When my friend Maria suggested we get together to make this seafood asopao, a soupy, savory rice-thickened stew from Puerto Rico, I jumped at the chance. I am forever trying to pry family and/or cultural heritage recipes from my friends, and since Maria’s one of the few people I am willing to share kitchen space with anyway, making this favorite from her familial recipe box seemed like a win-win.

Maria says “This recipe is from Cocina Criolla, Puerto Rico’s answer to The Joy of Cooking. Authored by the doyenne of Puerto Rican cookery, Carmen Aboy Valdejulli, the first edition was published in 1954 and it has been reprinted, translated into English, and updated repeatedly. It’s given to every new bride and dispatched with every adult child braving the culinary desert that is the mainland. My family has at least four dog eared, food-splattered copies ranging from the first edition to the 59th.”

Of course, the very traditional will note that we’re subbing in prepared sofrito for homemade, and an off-the-shelf seasoning blend for homemade annatto. Handing the mic back to Maria: “Mrs. Valdejulli makes everything from scratch, but honestly that’s just not feasible, as making a Puerto Rican-style sofrito would require a trip to a specialty Asian market just to find the greens required. This dish is something that should be simple and easy enough for a weeknight, so shortcuts are acceptable.”

We actually made this months ago, but I was holding out to make a homemade sofrito myself, then do a side-by-side comparison. Mmyeah… that’s not happened as yet and I’ve stopped holding my breath. Someday. Given that Maria’s almost as persnickety as I am, we’re just going to go ahead and assume that her approved shortcuts should in fact be approved. Game on.

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