Latin American Cuisine: Papas Chorreadas (Colombian Potatoes with Cheese and Tomato Sauce)
Editor's Note: With Latin American Cuisine, we explore the wide world of food in South and Central America. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.
Quick pro-tip for those visiting in-laws in Colombia: Do not eat before you get there, and make sure that your first portion is as small as possible. Going to a Colombian family lunch is like having your eyes taped open during a Seinfeld marathon. You quickly realize that there is too much of a good thing.
My first experience was at my uncle-in-law's Bogotá apartment where we were served sobrebarriga—the slow-roasted flank steak that serves as one of the core dishes of traditional santafereno cuisine (the food in and around the mountain-based capitol of Bogotá). Faced with a great looking roast smothered in hogao—a tomato and onion-based sauce frequently employed to smother things—and an even better looking array of side dishes, I went for my first pass piling my plate high with more than a little bit of everything.
Big mistake. After I plowed through half my plate, hands appeared out of nowhere to pile on the seconds. Followed by thirds. Followed by fourths. Eventually, I had to resort to crouching over my plate with my hands in a defensive position, lowering my center of gravity so I'd be ready to fend off any peas or potatoes fired my way like a goalkeeper defending his net.
I could have handled the meat and the rice and the vegetables. In the end, it was the potatoes that did me in.
Papas chorreadas start with potatoes simply boiled in salted water, but then get doused in a sauce made with hogao thickened with heavy cream and curds of just-starting-to-melt cheese. Carbs smothered in cheese and tomatoes? Think of it as a strange Colombian cousin to pizza or pasta in pink sauce.
The sauce itself is a snap to make—it comes together in the time it takes the potatoes to boil. The base is made by sautéeing onions and tomatoes together in olive oil. You can use fresh roma tomatoes, peeling them before slicing, but I prefer to use canned whole peeled tomatoes, which saves you the trouble, and they usually taste riper and more tomatoey anyway.
After that, a dash of cream is added, and finally a handful of grated cheese curds. The idea is to add the cheese just before serving so that it is barely beginning to melt when the sauce hits the place. You don't want a smooth sauce here, rather soft chunks of cheese that melt in your mouth under the heat of the potatoes—like the curds on a good dish of Canadian poutine.
And remember, save room for more. Because there is ALWAYS more.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.