Sofrito is a savory sauce that originated in Spain and Portugal and was made by sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil. After the discovery of the New World, peppers and tomatoes were taken back home by the Spaniards and were incorporated into this sauce. When Spanish women started coming to the Americas in the 17th century, they brought with them the sofrito that was to become the quintessential condiment for most of the savory specialties in Latin America.
Sofrito goes by different names such as refrito, recado, ahogado, rehogado, hogao and aliño. Most of the sofritos are basically the same; what changes from country to country, and even within a country, are the herbs and spices cooks choose to use for specific dishes. In some of the Caribbean countries, such as Puerto Rico and Cuba, the sofrito is more elaborate than in most other countries, because they use minced ham or salt pork to flavor the sauce. They also use some special kinds of peppers and culantro, an herb indigenous to Puerto Rico. The cooks in some countries prepare this sauce in quantities large enough to last for a few meals. The ingredients are puréed in a blender or food processor and cooked for a few minutes before cooling and storing. It will last for about 10 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen in ice cube trays to be used as needed. Recipes usually call for 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the sofrito—though most of the recipes throughout Latin America simply include the ingredients for the sofrito needed for that specific recipe along with other ingredients for the dish. Commercially prepared sofrito is available in Mexican and some American supermarkets.
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 teaspoon annatto oil or sweet paprika
1 medium onion finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 small green pepper, cored and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic passed through a garlic press
2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and chopped1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; add rest of ingredients, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and saucy. Add a little water if they dry up too soon. Variations call for the onions to be first sautéed until transparent before adding the rest of the ingredients.
In the next post I will feature Papas Chorreadas (potatoes with a cheese and sofrito sauce), where a sofrito is the base for a cheese sauce.