The Secret To Good Frijoles Negros / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 19 June 2015 — Indispensable to any feast, everyone adds his or her own secret ingredient to the basic recipe for tomato-less sofrito*: the proportion of cumin, the cooking time over a low flame to congeal the bean, the sprinkle of dry wine, the pinch of sugar–in short, there are as many secrets as there are recipes.

I love black beans but, when in Barcelona I was invited to lunch at the Frijoles Negros Restaurant, I was alarmed: It didn’t seem proper to travel so far to eat what is routine fare here. However, Jorge, my nice host, managed set my mind at ease.

A semi-hidden location at No. 146 Carrer de Bruc street, almost at the corner with the busy Avenue Diagonal, houses this exquisitely designed spot that in no way recalls the accompanying themes of Cuban cuisine. White is the predominant color, with black/gray and red touches here and there, reproductions of Xavier Cugat posters, and that’s it.

But the food, which is what makes one return to a restaurant–or not, even when it boasts Picasso originals–is very good. Without trying to come off as a gourmet, I very much enjoyed the mix of dishes from international cuisine with a wink towards Cuban flavors, and vice versa. Thus the domestic salad of lettuce and tomato is enhanced by cut-up strawberry, and the very aristocratic salmon shares the billing with yucca and mojo [a garlic-and-sour-orange-based sauce or marinade].

The complement is a wait staff who are attentive at just the right degree to make you feel good.

The culprit of all this is Juan Carlos Puig Bretons, a Cuban of Catalan heritage with ideas to spare. In the evenings, live jam sessions and, if I’m not mistaken, the place even serves (or will serve) as a discotheque on weekends.

The longing in Juan Carlos flirts with opening a place in Cuba, now that he’s told that this can be done, but he hasn’t decided yet. Many requirements and few guarantees make him feel cautious, and so he waits. Besides, he is still quite involved in Frijoles Negros, his work-in-progress.

Now you know, the secret of good black beans lies not only in the cooking time.

As a conversation piece, I leave you with a little-known recipe–let’s see if Juan Carlos will dare to include it in his fusion cuisine.

Black Beans a la Menocal

(from La Cocina en el Hogar [The Kitchen in the Home] by Dr. Dolores Alfonso)

1.5 cups black beans

30 medium tomatos, peeled and seeded

3 onions

1 cup oil

1 bay leaf

5 tsp sugar

4 garlic cloves

4 liters water

1 large bell pepper

Salt and pepper

Cook the beans in the water with the bay leaf. When softened, add salt and the sofrito made from the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic and pepper. Later add the sugar and let simmer over a low flame until they thicken. They are left to rest for one day and reheated at serving time.

Yields 6 servings of 396 calories each.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, among others

Translator’s notes:

*Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes. It may or may not include tomato.