According to Merriam-Webster, “Luxury: a condition or situation of great comfort, ease and wealth, something that is expensive and not necessary, something that is helpful or welcome and that is not usually or always available”. Back when I was teaching chemistry n Maui I would often ask students what they felt were “luxury” items in their lives. Cell phones were ruled out as they were considered a necessity, ditto for cars, air conditioning and fresh hot water.
To the average Cubans all of the above listed items would be considered a major luxury; I think that even having someone who took care of the family horse ever other day would be considered a luxury. I can think of two major developments which have had a major impact on our lifestyles in terms of food; fertilizer and refrigeration. Fritz Haber was a German chemist who in 1913 developed a process for producing the primary components in fertilizers. I’ll discuss the ramifications of his discovery at a later date. Let’s take a look at refrigeration. The use of ice to preserve foods freshness goes back several thousand years with many of the world’s ancient cultures using some type of ice preservation process. During the 16th century it was discovered that if sodium or potassium nitrate were added to water the resulting chemical reaction created a type of refrigeration bath. The Italians used such a reaction to cool their wine. In the mid 1700’s Ben Franklin conducted experiments using evaporation to cool an object and achieved a temperature of 7 O F in 65oF air. Later in the 1800’s the vapor-compression based refrigerator was developed however most Americans were still using ice blocks to cool their ice boxes until the early 1900’s. It was not until the early to mid 1900’s when widespread use of the vapor-compression process was utilized for both cooling refrigerators and air-conditioning our living areas.
We don’t even think about refrigeration being a luxury, we seem to only be interested in having the latest and greatest stainless steel refrigerators (full disclosure my front loading fridg. on Makana is stainless). This has resulted in not being able to hang pictures, post cards and calendars on the doors but an also an increase in energy consumption. Refrigeration in Cuba is a luxury. In the Casa Particulars which we stayed in one of the first thinks our hosts would often point out would be a small refrigerator (think college dorm). On a few occasions I did see a larger version with a small freezer inside. With refrigeration being a luxury it was no wonder that most of the meats we saw displayed for sale were “room temperature”. From the local markets on Saturday’s to the “butchers” in the cities most of the meat was “fresh”. We did eat pork and chicken however beef was typically not available, although at the government run resort in Guadalavaca I had a hamburger and French fries. We didn’t personally buy any of the fresh stuff however that’s not to say we weren’t served it by our hosts.
Fortunately we have a large freezer aboard Makana which was filled with a nice selection of USA Grade A beef prior to departing Florida in November. So last night’s meal was one of my favorites, cheeseburgers and Cuban twice fried French fries. And to make the meal interesting I had scored a bunch of potatoes at a market in Cuba. These potatoes were unique, purplish on the outside and white on the inside. They have an unbelievable taste not as sweet as a sweet potato but much sweeter than and Idaho or Maine spud. I always fry my French fries twice; I was turned on to twice fried French fries over twenty years ago by a chef I met while working at Keystone Resort in Colorado. And for the burger smoked Gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion can’t be beat, enjoy.
- 2 -3 lbs. potatoes
- ¼ tsp. each curry, salt, black and white pepper
- 1 Tbs basil
- 1 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese, Locatelli's is best.
- Canola oil for frying
- 1 lbs. ground beef, I prefer 80%
- cheese, bacon, lettuce, onions and tomatoes for toppings
- Burger rolls
- Heat oil in wok or deep pot while cutting potatoes into ¼" by ¼" strips and soak in cool water. Use a strainer or salad spinner to drain water from potatoes and cook in hot oil until soft. Then remove onto a baking pan covered with paper towels to absorb oil and place in oven to keep warm. Cook burgers however you prefer, I use the grill. When burgers are placed on grill heat oil to re-cook the fries. When you flip the burgers finish cooking the fries until golden which should be just about the same time for the burgers to be done. Top fries with spices and cheese, enjoy