Q. The original Cuban fritas (hamburger) is served with very fine cut (not julianna) fries. Very few places make them the old fashioned way. Could you find the name of the fries, how to make them, and the original recipe for the fritas?
There is little mention of the history of fritas in my collection of Cuban cookbooks. Some food writers claim fritas were simply an attempt to take basic American hamburgers and make them taste more palatable. But it seems the frita definitely originated in Cuba. In her cookbook/memoir A Taste of Old Cuba (Harper-Collins, 1994) Maria Josefa Lluria de O’Higgins recalls that fritas were eaten “on the go” in Cuba. “I remember them being sold on the sidewalks in Havana and in the crowds at sporting events the way hot dogs are sold at Yankee Stadium. As a youngster I enjoyed what to me was the great luxury of buying fritas during the national regattas in Varadero from vendors who would set up little make-shift shops across the street from our elegant Club Nautico
The most definitive history I’ve found is by South Florida blogger Sef Gonzalez, at BurgerBeast.com.
“The frita is mostly found in South Florida but its origins are from 1930s Cuba where it was street food. Carts with propane fueled stoves lined the street selling fritas to customers. At least one of the Rey De Las Fritas in Miami has a picture of a frita cart in Cuba. Dagoberto Estevil is believed to have brought the frita to Miami in 1961 when he brought it to Little Havana (Eighth Street at 12th). He named his restaurant Fritas Domino. That location is no longer open but a Fritas Domino does exist on eighth Street and 67th Avenue in Miami, opened by one of Estevil’s children in the late 1980s.”
As to the authentic recipe, interpretations vary widely. But it is clear that you start with a ground meat patty — be it beef, or with additions of either pork or chorizo. The meat is always seasoned with a lot of smoky paprika and often cumin. After grilling, it is always tucked into a bun or toasted and buttered Cuban bread and topped with very very thin fried shoestring potatoes and either cooked or raw onion. Finally, it usually has a “secret” sauce that ranges from simple Thousand Island dressing to complicated cooked reductions that are spooned on top (and sometimes the dressing is incorporated in the raw meat patty, too.
Many highly celebrated cooks get it all wrong. For example, Ingrid Hoffmann of Simply Delicioso on the Food Network calls a hamburger patty splashed with lime and served on a Cuban roll with plenty of ketchup a frita. But at least more Americans are embracing Cuban foods: Morningstar Farms even has a vegetarian version of fritas: You brush the veggie patty with orange juice, paprika, cumin and garlic powder, and serve with cheese, tomato, onion and pickle in bun.
A note on the fries: Most versions call for convenient canned potato sticks. But if you are ambitious the better taste comes from deep frying finely grated raw potatoes. A simpler alternative is to buy frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, separate the shreds as best you can, then deep fry. (Be careful — they brown very quickly).
I have tried many fritas recipes over the years, but the one I keep going back to — it is even better than my own version published in 2005 — is by Three Guys from Miami. Jorge Castillo, Raúl Musibay and Glenn Lindgren write the celebrated food and travel blogs at icuban.com and are the authors of two definitive cookbooks : Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban and Three Guys from Miami Celebrate Cuban (Gibbs Smith).
I found this colorful and deliciously different slaw recipe in a collection of summer recipes at sunmaid.com. Besides being a perfect no-cook side for all kinds of grilled fare, I love the fact that there is no mayo and so no cholesterol in this slaw — and as a bonus a serving provides 93 percent of the daily value of Vitamin C, 70 percent of Vitamin A and 19 percent of dietary fiber.
Note: Sun-Maid, the world’s largest processor of raisins and dried fruits, is celebrating its 100th anniversary by offering a free eBook, Sun-Maid Raisins & Dried Fruits: Serving American Families & the World Since 1912. A digital edition of the print book created by London-based publisher Dorling Kindersley earlier this year, the eBook is available to download for free at www.sunmaid.com/book and through the iTunes store.