The time has come to end this madness (just to start it up again in some reimagined, twisted, more randomized form, but more on that next time).
When I started this worldly journey a bit over three years ago, I had planned on starting and ending in Chicago, as one must always return to the comforts of home after a long and sometimes arduous journey. Meatloaf started it all, and this sandwich will end it.
As I started to collect ideas for what will be my last dish for part one of the project that is this blog, I tried to think of a dish that was still Chicago, but also one that embodied some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way: that no matter how far and wide one may travel, there is always a way to bring a taste of the old home to the new home; that immigrants, visitors and passers-by influence the cuisine of almost every country in the world; that fusion cuisine truly does happen organically whether we mean for it to or not; and finally how a country’s cuisine, even as it evolves over time, has learned to turning familiar tastes into something new, all while remaining true to itself.
Well, a version of it.
The Jibarito was masterfully created at Borinquen Restaurant, a Puerto Rican joint in Chicago’s own Humboldt Park neighborhood. An example of how a dish very not American has so very much become one. It’s a sandwich filled with meat, onions, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and garlic mayo. The twist? No bread here, but rather fried plantains.
I know. Pretty cool, yah?
I thought so too, but I hit a small snafu, making my version horribly inauthentic.
Why, you ask? Well…
The inauthenticity of my jibarito stems mostly due to my lazy self sort of, pardon my English, half-assing it. After trips to four different groceries, I could not locate a plantain, and I just didn’t want to drive to find one, so I used sweet potatoes, both white and regular, instead. I KNOW. I know, without the plantain, this sandwich loses its very essence. It’s essence! I thought about waiting to remake it properly this weekend, but my version actually did come out quite good, and I figured it’d be a shame to let it go to waste. So, while not a true Jibarito, it’s made in that spirit. Also, travel = improvisation, and if I’ve become adept at anything these last three years, it’s that.
Another point of contention to the jibarito purist would be the fact that I used chicken rather than beef. My reason is simply that with the cheesesteak already on my plate for this week, it was simply too much beef. Also, no to the American cheese- cheddar is better. Neither swap made it any less awesome, but if you want authenticity, beef and American are the way to go. I promise I won’t be mad.
Want to make it the correct way? Swap out the potatoes with plantains, and omit the microwave. Viola!
Don’t want to make it a sandwich? Make it into a lovely bite ala the Ropa Vieja!
- 1 large sweet potato, sliced lengthwise in half, in 1/2” slices
- 1/2 pound deli chicken
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 1 TB vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 palm-sized slices of cheddar cheese
- oil, for frying
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- pinch cayenne
- 2 splashes hot sauce
- Mince the garlic and using the edge of your knife, smash the garlic a bit to smooth it out and break up any big chunks (alternatively, use a garlic press). Add the garlic and the rest of the ingredients to the mayo and mix well. Set aside.
- Heat oil to 350F, then fry each sweet potato slice for 2 minutes. Remove from oil, place on a microwave safe plate and zap for 2 minutes. On a heavy cutting board, flatten each sweet potato with a meat mallet so that it spreads a bit, but doesn’t break.
- Fry the now-flattened potato until outside is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes; remove from oil, set aside on paper towels to blot oil, and keep warm.
- In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add 1/2 TB of the oil and the onions and let cook about 10 minutes, until translucent but not browning. Once they’re done, push to the side of the pan.
- To the other half of the pan, add the rest of the oil and the chicken, cumin and oregano, and “scramble” the chicken with a wooden spoon so that it gets browned and looks torn, texture-wise. Remove from heat
- Assemble each sandwich by placing a dollop of mayo on one potato, followed by 1 slice of cheese, lettuce, chicken onions and the second potato.
- Want to make it the authentic way? Swap a plantain for the potato, and omit the microwaving. That’s it!
Playing in the background: Whitney’s The Greatest Love of All
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