Everything you need to know to become an arepa making machine.
Being an arepa master is something that will come with time and practice – but once the technique has been learned, so many culinary possibilities will be at your fingertips. Mastering the arepa has gone on for generations in Colombia and Venezuela and each family or person can develop their own secret method to produce the right dough consistency, form and taste. I did not get the experience of having my mother or grandmother make arepas early in the morning hundreds of times. I had to learn the hard way – and quite honestly, there is not a lot of technique out there for mastering the arepa.
Lets go back in history just a little bit. Back in the day, arepas were not made from precooked bagged corn meal. The corn meal was made by hand, starting from picking and growing the corn, shucking and grinding it. Today, we have the luxury of buying precooked corn meal (P.A.N) or other brand names to give us a nice jumpstart with great taste and texture.
Before we begin, lets talk about what we want to achieve. Depending on the style of arepa you would like to make, either Colombian or Venezuelan, it will alter your form and shape a little bit. For instance in Colombia, the arepas are a little wider and shorter. In Venezuela the arepas are a bit taller and less wide allowing you to fill it with meat and vegetables.
Either way, you want the perfect dough consistency, not to moist, not to dry. Not to thick so it cooks through and perfectly round. This is the tricky part. There are a few techniques out there which we will cover later.
The next biggest decision you will need to make is if you want to make arepas with water or milk. I have personally used water dozens of times, but have moved on to milk because to me, it makes the dough more moist when cooking and does not dry out as fast. There are some real die hard water fans and some die hard milk fans. Through my research I tend to see water being favored most likely because that how it was done in the past. If you are lactose intolerant, using water would be the way to go.
There is one more decision to make. Did you want cheese in that? I prefer one thousand times cheese when I make arepas. Mixed in with the dough, and inside it. It is an experience like no other. Once becoming a master, you can make arepas (~10 of them) in 30 minutes from start to finish.
Begin by gathering your ingredients. You will need some P.A.N pre-cooked white corn meal or other brand, salt, butter, cheese and water or milk. Time to make arepas!
How to make Arepas
Pour the corn meal (2 cups), the water (2.5 cups) or milk and cheese (~1.5 cups) into a bowl and mix by hand, making sure to get out all the lumps. It will be hard to tell since there are chunks of cheese in there but a technique i have learned is to squeeze a bit in your palm and let is slide through your fingers. Repeat until all lumps are out. By this time, you may need to add a little more liquid to the dough. It dries out fast. Always add less than you think you will need, you can always add more.
Start to mold this dough into a large round ball. Once you can pick up the ball without it falling apart, you know you have a good consistency. It should be about the consistency of Play-doh.
Next, break off a chunk about the size of a large meatball, and roll it into a ball within the palms of your hands. This will be our first arepa. Once you get to this point, speed is key to this being a success.
Take the small ball of dough and make a thumbprint in it and flatten it out into a small bowl. If you take your two hand and connect your index fingers and thumbs making a circle, it should not be bigger than this. We need to make a perfect little bowl to contain all our delicious cheese.
Next, take a hand full of Mozzarella cheese and place it delicately inside our handmade corn bowl. Don’t be shy, you can always take some out but it is better to have more than less.
Next, fold over one side pinching it shut, making what I call an Arepanada or an empanada style shape. If you need to dip your fingers in some water or milk and seal up the edges. Don’t worry, if cheese is poking through right now, push it back in or clamp it closed. Its OK.
The trickiest of trickiest parts is upon us. The perfect size and shape. Start to rotate the Arepanada in your hand about one inch at a time, sealing the edges and flattening it out. This will take practice. Run your finger along the edges – make a hook with your index finger and press it around the sides of the arepa making it round. Place it in the palm of one hand and throw it into the palm of your other hand. Catching it in your palm. Repeat the quickly for about five or six times.
Time to multi-task! Turn up your grill/griddle (I prefer a pancake or breakfast griddle) to 290. The key to making arepas is not by making one look good. Its by making a dozen look good and fast – you have a family of hungry people waiting for their delicious meal. You need to focus, you need to own this, You need to become an arepa making machine.
By now your grill should be at 290 degrees. Take a salted butter stick and draw a circle of butter for your beautiful arepa, not just an outline of a circle, fill it in. The butter should be sizzling but not burning. If it starts to burn or sizzle out of control, its to hot for us. Place the arepa on the griddle and sprinkle with a little coarse salt. Flip occasionally. We want to see a nice golden crust – the dark spots are the cheese. Over cooking can happen fast, but the secret signal to determine if an arepa is almost done cooking is when the cheese starts to ooze out of the sides like a slow waterfall. This process should take about 12-14 minutes. Lower the heat or raise it as necessary.
Place on a plate and serve hot. A well cooked arepa when opened will make beautiful cheese strings connecting from both sides. Serve with some Colombian hot chocolate and enjoy!
Please try to make arepas. They are delicious and now you will know how. If you have any questions, please write to me in to comments or send me a message on the official ArepasDelGringo Facebook page.
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