Thursday, February 1, 2024

Cooking with Rod


By Rod Cohenour

While living in Ahwatukee, an upscale suburb of Phoenix, Melinda and I often visited the Havana Cafe in a local shopping center. This was one of three Havana Cafe locations operated by BJ Hernandez and her late husband, Gilbert.

BJ Hernandez and Gilbert opened their original Havana Cafe on Camelback Road in east Phoenix in 1989. It eventually was joined by others in north Scottsdale and Ahwatukee.

The Ahwatukee location closed in 2011, followed by the Phoenix one in 2014 and the Scottsdale one in 2015.

The food was divine, the cafe a small jewel of classy yet simple decor, the ambiance enchanting.

My Miss M always planned to try the full menu, but then would order the Pollo Cubano with Cuban Black Beans, rice, and the delicious plantains which she said perfectly complemented the chicken dish.

Just before closing her Havana Cafe restaurants, BJ Hernandez gifted her long-time customers with her recipe shared online for the Pollo Cubano which is now shared here.

Included are recipes M has created to approximate the sides she so loved to order with her favorite dish.

These recipes are delectable, not that complicated to prepare, but worth every moment to grace your table with this exotic cuisine.

Enjoy A Cuban Adventure.

Bon appetit ~!

Havana Café’s Pollo Cubano

When BJ Hernandez, chef and owner of the three Havana Cafe locations in the Valley, started making this recipe, it was only because it was a special she created for her guests. Now, it's her most popular dish at the restaurants and has found a permanent home on the menu.

Part of its appeal is its use of citrusy flavors on the chicken. The recipe uses bitter orange seasoning, made with orange and lime juices, as well as garlic, salt and cumin to create a rich combination of tastes.

Here's how to make it:

Pollo Cubano

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds boneless breast of chicken
  • 1 1/4 pound Spanish onions (or yellow onions) sliced medium thickness
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

    Mix marinade ingredients together. Place chicken breasts in a glass, plastic, stainless steel bowl or zip lock gallon bag. Pour marinade over chicken and marinate 3 hours or overnight, refrigerated.

    In a large frying pan, heat olive oil to very hot. Add chicken breasts. Do not turn over or move until first side is very brown. Turn over and add onions and juice. Move onions around to brown cook for 8-10 minutes more. Serve with white rice and black beans. There should be juices left in the pan. Pour them over the chicken breasts topped with the onions.


    Ms Cuban Black Beans


      * 1 cup Ms Sofrito (OPTIONAL OR USE FOLLOWING VEGGIES AND SPICES down through Oregano). This is a timesaving option if you have previously made and frozen or stored the sofrito)

      Ms Sofrito recipe link here: Ms Caribbean Sofrito

      * 1 small purple onion, finely diced, tough outer layer removed
      * 1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
      * 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
      * 1 small fresh jalapeno, seeds and stem removed, finely diced (can substitute 1 Tbsp. Pickled Jalapeno if desired, no juice, or an equivalent small section of poblano pepper, finely diced)
      * 1 tsp. Minced garlic (much preferred rather than powdered or granulated garlic)
      * 1 Tbsp. Olive or Avocado oil
      * 1 tsp. Cumin
      * 1 tsp. Dried Oregano
      * 3 (three) 15 oz. cans Black Beans, liquid included
      * 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate (thawed)
      * Juice of one lime


    (If desired, prepare beans day before and allow flavors to blend over night. Add lime juice after reheating and just before serving)

      1. Prepare onion and peppers and assemble garlic, oil, and spices for quick sauté.
      2. Preheat skillet and add oil. When hot add onion and all peppers and stir over medium high heat until onion is translucent.
      3. Add minced garlic, cumin, and dried oregano. Stir to combine well.
      4. Add canned black beans. If cans contain too much liquid, drain one can. Add orange juice concentrate. Stir well. Lower heat and allow to simmer, stirring often to prevent scorching. You may wish to allow time to cook off some of the liquid and intensify the flavor.
      5. Just before serving add lime juice. This sparks a fresh flavor.




      • 8 cups chicken broth (add water, if necessary, to broth to make an even 8 cups)
      • 4 cups white long-grain rice
      • Lime juice (best to use the little lime filled with juice found in the Produce Department
      • Cilantro, washed, dried, bulk of stems cut off and leaves and top stems chopped roughly.


    Prepare rice per manufacturer’s instructions (usually heat broth/water to boiling, add rice, stir, lower heat, cook about 5 minutes.) Turn heat off and permit to sit for 30 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked tender. Add lime juice and a goodly amount of the cilantro (to taste).


    Ms Platanos Maduros Cubano

    NOTE: Do not prepare until ready to plate and serve the meal. Platanos Maduros (sweet ripe fried/grilled plantains) do not keep well and should be served within minutes of preparation.)


      * 3 large ripe plantains (full yellow peel with numerous black spots to fully black but not yet soft indicates a ripe and sweet plantain)
      * Small bowl of cold water (for cut plantains to keep from turning before frying)
      * 1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
      * 1/4 cup brown sugar
      * 1/2 - 3/4 cup oil (coconut, olive, avocado or corn oil will do)


      1. Prepare plantains. Cut off each end of fruit. Then carefully slice peel lengthwise top to bottom. Remove peel.

      Slice plantains on a diagonal, each slice at least 1/2" thick. (You may choose to slice each fruit in planks, top to bottom OR in rounds. In my opinion, the best result is the thick diagonal cut. Always ensure each slice is at least 1/2" thick however for best result.)

      Place plantain slices in bowl of cold water to soak while skillet of oil is ready for use.

      2. Put thawed orange juice concentrate in a separate bowl. Put brown sugar in another bowl. (If desired, a small measure of chili powder can be sprinkled in).

      3. Preheat skillet and oil. Oil should be hot enough to sizzle when plantain slice is added.

      4. Using tongs remove plantain slice from cold water, shaking slightly to further remove vestiges of water. Dip slice first in orange juice then brown sugar, turning to coat both sides.

      Carefully add to hot oil, so that no oil splashes to burn the cook or the counter.

      Repeat until skillet is full of slices but not crowding plantain slices. You may need to fry in batches.

      5. When bottom of plantain is beautifully browned (about 2-3 minutes depending on your skillet and stove), turn to permit equal browning on reverse side.

      6. Remove browned slices, one at a time to a platter fitted with paper toweling. Use a second sheet to dab any excess grease from the top.

      The perfect Platano Maduros will be slightly crispy on its edges but soft and creamy and sweet on the inside.

      7. Serve Platanos Maduros hot, best within five (5) minutes of browning.

    Click on the author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
    This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter.

No comments:

Post a Comment