Making arepas in Williamsburg is like bringing coal to Newcastle or unfortunate graphic tees to Miami. There are not one, not two, but THREE arepas restaurants within a four-block radius of my apartment (Serious Eats recently did an arepera crawl in the 'hood). The inexpensive Venezuelan street food is having a serious moment in cash-strapped New York: they're cheap, they're filling and they're portable. This week, I tried to recreate two varieties from the menu at my favorite arepera, Caracas. Which in this town is about as useless as trying to make my own Mr. Softee. Actually, that sounds awesome.
Reina Pepiada Arepas, Arepas de Pollo & Fried Plantains
• Pre-cooked cornmeal. This box says “pre-cooked maize meal.” “Maize” is just the Navajo word for regular corn, right? Or is it that shriveled brown corn you hang on your door at Thanksgiving?
• 1/4 pound mozzarella and a brick of cheddar cheese.
• Vegetable oil. You have corn oil, is that the same? Corn is a type of vegetable.
• 4 boneless, skinless, soulless chicken breasts.
• 1 ripe avocado, 2 limes, 2 plantains and 1 onion. Not the purple kind. I'm pretty sure.
• Cilantro, which looks a lot like parsley, so be sure to smell everything in the produce aisle until you find the thing that smells like the alley behind Rosa Mexicano.
1. On the way home from the grocery store, pass two of the neighborhood arepas places and think about how easy and fast it would be to just get some takeout. Press your nose against the glass and watch other people eat their professionally prepared arepas.
2. Buy a six-pack of Presidente at the bodega because they probably don't import beer from Venezuela and you're pretty sure the Dominican Republic is close, geographically.
3. When home, mix 1 cup cornmeal or maize meal or whatever with 1 cup grated mozzarella.
4. Add 1/8 of a teaspoon salt. There is no 1/8 teaspoon. They don't make that. It only goes down to 1/4 teaspoon.
5. Pour in 1 cup and two tablespoons water and mix until absorbed. Wonder if it still looks too moist and add more maize meal. Whoops, that was a lot. Add more water. Wait, now you think it's too watery again. Add more maize meal. You should probably add more cheese now that you've added more of every other ingredient. At some point, end vicious cycle and set bowl aside.
6. Coat a frying pan in olive oil and fry chicken breasts. They're taking a really long time. Pull them out of the pan and butterfly them.
7. Drop one on the floor during the transition back to the pan and ask your roommate if the five-second rule applies to half-cooked meats. The answer would be normally be yes, but your floors haven't been mopped since 2007, so you must sacrifice that breast.
8. When clean chicken is done cooking, slice it and place in bowl.
9. Mix 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped onions, 4 tbsp. lime juice, 1/4 tsp. sugar, a dash of salt and pepper, and...cumin? You forgot to buy cumin! No, you don't have any cumin in the apartment already. Is that even a commonly used spice? Okay, sure, name five recipes that call for cumin.
10. Stir vigorously and add 2/3 of the sliced chicken.
11. Peel and slice the avocado.
12. If you'd just gotten takeout, by now you'd be done eating and probably watching the Teri Hatcher E! True Hollywood Story.
13. Grate 1/4 cup cheddar cheese. Take a massive bite out of the brick. Cheese is the best.
14. Google “how do you caramelize onions?” Ugh, there are like, nine different ways. Do the one with the fewest steps.
15. Chop half an onion.
16. Coat pan in olive oil and pour in onions. Stir continuously until they brown.
17. Add some brown sugar and stir. Place in bowl and set aside.
18. Time to cook your arepa shells! Coat a big pan in corn oil and let it heat up. Mold dough into flat disks a few inches in diameter. Is cornmeal supposed to be this crumbly? Seriously, these will not hold together. This can't be right; did you leave out an ingredient? You feel so worthless, just like Teri Hatcher after Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman was canceled.
19. Okay, looks like pressure is the key. Place arepa shells in the pan and let cook a few minutes on each side.
20. Divide them between plates.
21. For the Arepas de Pollo, top arepa shell with a handful of grated cheddar, a few slices of chicken and caramelized onions. Season with salt and pepper.
22. For the Chicken Avocado Salad Arepas, top arepa shell with a few slices of chicken coated with mayonnaise dressing and a few avocado slices. Drizzle with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
23. Shit, you were going to make plantains, too, weren't you? Okay, slice up the plantains and fry in a pan coated with corn oil. Can we eat already?
24. The arepas are a bit dry. Thus, the Presidente. They should really carry this in Venezuela.