Meet the Hamburger of Venezuela
Many of you clicked here to find out how to make an arepa. Many of you clicked here to find out what an arepa even is. The vast, vast majority of you didn’t click at all. I call it the “Hamburger of Venezuela” because of it’s sheer popularity, and I predict, one day, that it will sweep America in taco-esque fashion. Arepas are a type of corn cake made from ground corn and water. They are light, refreshing, surprisingly simple to produce, and most of all (and much to the delight of trendy Americans) they are gluten free. Currently, Arepas can only be found in larger cities and Latin communities, and almost no one has heard of them outside of these areas.
I met my first arepa in a little restaurant here in Atlanta called Arepas Mia. I was shocked that I was able to eat something loaded with pork and not get the meat sweats or feel like passing out afterwards. Arepa dough can be described as being refreshing, and having a “bland comfort” to it. Arepas take many forms, and can be found all over South America, but it’s in Venezuela and Columbia that eating them has become a religion. Today I’ll cover Venezuela, keeping the Columbian version in my back pocket for a later post.
And this is where all the magic begins. This is P.A.N. brand pre-cooked corn meal. It is made out of pure corn and contains no preservatives, artificial flavors, or chemicals of any kind. This is the preferred brand of Latin cooks and chefs, dedicated to their craft, everywhere. It has a pure, unadulterated corn flavor. It can be a hit or miss on looking for it in the grocery stores, but can be purchased online easily. P.A.N. can also be found in many ethnic supermarkets. I bought this from a local carniceria. If P.A.N. is M.I.A., then other brands of corn four work just fine. Traditionally, the Venezuelans prefer white corn flour, while in many parts of Columbia, they use yellow corn.
Start off with 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, a couple of pinches of salt, and 1 tbsp of canola or vegetable oil in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups of the corn flour, while mixing with the hands. Knead until a malleable dough forms.
Divide the dough into 4 patties, about 3/8 inches thick. They don’t have to be perfect looking; arepas are meant to have a rustic, homemade appearance. They need to look like they came out of some Venezuelan grandmother’s kitchen and not a factory.
Traditionally, these are cooked on a metal griddle. Here, I grilled them for about 4 minutes on each side, until nice and charred. You could pan fry or bake them as well. When they are done cooking, slice through them horizontally, leaving a small section attached on one side. Scoop out the doughy interior of the arepa and set aside for a snack, or add it into your filling.
Now for the filling. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 mashed avocado, 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1 medium jalapeno (deribbed, deseeded, and minced), juice of 1 lime, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Season 3 chicken thighs with salt and pepper, and grilled them over a medium high flame for 5 minutes on each side, or until well done (165 degrees). Chop the cooked chicken and set aside to cool. Once cool, add to the guacamole mixture. In Venezuela they call this preparation reina pepiada.
Fill with the chicken salad mixture and serve!
Venezuelan Arepas (reina papiada style)
1 1/2 cups of pre-cooked corn meal
1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 pinches of kosher salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 avocado, mashed
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup diced red onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1 medium jalapeno, minced
3 chicken thighs
1 tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper. to taste
For the chicken salad mixture
Brush some medium hot grill grates with a little canola oil. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or to 165 degrees fahrenheit. Chop the cooked chicken and set aside to let cool down. In a mixing bowl, combine the avocado, mayonnaise, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and season with a little salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the avocado mixture and set aside.
For the arepas
In a mixing bowl, add the lukewarm water, 2 pinches of salt, and vegetable oil. Slowly add in the corn meal, while mixing with the other hand. Knead until a malleable dough forms. Divide into four equal patties and grill over a medium high flame, for approx 4 minutes on each side, or nice and charred. Remove, and slice through, horizontally, leaving a small section attached on one side. Remove the doughy interior and set aside. Stuff each arepa generously with the chicken salad mixture and serve.