Recaito is a staple in Caribbean cooking and is most well known as being a Puerto Rican art. I have made Recaito and also purchased it in jars (Goya). I don't use it daily, so often it would go bad in the fridge. The basic issue is that it is not really cooked and not acidic. Mold will set in given time.
I set about trying to ferment it to see if those endearing qualities of Recaito might be respected while enhancing preservation. What is so pleasing about the traditional product? Freshness. When you cook seven days a week and need to chop fresh aromatics (onions, garlic), peppers, and herbs each day, it would be a great shortcut to spend a few minutes one of those weekdays batching that work into a container that will supply your cooking all week.
The ferment shown at left is not the final product. When it is done I will puree it in the blender.
There are many recipes and discussions on the internet about these products, and none of them say anything about fermentation.
Sofrito, which is a tomato-based variant commonly thought to be Spanish (funny, because the tomato is Central/South American in origin). I read an appealing article explaining how Sofrito is recaito with tomato paste and olive oil seasoned with Achiote (anneto) added. Achiote also originated in the American tropics, and widely attributed to tropical Mexico.
Essential to this production, bell peppers and sweet peppers are yet another vegetable attributed to tropical Mexico. The Spanish colonists who introduced chiles, tomatoes, anneto, and so many other American species of produce to the old world — were looking for good old black pepper. So chiles are called peppers. But pepper is about seeds and chiles are all about fruit. Calling a bell pepper a bell chile will confuse people, because chiles are piquent and bell peppers are one of the few chile variants which lack capsaicin.
It seems like the (chile) pepper took a foothold in Spanish cooking much as the tomato became central to Italian cooking. Back to the topic at hand.
I like to add a modest punch to my Recaito by adding some cubanelle peppers. Also, it impossible to get Ajis Dulce here in the desert, so some variety of sweet pepper will have to stand in.
Culantro, also a tropical American species, is common in all of Central America and grows much like a weed in yards throughout. I have been unable to find it anywhere here, so I set about growing it indoors. This has been a two year project, and I finally managed to cultivate a modest sample crop. If you cannot get your hands on culantro, double the amount of cilantro in the recipe.
3 large Green Bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
3 - 5 Cubanelle peppers, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
Either 1 large (red, yellow, or orange) bell pepper or a handful of mini sweet peppers, seeded and cut. If you have Ajis Dulces, then 8-10 of those
3 medium brown onions cubed then sliced into 1 inch chunks
1 head of garlic, peeled, crushed, than chopped
10-15 leaves culantro, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Although the final product will be pureed in the food processor or blender, I find the rate and quality of fermentation to be enhanced by larger chunks of vegetables.
Put your peppers, onions, and garlic in a bowl and salt liberally. Mix in the salt so that it coats all of the veggies. Let this sweat down for several hours. Mix in the cilantro and culantro just before you pack into a jar. I use a ½ gallon jar for this production and usually need to add a little distilled water to cover the veggies.
I do not recommend rinsing out the salt. Pack it all into the jar. You can ferment from 10 to 30 days. When you can no longer resist the aroma, it is ready.
Finish by chopping the mixture in a food processor or blender. Then jar & refrigerate. Due to the absence of tomato and the acidity of the ferment, hot-water canning should work well.
Bonus Recipe: Sofrito
1 cup recaito
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp achiote seeds
6 oz can of tomato paste
Saute the achiote in olive oil for 3 minutes or so. Fish out the seeds and discard. Add the tomato paste and saute for a few minutes longer. Stir in the Recaito, allow to cool, then transfer to a jar for storage in the fridge.
These basics shave a lot of time off of preparing so many Caribbean dishes that you will wonder why you never got around to making up a batch. Fermenting adds months to the storage life of these kitchen staples. Bon Appetit.