From Colombia comes bandeja paisa, a platter with an amazing variety of food that may include beans, chorizo, chicharrones, plantain, egg and rice.
My home version of bandeja paisa is moderately sized. Because plantain is not native to this country, I used saba bananas. Deep-fried lechon kawali takes the place of chicharrones. I cooked this dish with a lot of help from Alex a few days ago and Speedy hasn’t stopped asking when we’re having it again. He loves it so much and I can’t blame him.
But I have blisters that need to heal before I attempt to make bandeja paisa again. I have not fried lechon kawali in over a decade. I hate frying it so much that I have perfected the technique for cooking it in the oven.
But the cut required for bandeja paisa was different. The pork belly has to be sliced and snipped and then fried for optimum results. Meaning, it has to mimic the Latin American chicharrones. If I had boiled a whole slab of pork then cut it into slices afterward, the tender meat would have likely fallen apart in the process.
So, there was really no option. The pork belly was pre-sliced before going into a pot of highly seasoned water. When tender, they were scooped out, cooled and the meat was snipped before frying to allow the hot oil to touch as much surface as possible. The result was pretty amazing except that the oil spattered all over the kitchen, splats hit my foot and arms, and on my right foot I am still sporting a weal as large as a one peso coin.
Yes, I will likely cook bandeja paisa again. But, first, I need to recover my courage. It’s no joke deep frying boiled pork belly. If it had been allowed to air dry for a day, the hot cooking oil would have behaved in a more benign way. But I didn’t have a day. And even if I had, we have cats who will most probably feast on the boiled meat before I have a chance to fry it.
If you want to make your version at home, enlist the help of someone who knows how to move in the kitchen. If you do it alone, you have to be a wiz at cooking four or five different things at the same time. Otherwise, if you cook, say, the eggs, banana and chorizo way ahead of the pork, they will be cold by the time the pork belly reaches the perfect stage of golden brown crispiness.
My Version of Bandeja Paisa
Boil thee inches of water in a wide pan (I used a wok). Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt, coarsely cracked black pepper, the garlic and onion.
Drop the pork belly slices side by side in the hot water. When the water reaches boiling point once more, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer the pork belly slices for 30 to 40 minutes.
While the pork simmers, start cooking the rice. Keep it warm after it's cooked.
Pierce the skin of the chorizos to prevent them from bursting in the pan.
Peel the saba bananas and cut diagonally into half-inch thick slices.
Slice the cucumber.
Take the pork belly slices out of the pan and move to a rack to cool and to allow the excess liquid to drip off.
Fry the chorizos, eggs and saba bananas. Keep warm.
When cool enough to handle, lay the pork belly slices on a chopping board and snip the meat about an inch apart without cutting all the way through the skin.
Pour enough cooking oil in a large frying pan to reach a depth of at least three inches. Heat until fine wisps of smoke float on the surface (350F if you have a thermometer).
Carefully slide the pork belly slices into the hot oil. Cover the pan (for best results, use a cover with steam vents). If your cover is lightweight, weigh it down (I placed the bowl part of a mortar and pestle upside down on the cover) to prevent it from flying off when the oil starts to spatter.
Cook the pork in the hot oil for 7 to 10 minutes. Be very careful of oil spatters when you lift off the cover of the frying pan. If the temperature of the oil is correct, the pork will be perfectly browned and crisp.
Assemble the bandeja paisa. Scoop rice at the center of a plate. Top it with a fried egg. Surround them with the fried bananas, chorizo, cucumber and fried pork belly.