Cooking with Calley P: Chele Pinolero, por gracia de Dios

Calley Prezzano is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef who has made a career in fine dining cuisine, emphasizing fresh & local products from the area. In this new blog for The Nicaragua Dispatch, Chef Calley will share a few struggles, triumphs, and recipes that make cooking in Nicaragua an adventure for all five senses. This week: El Chele Pinolero (por gracia de Dios).

To all of my adoring fans (Dad), sorry for my blogging absence, I took a trip to the USA! I did a bit of shopping and schlepped back both socks and lox for Mateo. It was wonderful to see old friends, relax and of course eat some great and inspiring meals out on the town.

I think that currently, the biggest trend, besides bacon (which is always trending), is the “faux rustic retro throwback.” For me, it’s not actually serving what people eat in the countryside, but more like what Metopolitan folks romanticize farm living to be.

Mason jars, bread served on cutting boards…Like how we eat Monkfish (poor man’s lobster), Hangar Steak (the butcher’s cut), and Cassoulet (a French peasant’s dinner). Americans still enjoy a frozen nitrogen ice cream from time to time, but the warm appeal of rustic-type food is where it’s at…beef cheek, not because we use each part of the cow, but because, ooh, cool! cheek! chic! Come on.

People on farms pickle and can and honestly use every last scrap they can of each product. Also, a note: they don’t eat fresh strawberries in November or Tomatoes in upstate New York for Valentine’s Day, because they’re not available! I don’t see eating canned peaches. Well, if Dan Barber serves it and the price is right (aka high)… okay. Rant Over. Moving on.

In Nicaragua, I’ve had some fun with local products (see Gallo Pinto Burger)… but faux rustic? Is Nicaragua ready for that? I don’t think it’s much of a throw back if a majority of the country still functions as “regular rustic.” For example, asados, grilling cook-outs, haven’t changed much, if at all, in generations. So what would we be throwing back to here in Nicaragua? Last Saturday?

Toasted corn is the key ingredient in pinol

To “fine-dine”-ize some Nica favorites, I figure I’d start with the most basic and famous Nicaraguan ingredient: Pinol. Nicaraguans often refer to themselves as Pinoleros, like, you are what you eat, and they drink Pinol with pride!

Pinol is, in its purest essence, dehydrated corn that is toasted and ground. It is then mixed with either milk or water, a “bit” of sugar and served either warm or cold. Pinolillo is the same, but can be ground with other ingredients, like cacao, cinnamon or cloves. In my opinion, straight up and simple is the best. It’s a little gritty, but in a good way, like when you find some extra, undissolved Quik at the bottom of your glass as a kid.

I’ve been down here for a few years now, and I maybe it’s about time I embrace the famous line of Carlos Mejía, “Yo soy puro Pinolero.”  So, today I made my own pinol. It is sold in the Granada marketplace, or you can buy Pinolillo in just about any mini-super. But to make this taste the best and get some props, it’s got to be homemade.

Grind it, Chela, grind it!

For an average family out here in Tola, it’s not a simple process. The most cost-effective way to make pinol is to start with 15 pounds of dried corn. It is cooked in a pan over a wood flame, then driven (or walked) up to the next town where there is a diesel-operated grinder. A few families still use a mortar and pestle.

Well…that seems like maybe too much work for my blog. So, instead, I toasted a small amount (about 1 pound) in the oven. The corn is done toasting based on visual and olfactory clues: until it is dark, and smells like almost burnt popcorn. Then, I ground it with a clamp corn mill. Well, “I”… had some help. Turns out it needs to be ground 3-5 times to be fine enough to dissolve in a drink. It’s quite a bit of work and requires quite a bit of muscle.

What better way to push Pinol over the top, and into retro-fancy status? Add some rum! I present today’s cocktail:

El Chele Pinolero (por gracia de Dios)

The name’s a play on White Russians, because there’s a similar in flavor, but also, it’s akin to how I try to recreate traditional fare here, by putting my spin on it. Make a batch of these and settle into a cozy rocker on one of these rainy nights!

3 Tablespoons homemade pinol

2 Tablespoons white sugar

2 ounces Flor de Caña 7 year

4 ounces milk

Shake all ingredients in a stainless steel shaker full of ice. Strain into a highball glass that is filled with fresh ice. If you’re feeling hip, garnish with a piece of crispy bacon (please don’t). Repeat for each drink. Consequently, you can multiply the recipe and make a big batch in a pitcher.

For extra retro points, serve in a plastic baggie with dirty chipped ice and a straw.

 

Calley Prezzano was classically trained in San Francisco, California. She has cooked in Michelin Star Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the founding Executive Chef of Jicaro Ecolodge in Granada, Nicaragua. She is the founding Executive Chef of La Finca y El Mar Restaurant in Rancho Santana in Tola, Nicaragua. (www.lafincayelmar.blogspot.comwww.ranchosantana.com,www.probablycooking.blogspot.com

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