In Honor of Hugo: Make Homemade Arepas, Venezuelan-Style

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Venezuelan restaurants across Miami announced specials such as discounted arepas and one-buck Miller Lites following the news of President Hugo Chávez's death yesterday afternoon.

The end of the socialist leader's tendentious rule meant Venezuelans took to Doral with flags and Polar beer until late in the evening. This means it's the perfect time to bust out the forgotten bags of precooked, dehydrated masarepa in your pantry. Make some homemade arepas for supper tonight.

See also:
- Hugo Chavez Is Dead: Restaurant Specials in Miami in Honor of Venezuela's Esperanza
- Venezuelans Celebrate in Doral Following Death of Hugo Chávez

"There's no exact recipe for making arepas," says Ingrid Merida of Arepazo 2 in Doral, one of the restaurants where Venezuelans gathered yesterday evening. "It's just about mixing Harina P.A.N. with oil, salt, and water until the dough gets the right texture."

Harina P.A.N. is a brand of precooked cornmeal that has become a neologism for all masarepa labels. At the grocery store, you can also find Goya and Areparina varieties.

Traditional recipes eschew oil, but an extra bit of grease (about less than a teaspoon per cup of masarepa) makes for a moister corncake.

With most masarepa brands, the trick is to add equal parts water to cornmeal. Begin by adding the ingredients to a bowl and combining them by hand until the two come together. When Merida says "the right texture" for the dough, she is referring to a mass that is neither too hard nor too soft.

"If you put too little water, you'll get a hard arepa. And if you add too much water, the arepa won't hold its round shape," she says.

Once the dough is mixed, Serious Eats' J. Kenji López-Alt recommends covering it with a damp towel for five minutes. It ensures the dough will be fully hydrated.

After that step, you may add more water if necessary. As the old adage goes, though, you can always add more. Taking liquid out, however, proves slightly more difficult.

Working on a clean surface, shape the hydrated dough into three-to-four-inch disks and flatten lightly. Aim for a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2-inch.

To begin cooking the arepas, heat a cast-iron skillet or buttered grill pan over low heat. Arepas must be cooked low and slow. High temperatures could result in a burnt crust and raw, mushy center.

Add the arepas to the pan. This final step should take about 20 minutes. "Ten minutes per side," Merida says.

Remove the arepas from the pan and enjoy while warm.

That's the method for an arepa viuda -- a plain cornmeal cake with no filling. But you can add fresh corn or cheeses to the dough. You can also make the cakes a bit thicker, slice them, and stuff 'em with guacamole, beans, or meat such as roast pork or shredded beef.

Now that's a party.

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.

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