Melissa’s coquito & sofrito party is the hottest Christmas party of the season.
And here is the sneaky thing about her annual holiday fiesta for friends and familia, says Melissa Aguilera-Rober, a Boricua marketing exec who runs Semiya Marketing and lives in Queens, N.Y. with her husband, Alex, and two kids.
Yes, coquito & sofrito is super-fun. But Melissa has a not-so-secret party agenda.
Her annual gathering is actually 4 things:
1) an educational activity designed to immerse everyone in her family’s Puerto Rican heritage.
2) a bonding experience for all the attending generations: grandparents, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, little kids, big teens.
3) a way to hang with her best friends and meet their moms from out of town during the crazy-busy holidays,
4) and finally, because Melissa is nothing if not practical: it’s how she gets all her holiday coquito gifting and sofrito cooking prep done.
Way to multitask and mix party time with a heaping serving of Puerto Rico cultura, Melissa!
How Melissa Started Her Coquito–Sofrito Movement
Here’s how the whole idea started. About three years ago, Melissa felt super-stressed about the holidays. Christmas was just around the corner—and she was not ready. Melissa was way behind on her family party planning, cooking and gift shopping.
Holiday problem 1: Melissa wanted to make some of her family’s favorite Puerto Rican dishes for Navidad and New Year’s dinners. But she couldn’t start until she first made a huge batch of sofrito, Puerto Rico’s traditional seasoning sauce—the must-have base for just about every Boricua dish.
Sure, she could have just bought premade sofrito from the store—but her grandmother had shut down that cooking shortcut years before. “My abuela was over and she asked me where my sofrito was. I showed her the jar I bought at the grocery market. And she said, in her way, ‘Esto es una porquería! Quien hizo esto? (’This is junk! Who made this?’).” Melissa laughs. ”Even at age 90, she would not use store-bought sofrito.””So, she and I made some sofrito,” says Melissa. ”And I got used to cooking with homemade.”
Holiday problem 2: Melissa needed about a half-dozen bottles of homemade coquito, Puerto Rico’s beloved coconut-y version of egg nog. “My husband loves wine. But I don’t drink wine. And people seem to appreciate coquito more. So I said you know what? This Christmas, we’re going to fulana’s and fulana’s—and you know what? I am bringing them all freaking coquito,” she says.
Melissa had to find time to make a ton of sofrito and coquito—and rápido. “And I didn’t want to. Because I don’t like to cook, and I don’t like to be in the kitchen. My head is elsewhere,” says Melissa. “So I was like: OK. The only way I am going to do this if I do it as a party. This was my selfish way to get out of cooking. So I said to everyone, ‘We’re having a sofrito–coquito party!’”
And so she did! Melissa is happy to share the following details of how she organizes her annual coquito–sofrito fiesta, in hopes that other Puerto Rican families take up this super-fun, super-meaningful holiday party tradition. Check out her step-by-step coquito-sofrito party planning guide, with video of course!, here.
You can customize it for your family heritage, she suggests: Maybe ponche Navideño and salsa roja, to prep for your Christmas tamales and celebrate your Mexican family culture?
Melissa’s Planning Guide: How to Host a Coquito–Sofrito Party
Invitations & Ingredients
Melissa invited about 30 people: her grandmother, mother, cousins, best friends, their mothers, favorite neighbors, and lots of kids. She scheduled the party in early November, which gave her enough time to get the sofrito prepped and frozen for big-time December cooking, plus everyone has more free time in November and you’ll get more yes RSVPs.
Invites went out, asking everyone to bring themselves and enough ingredients to make their own batch of coquito, from the recipe she included (see below). Melissa supplied all the ingredients for the sofrito and the cooking tools and containers: knives, cutting boards, blenders, glass jars.
Shopping and Setup
The day before the party, Melissa and her mom went grocery shopping for sofrito ingredients at their local Latino market. On their list: bell peppers, ají dulce, garlic, cilantro, culantro, cubanelle peppers. “I bought a boatload of stuff: 60 red peppers, 60 green peppers. Then I set it up in a nice display at my house, and I even bought jars so that they can take their sofrito home. Plus, glass bottles for their coquito.”
Melissa brought in two long tables, each lined with cutting boards and a block of knives. She asked friends to bring over extra blenders, and plugged about a dozen into a power strip on her kitchen island. Finally, she sorted all the vegetables into separate baskets on a table, making her own mini-Latino market.
Welcome Your Guests
As everyone arrived, Melissa handed them a premade coquito. With-rum for adults, virgin for kids. Some friends asked for vegan, but Melissa didn’t have a recipe—like this delicious vegan coquito from our Healthy & Delicioso editor Naihomy Jerez. (We emailed it to Melissa. She’ll be ready next year).
Their friends and family caught up, danced to the salsa music, and ate the traditional food Melissa had catered in from her local Puerto Rican restaurant (P.S. you can order pasteles nationwide from them here), including that beloved Boricua fried treat: stuffed alcapurrias.
“I let them have some fun for a bit, and then I asked everyone to go to their sofrito station,” says Melissa.
Let the Chopping Begin—It’s Sofrito Time
”Everyone lined up at the two tables. Before each person was a little basket, a cutting board and a knife. I made the announcement: ‘First, we are going to be making the sofrito. Come get your ingredients.’ Each person visited the vegetable table and ‘shopped’ for the ingredients they needed for sofrito, filling up their basket.
When they got back to their cutting boards, I said, ’Now you need to chop everything. Not too small. Not too big.’ And I showed them examples of how big everything should be cut,” says Melissa.
Once all the spices and vegetables were minced just right, everyone took turns going to the row of blenders in her kitchen. They whirred and zapped the sofrito mix to its perfect liquidy-creamy state.
“Each blender makes about 4 jars, so that was nice. Everyone had a lot sofrito they could take home,” says Melissa.
Let the Coquito Mixing Begin
The crowd took another eating and drinking break, until Melissa called them back to their stations: “Time to make the coquito!” Everyone returned to their places at the long tables.
“The sofrito is a little more complicated, which is why we made that first,” explains Melissa. ”Making coquito is much easier.” Everyone tosses their ingredients in the blenders and then pours them in special glass bottles, sweetly decorated with twine and Puerto Rican flags. “I had asked everyone to bring the coquito ingredients, because that would have made it too expensive if I bought them all,” says Melissa.
Everyone took a turn at the blender station and within 10 minutes, all the coquito batches were ready to store and chill.
Misión cumplida. Everyone went home happy, carting their jars of sofrito and bottles of coquito. Holiday seasoning sauces and hosts gifts: done! Another successful coquito & sofrito fiesta.
Melissa grins at the memory. Her kids have a new fascination with the Puerto Rican traditions of their family. “They are very connected to my husband’s Argentinian side,” says Melissa. ”And this gave them this a new appreciation for their other side, my Puerto Rican family.”
”When you are in your own country or back on our island, stuff like this just happens naturally,” Melissa says. ”But when you live in the States, you have to put in the work to have activities like this: to help our kids experience the culture. I find that, specifically with the Puerto Rican culture, it does not happen on its own.”
”Since we started doing these coquito–sofrito parties, I have seen such a huge change in my own kids. There is such a level of awareness of their heritage and our community that has been sparked.”
And that, says Melissa, is the best holiday present of all.
To find traditional Puerto Rican recipes you can make with sofrito, check out our Puerto Rican favorite family recipes section. To see recipes from Melissa’s husband’s Alex’s Argentinian side of the fam, check out his aunt Marta’s Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest winning chimichurri and Alex’s favorite traditional drink to serve at his family-famous Argentinian asados: Fernet and Coke.