Friday, December 24, 2010

Hunting and gathering for Christmas

Belarmino Rico, left, master of the Cuban sandwich, and son Joseph at La Pola, their shop in West New York. The elder Rico is widely known as "King of the Cuban Sandwich."

The plan was to hit the gym at 9 a.m. and be among the first customers at Costco in Hackensack for its 10 a.m. opening today, but the store opened an hour early and the parking lot was half full when I got there, with traffic backed up in the turn lane and beyond at Kansas and South River streets.

My first stop was to get my Costco-bought eyeglasses adjusted and my second was the Seafood Road Show. 

There were about a half-dozen customers ahead of me, and I discussed the large lobster tails from Colombia with the man behind me, because they are the only seafood sold at Costco treated with a preservative, sodium bisulfite. I have never bought them because of the preservative.

Wikipedia says sodium bisulfite is used in wine and on leafy greens.

"In the case of wine making, sodium bisulfite releases sulfur dioxide gas when added to water or products containing water. The sulfur dioxide kills yeasts, fungi, and bacteria in the grape juice before fermentation.
"Sodium bisulfite is also added to leafy green vegetables in salad bars and elsewhere, to preserve apparent freshness, under names like LeafGreen. The concentration is sometimes high enough to cause severe allergic reactions.

 "In the 1980s, sodium bisulfite was banned from use on raw fruits and vegetables in the United States following the deaths of 13 people who unknowingly consumed produce treated with excessive amounts of the substance. "

I did buy three red king crab legs ($19.99 a pound), seven sea scallops ($12.99 a pound) and a pound and a half of U-15 farmed prawns ($9.99 a pound). 

I picked up a box of clementines from Spain for $4.99, a dollar less than when they appeared initially; five pounds of lemons, $6.79; and two pounds of Sunset-brand, herbicide-free Roma tomatoes, $4.99.

Cuban interlude

Around noon, we made our annual trek to La Pola, a Cuban sandwich shop in West New York, where the proprietor, his wife, sons Tony and Joseph, and employees greet a steady stream of customers who had placed orders for whole roasted pigs, pork shoulders, hams and ribs -- plus traditional side dishes -- for their Christmas dinners.

The atmosphere is always warm and welcoming. Belarmino Rico, who moved from his native La Pola in Spain to Havana, Cuba, is known far and wide as "King of the Cuban Sandwich."

His son Joseph feeds the heated press, or plancha, with sandwiches as the elder Rico and his helpers package pork and side dishes for customers.

We took home a small section of pork ribs; congris or white rice cooked with black beans; yuca, a garlic sauce for the meat and addictive, store-made plantain chips that have far less salt than commercial ones. Last year, we enjoyed a tortilla espanola, a Spanish potato omelet.

My wife and son ordered Cuban sandwiches -- roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and garlic sauce. The heated press had melted the cheese and crisped the foot-long pan de agua or water bread.

For Christmas dinner on Saturday, I'll serve them appetizers of crab and prawns, then Cuban-style ribs with side dishes. My dinner will be all Costco seafood: crab leg, prawns and sea scallops.

La Pola, Palisade Avenue and 54th Street, West New York; 201-867-6028.

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