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Venezuelan Cachapas


While traditionally topped with pork, beef or chicken, cachapas lend themselves to vast adaptations, including seafood toppings of shrimp, calamari or fried clams. Photos courtesy of gordon food service Sweet corn pancakes provide a perfect base for on-trend innovation

By Gerry Ludwig

As chefs and operators seek to create new menu items that utilize less costly ingredients, dishes featuring savory pancakes are appearing in casual and casual-upscale restaurants across the country.

Some chefs are putting contemporary spins on classic savory pancakes such as the Korean pajeon and Japanese okonomiyaki, while others are going in new directions with cakes made from sourdough, rye, buckwheat, potato and chickpea. These creative cakes are being filled or topped with an endless variety of flavorful ingredients, including fresh cheeses, cold and warm salads, braised meats, stews, roasted vegetables, tartares made from meat, seafood and shellfish, and a host of flavorful sauces, dressings and condiments.

A traditional Latin pancake ripe for mainstream menu innovation is the Venezuelan cachapa. Unlike its better-known cousin the arepa, which is made from corn flour, the primary ingredient in cachapas is fresh sweet corn. This results in a pancake with a fresh, intense and unmistakable corn flavor.

Cachapa batter is a simple preparation, although recipes vary widely. Some are as simple as a purée of fresh sweet corn with salt and sugar added. In our testing we found that the addition of eggs and a bit of starch and cornmeal yields a pancake that is delicate but also resilient and pliable.

There is no doubt that the best cachapas are made with fresh corn, and purists would use nothing else. This would, however, limit it to a seasonal offering. We have experienced more than satisfactory results using an IQF “Super Sweet” product.

With a simple ingredient list, cachapas are easily customized into bite-sized delights. A delectable vegetarian option is topped with layers of roasted and pickled veggies, crumbled cheese, fresh herbs and nuts or seeds.

CACHAPA BATTER

This recipe yields approximately 24 – 4-inch cachapas

3 lbs. fresh corn kernels or IQF Super Sweet, thawed
¾ cup  corn starch
½ cup  yellow cornmeal
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
vegetable oil

1. Purée the corn kernels in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a stainless mixing bowl.

2. Add the starch, cornmeal, beaten egg, salt and sugar. Whisk mixture until thoroughly blended.

3. Ladle batter onto a heated griddle or sauté pan coated with vegetable oil. Thickness should be approximately ¼ inch. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until nicely browned. (Note: Cachapas take significantly longer to cook than a flour-based pancake. Several minutes per side may be needed to fully cook the corn.)

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Large, 6- to 8-inch-diameter cachapas are meant to be filled and folded while smaller 3- to 4-inch ones are ideal topped and served in multiples as a sharing plate. Silver-dollar sized cachapas make a unique hors d’oeuvre.

Garnishes may be as simple as a smear of butter with a few slices of fresh cheese. However, the opportunity to create signature dishes by filling or topping cachapas with both classic and nontraditional ingredients abounds.

At Venezuelan restaurants such as New York’s Cachapas Y Mas and Pica Pica Maize Kitchen in San Francisco, traditional filling and topping ingredients include:

> Paisa – Venezuelan melting cheese
> Deviled ham
> Shredded beef or chicken
> Grilled beef carne asada
> Roast or fried pork
> Chorizo

Traditional sauces and salsas add layers of flavor:

> Spicy ketchup
> Black bean paste
> Sugar cane and tamarind sauce
> Smoked chile and sour cream
> Guasacaca avocado relish

With a simple ingredient list, cachapas are easily customized into bite-sized delights. A delectable vegetarian option is topped with layers of roasted and pickled veggies, crumbled cheese, fresh herbs and nuts or seeds.
To create a signature cachapa, virtually any nontraditional topping whose flavor is compatible with corn would be appropriate:

> Braised beef short rib
> Milk-braised and pulled pork shoulder, chicken thigh or turkey leg
> Steak or tuna tartare
> Seafood ceviches and tiraditos
> Grilled shrimp, scallops, octopus or calamari
> Fried oysters or clams
> Grilled or roasted vegetables
> Grilled, braised or fried greens
> Rajas – sautéed sliced poblano peppers, onions and cream

A variety of cheeses could add unique flavors:

> Fresh and aged goat cheeses
> Fresh mozzarella and burrata
> Soft and semi-soft cheeses including Brie, Taleggio, Port Salut and Bel Paese
> Grating cheeses including cotija and Parmesan

Finishing options to consider:

> Chile- or mustard-spiked mayonnaise
> Chimichurri or pesto
> Fruit, vegetable or sun-dried tomato relishes
> Buffalo, barbecue and Creole sauces
> Julienne pickled vegetables
> Chopped or fried herbs
> Toasted sesame seeds, pepitas or pine nuts
> Tobacco onions

With a bit of imagination, most any kitchen could easily produce delicious corn cake cachapa dishes without adding any new items to its inventory.

 

About The Author

Gerry Ludwig

Chef Gerry Ludwig is a nationally recognized food writer, speaker and trend tracker, and leads the Culinary R&D department for Gordon Food Service, based in Grand Rapids, Mich.