all the wonderful things about sofrito! It’ll end every argument you may have regarding the basic flavoring methods for Latin cuisine!
Growing up, there were two things my mother reiterated: “Stay out of the kitchen when I’m cooking beans in the pressure cooker, and don’t forget to make the sofrito!”
Basically, sofrito consists of sautéing diced vegetables and spices/herbs in canola or vegetable oil on medium to high heat and used to season certain dishes. Your sofrito is done before the garlic starts to brown and the onions are translucent.
Sofrito is like the mire poix of creole and Cajun cuisine. Let’s see, how should I put it? It’s the *ish that makes Cuban and Latin food so flavorful and robust. It’s the basis, the essence, the foundation to tasty eats! Sofrito is the sexy shoe on the foot, the sugar in pecan pie. It is that thing!
Now that we know what sofrito is, let’s address the different ways of using it. Every dish requiring sofrito will dictate what kind of vegetables and seasonings you use. For me, the basic sofrito will always consist of onion, garlic, green pepper, cumin, oregano and a packet of Sazón, sin achiote (that little orange packet of seasonings we all rave about). EVERYTHING is better with garlic!
Most of my beans also use this basic recipe, however using red bell peppers will add nice color to a batch of black frijoles. Most of our rice dishes also call for sofrito. The only time I don’t incorporate it is for plain white or brown rice. It’s definitely a must in the ever-popular yellow saffron rice. In this single case, I do use the packet of Sa Sazón con achiote (coloring and flavor agent/seasoning).
In addition to beans and rice dishes, there are meat, poultry and sauces that will call for a sofrito. It all depends on how you are preparing each. There are times when certain vegetables are eliminated or others are included. One case would be in making the mojo for yuca hervida. Though the onion and garlic sauce that is deliciously poured over perfectly salted and boiled yucca is the mojo, the process of sautéing it in vegetable oil makes it a sofrito, of sorts.
Some will dispute when and how sofrito should be added to the pot of food. For instance, when making picadillo, I just throw the veggies and spices/herbs at the same time as the meat. No need to sauté my goodies ahead of time because picadillo generally takes a very short time to cook. I’ve been challenged on this; but I’ve been making picadillo for 15 years and I’m confident my hodge-podge method works just fine! (verdad, Mami!!?)
However, when cooking dry or canned beans, it is important to know that the sofrito goes in after the beans have been pressurized and softened (generally about 20 minutes). Before the 2nd set of applied pressure, the sofrito is added to the beans and cooked uncovered, for 5 minutes, to allow full infusion into the beans. Side note: It is imperative you make a sofrito even to doctor up seasoned canned beans! I mean, come on, who likes eating bland ass beans straight from the can, simply because they’re already cooked! Take a few minutes and make a basic sofrito for them. It’ll be your redemption for not using dry ones (and your friends won’t talk about you)!
Ultimately, the purpose of sofrito is to offer a flavorful foundation to food. When added at the right time and allowed to infuse properly, sofrito will take your food to another level! Think of how great it is to add quick flavor to simple spaghetti by making a sofrito with some diced tomato! Instantly, you have a light tomato sauce in lieu of a time consuming homemade heavy one!
For additional cooking advice from Bren Herrera, visit Flanboyanteats.com