02.25.13_GandingaAwhile back, I made gandinga, a Puerto Rican stew made from pork offal: typically, kidney, heart, and liver. In my East Harlem neighborhood, these are packaged together at the grocery store, specifically for gandinga.

I had bought this package because I wanted to make Filipino menudo, a wholly satisfying stew made of pork liver, pork, tomato, potato, garbanzo. When my mom told me I needed pork liver, I thought it would be simple to find in a neighborhood that sells an abundance of pork. A cursory glance at the labels through the 3 neighborhood grocery stores I frequent yielded nothing. At the Union Square Greenmarket, I asked a farm that specialized in pigs and pork products if they had it. “Sorry, we save it for paté.” Ahh…they can charge much more for paté than for an offal product that most people (at least the frequent shoppers of Union Square) don’t use.

I gave up my search. Decided I’d wait until I found a proper butcher, a search that I always tell myself I’m going to work on, then never do, or get intimidated by the high prices, and end up at Whole Foods instead.

Then one day, I was in my local Fine Fare, a standard neighborhood grocery store that’s always packed. I generally avoid this store because it’s such an unpleasant experience, pushing through the too many people at any time of day. But maybe I was coming from the subway and it was on my way home. Browsing through the meat section, I spied something that could have been a pork liver. Picked up the package: “pork gnadinga (sp.) (cerdo, corazon, higado).” I pulled out my phone and Googled each word – found nothing on gnadinga (because it’s spelled incorrectly – it’s actually gandinga); cerdo means pig; corazón heart; and then higado. Voila! Liver. I immediately purchased the package.

When I made menudo I only used one piece out of the package – the higado, or what I assumed it was, because it looks very much like beef liver. Menudo involves many other ingredients, including more pork, and while the liver is a highlight ingredient and contributes to the distinctive flavor of the dish, you don’t necessarily want it to overtake the dish. I saved the rest of the organ meats in the freezer until the other day.

I never forgot about the other meats, but I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with them. Make more menudo? But how do I cook the corazón? I decided that I should just try what it was sold for: gandinga.

I got my recipe from: The recipes are written by the Rican Chef, also known as Carmen Pilar Santos de Curran. This recipe isn’t perfect but it’s very good.

The Rican Chef says the gandinga (her name for the collection of organ meats) consists of heart, liver, and kidneys. The package in my freezer was labeled (by me) “pork liver, heart.” No kidney. But if it was sold at the store as gandinga, wouldn’t there have been a kidney in there? Didn’t I use the liver already for menudo? This is where some professional meat identification training would have come in handy.

photo 4Fortunately I had my mom on the other end of the phone as I was prepping – she told me to take a picture and send it to her. “I don’t think you have a kidney there – 2 hearts and a liver.” When I cut the hearts open and sent her that picture, “Yeah, definitely not the kidney. If it were, there would be the urinary tract and all this other white stuff inside, which you have to clean and discard or your whole dish will smell awful.” Yikes. My mom added, “I wouldn’t buy kidney at the grocery store unless it was whole – otherwise you don’t know how much it’s been handled or how well it’s been cleaned.”

My mom took a look at the recipe and said, “Oh, this is like bopis,” and sent me a link to this recipe: A Filipino dish also made from organ meat, though in this case it’s lung and heart. She said she never liked the taste of lung, so she just uses heart.

The similarity in these dishes: use of organ meats, the richness of which is offset by the use of aromatics and spice. In the case of gandinga, the aromatics are culantro (not a misspelling – these are long leaves that Puerto Ricans call recao, and taste like cilantro, though these plants are different genuses), cilantro, green bell peppers, onion, garlic. In bopis, the aromatics are ginger, red bell pepper, carrots, red onion, garlic.

I’m curious – is there a dish from Spain (the common factor in Puerto Rican and Filipino colonization) that incorporates the same themes and flavor profiles, modified in each country by what ingredients can be found locally?

The gandinga was delicious. As there’s little fat in this dish, the liver and heart are somewhat chewy, but as Curt and I both said, it forces us to eat more slowly, which isn’t a bad thing.


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