Latin cooking's special ingredient

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MARCO WERMAN: Cuban food impresario Jose Antonio Ortega Bonet died a few days ago in Florida. He was the founder of a company called Sazon Goya. That may not mean much to those Americans whose main condiments are salt and pepper. But if you grew up in a Latino-Caribbean home -- you know Sazon Goya. We're talking about those small packets of spices and seasonings that bring out big flavor in any dish. Ortega Bonet came up with that -- before partnering with the New Jersey-based Goya Foods Company. TV chef Daisy Martinez knows a lot about Sazon Goya. She says she grew up with those orange-colored spice packets.

DAISY MARTINEZ: The first time that I remember using the little packets of Sazon Goya, or my mother's using the packets, was back in the sixties. It was a shortcut in that you didn't have to make achiote oil, you take the achiote seeds and steep them in oil, or back then sometimes you'd use lard.

WERMAN: Remind us what achiote oil is?

MARTINEZ: Achiote is a seed. When steeped in olive oil, it imparts a beautiful orange, rusty, gorgeous sunset color. And there's a very subtle nutty flavor to the oil that really compliments Caribbean dishes. The achiote is the poor man's compromise to saffron.

WERMAN: I love cooking and I love making food that has the feel of the Caribbean, but I'm certainly no specialist, and I've got the Sazon Goya in my pantry. And I always find that if I just wanna get it a little further, I just throw one of those in there. It's amazing, it suddenly changes everything! [OVERLAPPING]

MARTINEZ: [OVERLAPPING] Right. It's a very good shortcut, it really is. I don't use Sazon Goya because I'm used to the old school way of doing things. I make my achiote oil from scratch and use my own condiments to come up with a balance, but for a quick fix in a pinch, if you want to give your dish a little extra kick, extra punch, a little packet of Sazon Goya will do you right.

WERMAN: When was the last time you dropped a little packet of Sazon Goya in your food?

MARTINEZ: When I travel. For instance, I did a cooking class in Maine this past summer. I went to the supermarket and asked for the Latin aisle. And�.

WERMAN: I bet in Maine, you got blank stares! [LAUGHS]

MARTINEZ: [LAUGHS] �Among other things. They thought I was speaking a different language. But I was able to find, ironically enough, a little box of Sazon Goya, which went a long way to helping me recreate the dishes for my students that I wanted to show them. And with the proviso, if you cannot find the original ingredients, this will take you where you need to go.

WERMAN: Do you find that most Latinos in the US, when you cook for them, can they tell the difference between real achiote oil and tossing in Sazon Goya?

MARTINEZ: I think for the lay palate, probably not. For a person who's more indoctrinated in the kitchen and is palate-conscious, you probably could distinguish a little bit. I believe there's a little MSG in the Sazon Goya. You have four flavors: bold and sweet, bitter and sour. And recently this fifth element has come up. The Japanese call it Umani. It's difficult to pin down, but it's like a satisfying, full flavor on the tongue in the mouth.

WERMAN: I thought The Fifth Element was a movie with Bruce Willis, who knew?

MARTINEZ: [LAUGHS] That's one of my son's favorite movies that Milla girl is in it, right?

WERMAN: Right! Did you ever know Jose Antonio Ortega Bonet?

MARTINEZ: No, I never had the pleasure of meeting him. I met with Goya back during Daisy Cooks and can honestly say I've always been a proponent. I cook my meals with Goya products. I never received a dime from Goya, so what I'm telling you is the God's honest truth, hand to the Bible.

WERMAN: And just to be clear, this program is not receiving anything from Goya!


WERMAN: However, if you wanna send us a case of guava nectar, I won't say no! [LAUGHS] What is your favorite dish to put Sazon Goya in, if you didn't have the real achiote oil with you?

MARTINEZ: A pot of white beans with Calabaza. Calabaza is a Caribbean pumpkin. It's delicious! And if you stew a pot of white beans, in Puerto Rico they have these delicious little white beans, and you make it with Calabaza, and scent it with maybe just little pinch of cloves and you throw in a packet of Sazon Goya. It gives it a beautiful, vibrant color that goes gorgeous with your yellow rice and again, gives you that full flavor feeling in your mouth. Really good!

WERMAN: I'm sold!


WERMAN: Daisy Martinez, [LAUGHS] host of Viva Daisy on the Food Network. So good to speak with you. Thanks a lot.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, thank you.