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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. HAVING LIVED IN SPAIN FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS I HAVE TRULY MANAGED TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE AND FEEL TOTALLY INTEGRATED. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT MY PASSION FOR SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AS WELL AS ITS CULTURE, PEOPLE AND PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

It's Barbecue time! Try something different...
09 July 2019

Summer is here and it's time to start making plans for grilling, cold drinks, and good company. Whether on a terrace in the city centre, in the country or in an authorised picnic area outdoors, a barbecue is an event that always manages to gather people together. I just love the smell of a barbecue!

Today I want to share a recipe, or should I say, a version of a recipe that I first discovered in Madrid and then later rediscovered in Buenos Aires. OK, it’s not a Spanish recipe as such because the honours belong to Argentina, although there is cause to believe that it originated in the Basque country. But anyway who cares? It’s a recipe that is simple and the star of any barbecue.

When I first landed in Spain, I rented an apartment in the centre of Madrid next to Plaza de Isabel II and on the corner was a restaurant called La Vaca Argentina, in those days fat and calories weren’t on my worry list and I would visit the restaurant several times a week to have a glass of cold beer and a tapas of grilled chorizo sausage with chimichurri. I had already fallen in love with chorizo but it was the chimichurri that was amazing. This fresh, tart and tangy concoction of herbs, garlic, oil and vinegar had me totally won over. 

However it wasn’t until I went to Argentina one year that I learnt how to make it, but as is the case with most staple recipes every household has their own variation and depending on what you have available to you. This ‘sauce’ is ideal for grilled meats of all kinds, sausages, pastries, and you can even drizzle it over a margarita pizza giving it a really special touch. It just about jazzes up any meal. The great thing about it is that you can make a decent quantity and it will keep in the fridge for at least a week to 10 days. 

The Spanish connection goes back over a century. In the 19th Century many Basques settled in Argentina and the name of the sauce probably comes from the Basque word ‘tximitxurri’ that loosely translates as "a mixture of several things in no particular order". That is effectively what it is, a concoction of herbs and oil where the order or the recipe doesn’t really matter. However there is one step that will speed up the final result and that is adding the hot water to all the dehydrated ingredients before mixing with everything else. You should let them sit for about 30 minutes until all the water has been absorbed and the dried herbs have totally softened. From that point on you can mix and match as you wish the rest of the ingredients. This is not a purist’s chimichurri recipe but my take on it, and if you don’t mind me saying say so, it is really tasty!

 

You will need the following:

 

 

1 Cup of chopped fresh parsley 

2 Tablespoons of dried oregano                                        

2 Finely Chopped dried Ñora peppers

1 Tablespoon of crushed dried chilli flakes

1 Tablespoon of dried basil

4 or 5 Freshly peeled garlic cloves, finely minced (or put through a garlic press)

¼  Cup of red wine vinegar

½  Freshly squeezed lemon (juice only)

5 Chopped sun dried tomatoes

¼ Cup hot water

½ - ¾   Cup of mild olive oil (add to taste – if vinegar is too strong)

1 Teaspoon black pepper

1 Teaspoon sweet Paprika

 

 

 

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix and then fill a sterilized jam jar with all the mixture and let it macerate in the fridge over night before using it. It is always best after about 6-8 hours. Then just drizzle it over what ever you want! I highly recommend what is called a ‘Choripan’; a grilled chorizo sandwich with chimichurri sauce.

 

 

 

Absolutely incredible! Enjoy!



Like 2        Published at 17:24   Comments (0)


Summer Clams Starter
27 June 2019

 

Although Clams in 'Salsa Verde' (green sauce) are traditionally eaten as a special dish up north in Galicia for Christmas, they are eaten throughout the year and are a wonderful starter to share with friends and family any time of the year. As is the case with most traditional recipes the quality of the ingredients is the key to a fantastic result.

This is a quick and easy dish to make and will take no more than  20 minutes to prepare if your clams are already clean and free of sand. The ingredients are easy to find but it is essential to use fresh parsley, a good dry and fruity white wine and of course fresh clams not frozen. If you are able to find them Galician clams are the best. I highly recommend using an Albariño white wine or a Ribeiro, both work wonderfully with this dish.

Ingredients to make Clams in Salsa Verde ( 2 people) :  

500 grams of clean clams

125 ml  of white wine (Albariño Rias Baixes ó Ribeiro, preferably)

2 cloves garlic large

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon of wheat flour

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper

(some like to add 1 small crushed dried chilli – optional)

Before you begin, if you have make sure the clams are clean and have no sand in them. If you bought them already cleaned, great, but if not you will have to clean them. There is nothing worse than chewing on a gritty clam!

So you will need to let them soak in water with salt for 2 hours, changing the water two or three times during that time. Once the clams are clean we can start with the recipe. Peel two cloves of garlic, mince and remove the heart of the garlic . Put them in a frying pan with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and bay leaf . Before they have browned add a tablespoon of flour and stir well . Let the flour brown  a little but not burn.

 Now add the wine , clams , a pinch of salt (half dessert spoon), a little pepper and sprinkle with two tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. Cover the pan and leave on medium heat for 5 minutes . After 5 minutes remove the lid and see which  clams have opened and remove them from the pan. Once they have all opened and been removed, check if the green sauce needs salt.

Now let the sauce simmer a little more without the lid and the clams, we want to reduce the sauce so it becomes slightly thicker.

We must ensure that the sauce is well blended , so don't remove it from the heat until the sauce is nice and thick, we also want to make sure all the alcohol has evaporated. When the sauce is ready put the clams back in and mix well with the sauce. This will heat the clams up again and them serve immediately. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle with the remaining parsley and accompany it with a wedge off lemon. Some prefer that acidic touch to the sauce that the lemon gives, but I prefer it just as it is. What I will do from time to time is add a dried chili or two depending on the quantity of clams. This gives it a wonderful kick! You can add the chili right at the beginning with the garlic, that way it will flavour the olive oil directly.

 

 

The last thing you must remember is to have plenty of crusty bread because once you have finished the clams there will be loads of delicious sauce to soak up!!

Enjoy!



Like 0        Published at 23:00   Comments (0)


Calamares - The perfect tapas and how to prepare them.
16 June 2019

I don't know about you, but I am really picky with my Calamares, and I mean really picky. I won't eat them if they are battered, greasy, soggy or tough. In fact, unless they are spot on, I won't eat them. My wife gets all anxious every time I order Calamares (deep fried squid rings) in a bar because she knows the score. As soon as they are placed on the table she can see in my face if I'm going to eat them or not. Basically, if they are battered or reflect the light, I'm not eating them. 

I´m a huge fan of Spanish tapas and Calamares are one of my favourites. But I must admit it took several years to get round to eating them as my first few experiences with Calamares was absolutely terrible; tough, greasy and tasteless. So I pretty much scrapped them from my menu. But it was in a restaurant in Valencia where I developed almost an addiction for Calamares. I tried them again and I was hooked once and for all. They were perfect and became my benchmark Calamares. The restaurant was Marisqueria Cervera and everything about them was ideal. They were not battered but fried in flour. They were dry and incredibly crispy but not at all heavy. The coating was perfect and of course, they were about as tender as they can be. The perfect tapas. If you ever happen to be in Valencia you must pay them a visit.  http://www.marisqueriascivera.com 

Once you have tried Calamares this good it makes it difficult to enjoy Calamares in other establishments, but I never give up. They are my tapas of choice with a cold beer before lunch. If you have read any of my other posts you will know I like cooking, so naturally, I went on a quest to learn how to make the perfect Calamares and that is exactly what I am going to share with you.

To be quite honest it is really simple but as always the fresher the calamari/squid the better. However, it is not always possible to get really fresh squid so a lot of the time you will not be impressed by the result as they turn out tough and chewy. That said there is a trick of the trade that is used by many restaurants to ensure their calamares are tender to the bite. And lone behold it is milk.

Milk has long been used as a tenderiser for meats but it also works wonders with squid, only, it is essential to add salt to the milk so that the squid absorbs the milk and thus softens the texture and collagen.  The amount of salt is approximately half a teaspoon for every 400ml of whole fat milk. The amount of milk necessary will be half the weight of the calamari. So if you have 800 grams of calamari - 400 ml of whole fat milk and 1/2 teaspoon of salt - once mixed place them in the fridge for 12 hours or overnight. If you can get them fresh from the fish market, great you can jump this step, but in the supermarket, they are almost all defrosted squid. When you have your squid, clean them, discard the head and the innards and remove the spinal bone, which just slides out.  Then cut up the squid into rings about 1cm in width.  The add them to the milk.

Once tenderised, drain the milk and let them sit in a sieve for about 30 minutes until they have completely drained and come up to room temperature. Dry them with kitchen paper towels to remove excess liquid and then cover them with wheat flour - 'harina de trigo' which is special for frying - it is not as fine as other flours.  The one I use is HARIN. Make sure they are covered in abundant flour, so don't put too many in the flour at once. 

 

Make sure you have a deep fat fryer or a deep frying pan with abundant extra virgin olive oil. When it is at 170ºC or on the point of smoking you are ready to go - you can use bread to test the temperature - drop in a little bit and observe the colour it turns - it should go golden very quickly.

 

 

Just before you put them in, squeeze the squid and the flour firmly with your hands and then place in the hot oil. Don't put too many in at once, make sure they have room to move around and aren't on top of each other. Let them go golden crisp and take them out, let then drain properly and then place them on kitchen paper to dry.  Ideally, a frying basket is the best tool for this job.  Once dry they are ready to eat. Either as they are or with lemon or mayonnaise. Perhaps even in a crusty roll if you want to make more of a meal out of it. Absolutely delicious too.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Like 1        Published at 13:29   Comments (2)


Antioxidant benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
14 June 2019

First of all, what is  'Oxidation'? It is a process that occurs not only when oil is being produced, but also inside our own bodies. Reactions occur continually inside the body, giving rise to the formation of free radicals (peroxidants). As a rule, free radicals do not cause severe damage thanks to the protection provided by antioxidants, which help to keep a balance up to a point. If the balance is spoiled, however, "oxidative stress" occurs, leading to deterioration of normal cell functions and even cell death.

Oxidation is a complex, fundamental phenomenon in the process of cell ageing. Lipid or fat peroxidation tends to be proportional to the number of double bonds in a compound, explaining why oleic acid shows little susceptibility to oxidation.

Cell membranes contain a large amount of fat and cholesterol and their composition depends on diet. When the diet contains a lot of olive oil, the cells are more resistant to oxidation, they do not deteriorate as much and ageing is slower.

Approximately 1.5% of olive oil is made up of the unsaponifiable fraction, which contains antioxidants. Virgin olive oil contains the largest quantities of these substances and other minor components.

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), carotenoids and phenolic compounds (simple phenols such as hydroxytyrosol and complex phenols such as oleuropein) are all antioxidants whose activity has been demonstrated in vitro and recently in vivo, revealing further advantages in the prevention of certain diseases and also of ageing.

The phenolic content of olive oils varies according to the climatic conditions in the producing area, when the olives are harvested and how ripe they are when picked. Oil production and storage methods also have an influence. Phenols have countless biological properties, for instance hydroxytyrosol  is anti-inflammatory and oleuropein encourages the formation of nitric acid, which is a powerful vasodilator and exerts a strong anti-bacterial effect.

Oxidised LDLs are known to be atherogenic, which is where olive oil steps in because it has a beneficial, protective effect against LDL oxidation. Moreover, it also strengthens other cells in the body against the toxic effects of oxidants.

The high antioxidant content of the Mediterranean diet appears to contribute significantly to its effect on longevity.

These antioxidants are found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Because it is the only oil to be obtained from a fruit, olive oil retains a host of substances, antioxidants and vitamins that give it added nutritional value.

The explanation behind this high content of antioxidants is probably that because the olive is a fruit that is exposed to the air, it has to defend itself from oxygen. It therefore synthesises a larger amount of antioxidants, which pass through to the oil.

Virgin olive oil, i.e. olive oil that has not been refined or industrially treated, is particularly rich in these substances and it has a strong antioxidant effect, protecting against damage from free radicals (scavenger activity) and against the formation of cancer.


 



Like 0        Published at 22:33   Comments (1)


It's Gazpacho time again.. but with a twist!
07 June 2019

With all my recipes I attempt to share the raw essence of Spanish cuisine, the simple basic recipes that have become the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. They are not necessarily flamboyant dishes and certainly don’t need expert hands to make them, but they have all passed the test of time and are still classics to this very day. 

 
Almond Cream Gazpacho is similar to a normal Gazpacho but much more filling and creamier in texture more like a Salmorejo, personally, I prefer it and depending on how you prepare it can be a meal in its own right. Whereas with the original Gazpacho you would need a second course to accompany it. This recipe is basically a combination of the two, through trial an error, I finally found the consistency and flavour that was ideal for me. What I am going to share with you is not strictly a Gazpacho or a Salmorejo but a variation of the both and it is absolutely fantastic! My mouth is watering as I write! It’s an all-time favourite with all my family.
 
It is cheap, easy and quick to make and as it’s main ingredients are tomato and olive oil, so you can’t go wrong! Anyone who loves a salad will adore this recipe. All you need is a blender, a fine sieve and a pestle and mortar.
 
These are the ingredients you will need for 8 servings, as it keeps in the fridge for a couple of days I always tend to make more than I will need for one sitting.
 
 
For 8 servings 
 
1 kilo of mature tomatoes, peeled and with the seeds removed
30 g of peeled almonds 
2 cloves of garlic (removing the inner root so you don’t have that taste of garlic repeating all day!)
3 slices of stale country loaf bread approx 300g from the day before (without the crust, not baguette)
100 ml of white wine vinegar 
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 large spring onion (just the onion, not the Green sprouts but the size of a normal onion)
1 cucumber ( about 20 cm)
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
10g Salt – or to taste
 
Toppings:
 
8 slices of Serrano Ham
8 boiled Eggs
Baguette Croutons fried in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
 
 
 The first step is to scald the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute and then place them in cold water straight away and remove the skin. Then we dice up the bread and add the vinegar to the stale bread. Grind the almonds and the garlic cloves in the mortar. Once you have a paste add the bread and vinegar and keep grinding until they have all blended together nicely.
 
 We remove the skin from the cucumber using a potato peeler and chop it up along with the tomatoes, spring onion and peppers. Now place all the ingredients in the blender all together along with the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I use Arbequina variety olive oil for this recipe but really you can use any good extra virgin olive oil: Picual; Hojiblanca; Royal. Just make sure it isn’t too pungent. Blend them all together until you have an even mixture. Variations may occur depending on the type of bread you have used, so if it is not thick enough just add more bread to the recipe. If it has turned out too thick, you can correct the mixture with a little water. Salt to taste and then pass the entire mixture through the sieve to remove all the seeds from the tomatoes and the cucumbers.
 
 
At this point, the Almond Cream Gazpacho is finished. The mixture is certainly not written in stone, so some may prefer it with less vinegar or more vinegar, or more almond or fewer almonds. It is a question of finding your balance. All you need to do is adjust the proportions until you find your ideal flavour. The texture should be a like a thick creamy soup.
 
Next, we need to prepare the toppings. I place the Serrano ham in the microwave for 1 minute until it is nice and crispy, once out of the microwave place the ham on a piece of kitchen paper so it cools down and soaks up the fat that has been released. We don’t want that fat in the gazpacho.
 
        
 
This is not traditionally Spanish, but I’m not so keen on chewing cured ham in my soup, I prefer that on its own with a bit of cheese and wine. So now we chop up the crispy ham and the boiled eggs and put them to one side.
 
 
Finally the croutons, you cut up a baguette into small pieces including the crust. Get a frying pan and pour in a healthy amount of extra virgin olive oil. Heat up the olive oil and make sure it is hot before putting the bread in that way the bread won’t soak up the oil but toast it almost instantly. It is very fast so be prepared to take them out quickly before they get too toasted. Let them cool down and dry on a piece of kitchen paper.
 
      
 
 
When it comes to serving, serve the Almond Cream Gazpacho in a bowl and sprinkle a chopped egg over the top, one chopped slice of crispy ham and a handful of croutons. Listo! Ready to eat.
 
ENJOY! 
 
 



Like 3        Published at 10:59   Comments (1)


Finally, a decent olive oil in Mercadona!
30 May 2019

One of my favourite olive oil producers, Aceites Oro Bailén, has just started selling an extra virgin olive oil in Mercadona. The producer has reached an agreement with the supermarket chain to supply an exclusive EVOO using the Picual variety under the brand name Casa Juncal. This producer has won numerous prizes nationally and internationally and is one of the best "early olive oil" producers in the country.

 

 

Since I moved house it has been even more difficult to get to a Carrefour or a Corte Inglés to buy decent olive oil, but finally, there is a decent olive oil in my local supermarket. OK, it's not as great as their best Olive Oil - Reserva Familiar Picual, but it is miles better than the oils on sale up to now, which have been no more than mediocre or bad.

It is an early oil from the November harvest giving it a more intense fruity flavour, however, it is not overpowering and nicely balanced for anyone's palate. Its organoleptic qualities are firstly defined by aromas of green olives, fresh grass and tomatoes with latter nuances of apple and even banana coming through. It offers an interesting balance of sweet and bitter, being a complex but harmonious oil. I would highly recommend you go out and try it. It only costs €3,99 for a 500ml, which is very good value for this oil. As far as pairing is concerned, I would only use this oil raw - on bread, salads, fresh cold sauces, dips etc. 

 

 

If you are interested in knowing more about olive oil here is a series of articles I wrote explaining every aspect of this culinary wonder - the good and the bad! Click here

 

 



Like 1        Published at 10:57   Comments (2)


Do you like olive oil? ...Are you really buying Extra Virgin?
23 May 2019

 

This is the biggest questions facing the olive oil consumer. When you are in a supermarket looking at 50 different brands or at an olive mill expecting to buy the real thing, how do you know you are not being taken for a ride?

Well, there is no 100% guarantee you won’t be, for reasons I will explain, but having a better idea of what to look for will certainly increase your chances of buying the real deal: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, anything else is a waste of money.

Firstly many people ask if it is better to buy directly from the mill or the “Almazara” as we would say in Spanish. The answer will always be yes, but you must know your Almazara and know when to buy. The olive oil season starts in October and ends around January depending on the type of oil that will be harvested, high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil tends to be harvested between October and November. This is the best period to visit your mill as the fresher it is the better it is. Let’s not forget that olive oil is essentially a fruit juice as it is the only edible oil that has no chemical manipulation (when it is authentic!). However there are mills and there are mills. Just as there are honest people and crooked people. You are more likely to get the authentic product from a small local mill than a very large one and I highly recommend that you go along and ask them for a tour, especially during the production season. If the mill is receiving the olives and checking them before being washed that is the first step. A responsible mill producing extra virgin will not accept olives picked up from the ground, you may wonder how do they know that? Well it is very obvious as they are soft and wrinkled i.e. too ripe. These should be rejected straight away. The olives should then be separated from the leaves and twigs and then washed. If this is being done correctly you have probably found a decent mill. Next the olive will be crushed within a maximum of 24 hours (the shorter the time the better but being realistic the minimum time is 12 hours) and put in a centrifuge that separates the oil from the pulp, the water and the stone paste. Your chances with a smaller mill are better because they will more than likely sell all of their harvest every year. One needs to have in mind that Spain produces an enormous quantity of olive oil, so much so that it allows large manufacturers to store stock from one year to the next in their olive oil bank. Although there is nothing really wrong with it from a health point of view its organoleptic qualities are obviously not the same. If the harvest has been smaller from one year to next this oil will be used to boost up supply, so you are not getting the fresh olive oil that you were looking for by going to a mill directly. Word of advice, get to know your mill and taste the oil before you buy it.  If they are serious they will be really happy you have shown an interest, as most mills I have seen take pride in their work.

 

   

 

However most people can’t get to a mill, so how do you identify a good olive oil on the supermarket shelf? The first sign is the packaging. Firstly, avoid any large international household brand or white labels in any format of packaging, the volumes they manage are so large they can not maintain the level of quality one should be looking for and they often buy olives from different countries so they are open to being conned as well. Also many Italian brands have been tested in the United States and only 1 out of 5 samples proved to fall into the parameters of Extra Virgin chemically and taste wise many would say none of them. Unfortunately, this problem is not just in the States, but all across Europe too.

 

 

Please remember that any brand that cares the slightest about its quality of olive oil will never use plastic bottles or transparent glass (unless it is packaged in a gift box protecting it's contents). If the oil is packaged in either one of these, walk straight past it, unless the price is your only concern and taste isn’t an issue either. Transparent packaging is olive oil’s worst enemy and plastics are just sinful as it affects the taste very quickly. The light speeds up the oxidation process and I don’t just mean natural sunlight, any light will affect it. The chances are if it was extra virgin when it was packaged  by the time it’s on your kitchen table it will definitely have oxidised far more than necessary due to poor storage in deposits and may even be rancid or have no organoleptic properties worth tasting as you don't know how long it has been exposed to light. This packaging is a perfect excuse for the brands to defend poor quality products  "it must have oxidised due to poor storage conditions”. So why do they use transparent packaging? So you can see the colour.

It has been proven that people are influenced by the colour of olive oil before purchasing, so the brands want you to see the colour to persuade you. I have heard many people saying the greener it is the better it is. This is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever heard and there is no truth to it in the slightest. The colour of olive oil has become a science now. It has been proven that the Americans, Indians, Japanese even the Spanish prefer the colour of the greener olive oils, psychologically they think it looks more natural and earthy. This has brought on a tide of criminals into the industry who deliberately colour their olive oil to match these demands. It is the variety of olive and the pigments it carries that determine the colour of the oil. The greener it is the more chlorophyll it has and this does not affect the taste. The more mature the olive the less chlorophyll it has, as the olive turns reddish and then black. So the only indication that the colour can give is the time it was harvested. The premium olive oils tend to be greener as they are the first olives to be harvested, but these are much more expensive as the earlier you harvest the less oil there is in the olive but the better the quality is. So many brands try to imitate this quality. It is surprisingly easy for any mill to make its oil greener than it should be; they simply leave some leaves in with the olives before crushing them. The chlorophyll from the leaves colours the oil, however, this also damages the oil eventually. So beware if the oil is too green, it is distinctively noticeable, a good friend that advises mills around the country alerted me to the problem.

 Colour is not a deciding factor when choosing olive oil, as it has no influence on the quality or flavour of the oil. I am referring to ordinary extra virgin olive oil here, not premium range olive oil, which does tend to be greener.

 That is why olive oil tasters use blue glasses so as not to be influenced by the colour of the oil when judging it. The correct packaging should be dark coloured glass or steel cans if transparent glass is used it should be packaged in an opaque box for safe keeping. Once you have the oil at home it should be kept in a dark cool place, however, it will last for say 6-8 weeks exposed to normal light (not direct sunlight) without too many problems if the olive oil is good quality. The problem is not so much how you treat it at home (although it is recommended to keep it away from the light), as a 500ml bottle won't last you that long, but more how it has been treated up to the time when you purchase it.

The next step is to then identify the information on the bottle. Obviously, it must say “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and in the ingredients table only “Extra virgin olive oil” should appear and there will be no ingredients table at all as Extra Virgin Olive Oil is itself a unique ingredient. It should also state that the contents have been produced only by mechanical means. This means no refining and no chemical treatments. You may see “first press” or “first cold press” this is the same, the cold press refers to it being pressed or more commonly now centrifuged at ambient temperature, without applying heat. This may sound obvious but Alcampo/Auchan was caught to be selling “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” as the sticker advertised but also stated in a box beside the ingredients that the oil had been refined and treated. This is illegal, very misleading and blatant fraud. They claimed it to be a mistake. The problem is that 65% of the olive oil market is white label brands and this is where there tend to be more irregularities. The sticker should also state what variety of olive has been used to make the oil. If it is a blend, all varieties should be stated. The harvest date should also be stated on the bottle or at least the month of harvest, unfortunately this is still rare so if you don’t see a harvest date look at the “best by” date, which should be two years after the oil was bottled to give you an indication of when it was bottled. The best find is a brand that bottles on demand, although there aren’t many.

The acidity level on the bottle is disappearing more and more, as contrary to what many people think the acidity of olive oil has nothing to do with taste when we say acidity we are not referring to acidic taste qualities but the amount of free fatty acids. Obviously the lower it is the better, the maximum allowed for Extra Virgin is 0,8%. Brands that want to make their acidity levels stand out may well put it on the bottle, anything around 0,2% or less is a very good acidity level but will not affect the taste.

Other indicators are peroxide levels, if a brand has gone to the trouble of putting these figures on the bottle it is because they generally have a quality product, however, this only means that those were the levels when tested. It doesn’t mean that they are the levels you will receive. Olive oil is a “live” oil and hence deteriorates with time. However it is a guide, the maximum peroxide level allowed for olive oil is 20 milliequivalent O2, the lower it is the less oxidised it was at the time of bottling. Good figures are around 6-8 milliequivalent O2. 

Although it is not a foolproof guarantee try to look for olive oil with a “Denominación de Origin: D.O” or in English PDO: Protected Designation of Origin. These varieties are more closely controlled by local bodies to protect quality and standards. They carry a distinctive sticker on the back of the bottle stating the designated region that is being controlled. This is one from Valencia to give you an idea, but every region has its design, similar to the wine world. It isn’t a total guarantee but it’s one step closer. Blended Oils won’t carry this sticker, which doesn’t mean they aren’t great oils. This the sticker for the region of Priego de Cordoba, the Mecca of Olive Oil in Spain:

Do not be fooled into buying expensive olive oil by silly marketing tricks. However, I would avoid olive oil that costs less than 8 euros a litre. When I say silly marketing tricks I mean things like 1 thousand-year-old olive trees or even 200-year-old olive trees. Olive trees that old produce hardly any fruit and it is no better than an olive tree which is 20 years old. The fruit is only as good as the soil and the weather that year. Age has nothing to do with it. Other funny things I’ve seen are harvesting under the moonlight, well you can imagine what I think of that! 

Another question I am asked frequently is: “is it better to buy Single Estate or Cooperative olive oil?” 

The answer is both can be excellent. What is the difference? Single estates tend to be smaller and have irrigation all year round meaning they maintain the ratio of oil to flesh in the olive year in, year out, making them more consistent and giving them higher productivity of litres per 100kgs of olives and as the estates are smaller they can be more closely controlled. However, this isn’t synonymous to excellent quality but is a good indication that you will get a decent olive oil. It is just another thing to take into consideration. Cooperatives also have irrigated lands, however, the vast majority of olive trees in Spain are what we call “secanos”, they rely on the rain. Have in mind that just Jaen, one region in Spain makes more olive oil than all of Greece on its own and Greece is the third largest producer in the world. To irrigate this land would be extremely expensive. Fortunately, olive trees do not need much water so most years it isn’t a problem. 

Finally, everyone tends to look for olive oils that have won international prizes. This is another misleading factor. Yes, many great olive oils have won prizes but very few understand how these competitions work. The vast majority only require the producer or the brand to send a maximum of 2 litres as a sample to be judged and pay an entry fee of around €150. What does this mean? It means that you can buy 2 litres of premium olive oil, bottle it under your brand, send it off, win a prize and then put the sticker on your bottle for a year. I am not saying that everyone does it, but from the people I know in the industry it is common practice. The oil presented in the competition isn’t necessarily the one that is later bottled, as there are no controlling bodies and it is all based on trust. Now if there is one industry you can’t trust, it is this one.  This is one reason why many great olive oil manufacturers in Spain don’t even bother with international competitions. I am not trying to take prestige away from any olive oil competition, of course the competitions are important and are certainly a sign of quality olive oil especially if all the other factors come into play and of course not everyone is trying to win the prize at any cost but it isn’t the be all and end all.

The only competition that is truly controlled and requires a controlled sample from a minimum 18000-litre batch is the annual olive oil competition carried out by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. As competitions go in terms of quality, experienced judges, batch control and sample controls, this is the Oscars of Olive Oil, hands down.

The winner can only attach the prize sticker to the batch tested and the Ministry of Agriculture controls the bottles manufactured. Only the best olive oil wins this competition so if you can find a winner of this prize or even an olive oil that has received a mention you know you are onto a winner. No other competition in the world comes close in terms of quality control and strictness.

So once you’ve taken all this into consideration, you’ve filtered out the rubbish and finally selected what you believe to be the real thing, your next step is to taste it. The chances are you will have to taste various olive oils until you find the one you like and before you really understand whether it is a great oil or a mediocre oil. Olive oil tasting isn’t that complex, but it does come down to experience. One of the quickest ways to benchmark and create safe parameters is to buy a Ministry of Agriculture Winning Sample which will carry a sticker like one of these. The first shown below is the old design. I’m showing it because some oils show this sticker from the year they won the prize on their packaging, maybe from a  couple of years before....however even though the oil in the bottle wasn’t the winning oil the for the season in question, it is a good guarantee that the producer is responsible and trustworthy and is definitely a safe bet.   

                       

 

 

 

This season's ‘Intense fruity green' winner was Bravoleum by Hacienda El Palo. However past winners such as  ‘Venta Del Barón – Hojiblanca y Picudo’  or  ‘Oro de Bailen Picual Reserva Familiar’  are also great oils and great benchmarks, as well as being more readily available in supermarkets. Then, all you need to do is compare them in smell and taste to your standard supermarket extra virgin olive oil, the one you can buy for 4€ a litre in a plastic bottle. I needn’t say more. From this point on you will automatically know what to look for in terms of fruitiness and flavour. If you would like to know more about olive oil tasting please read my other post.

 

Enjoy!

 

 



Like 1        Published at 13:11   Comments (1)


Something Sweet?
14 May 2019

 

Crema Catalana or 'Catalan cream' was originally consumed in Catalonia and it is without a doubt this region's most typical dessert. With time it spread throughout Spain and is now a standard on most restaurant menus. However, it is not exactly a Crème Brûlée for those who are unfamiliar with it. 

It Catalunya it is a tradition to prepare this dessert on March 19, when Saint Joseph is commemorated, which also happens to be the last day of Lent. Over this period, orthodox Christians would have been following a strict diet so this tasty creamy dessert would have been a well-earned reward for such sacrifice. Saint Joseph's day is also the Spanish equivalent of Father's day. So if your Dad has a sweet tooth you might want to make him some for next Father's Day.

However, if we go back in time to its beginning, it can be traced back to Jewish food. The Hebrews were very appreciative of the many and great combinations of milk and eggs. We have some references for Crema Catalana in medieval archives, as "illet cuita" (cooked milk). Apparently, it didn't always have the caramel coating.

Today, Crema Catalana is without doubt one of the most famous examples of Catalan desserts and is recognised both nationally and internationally thanks to its simple preparation, originality and taste. Within Spain, the town of Sant Bartomeu del Grau celebrates a Crema Catalana cooking competition on the 4th of March, which forms part of the town's Craft and Commercial fair.

It's a simple recipe with common ingredients, however, its difficulty lies in the sugar that coats it, which is heated on a steel plate or with a cooking blowtorch until it melts leaving a crunchy layer. Originally this was done with a heated rod or a branding iron, however, it is now much more common for this process to be done using a gas burner.

  

The most similar dessert is Crème Brûlée, and they are often confused. The main difference is that crema catalana is made from milk and is then thickened with corn starch and egg, and the French dessert made with thick cream and eggs and cooked in the oven in a water bath, and it has a texture more similar to flan. If you want to watch your calorie intake, you can use skimmed cream, however, it does not produce quite the same results as it does with whole milk.

The taste of crema catalana is so distinctive that it has been used as the basis of many other products in Spain. You can find crema catalana ice cream as well as a nougat-like sweet which is called 'torró'. The flavour has also been copied in several liquors and liqueurs across the country.

If you ever happen to go to Barcelona be sure to try crema catalana, it will be served in most restaurants. But if you can't wait to get to Spain, you could always have a go at making this Spanish dessert at home by following this simple recipe:

1. Bring the milk to the boil with the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
2. Beat the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Dissolve the cornflour in the milk and add the egg mixture.
4. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately.
5. Pour into bowls or individual earthenware dishes and refrigerate.
6. Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and place under a hot grill as close as possible until caramelised, unless you happen to have a blow torch or a branding iron lying around!

Variations:
You can use wheat flour or any other kind of starch, and add it to the egg yolk mixture.
The crema catalana can be eaten without the sugar crust. If this is the case, place a piece of brown paper over the top to prevent a skin forming.
The crema can be eaten with biscuits or carquinyolis (a type of Catalan biscotti).

Eggs - 8 yolks

Milk - 1 l.

Cinnamon - 1 stick

Lemon - 1 piece of lemon peel

Sugar - 200 g.

Cornflour - 40 g.

 

Enjoy!



Like 1        Published at 09:42   Comments (0)


My Wine Recommendation Nº 12 - For under €10
09 May 2019

Today I would like to share with you Spain's most sold white wine and it isn't the cheapest either! However, as far as white wines go it is very good value for money, coming in at €3,75. The wine I am talking about is Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego. Barbadillo is one of the great wine producers of Andalucia and is located in Cadiz, San Lucar de Barrameda. It does, however, have vineyards in other areas of Spain but the grapes used for this wine are entirely from their home region. I say home region, as this family-owned wine cellar is over 200 years old and is an institution in Andalucia, especially for its Manzanilla wine "Solear" which is the most consumed wine during the Feria de Abril in Sevilla. This is mainly because it is the main ingredient of their favourite cocktail "Rebujito". Barbadillo also boasts Spain's most prized wine cellar named "La Catedral" - the cathedral, which if you ever get the opportunity to visit is a must. But if you don't here is a link to a virtual tour.

 

Anyway, back to "Castillo San Diego".  This wine is an icon for the winery and a benchmark wine at a national level.   It is floral, fruity, harmonious and light, making it an ideal wine for the summer months and especially good with fish, seafood and rice dishes.

According to the winery’s history books, the name of “Vino Blanco del Castillo”  (white wine from the castle) dates back to 1883, however it wasn’t until 1975 that the wine was bottled commercially by vintage.  It soon became Andalusia´s top white wine and is currently considered to be one of the most important and best-selling white wines in Spain. having won many international prizes and being recognised by an entire nation as a great white, you really can't go wrong. It is available in Mercadona and most other supermarkets.

https://tienda.mercadona.es/product/66672



Like 0        Published at 12:26   Comments (4)


Spanish Cured Ham- What you need to know.
01 May 2019

 

Apart from extra virgin olive oil another of my favourites from the Spanish culinary world is cured ham, in particular, Iberian Acorn Ham (Jamon de Bellota Iberica). Which is very different from Serrano Ham or the Italian Prosciutto and is unique to Spain. It is an absolute delicacy and one of the most moreish foods you will encounter! 

 

 

Fresh meat has been preserved throughout history and the pig has always played a particularly important role in this practice. This is partly because of its high reproductive capacity, and also due to the varying uses that can be made of its meat and the ease of storing and processing it. The great Mediterranean tradition for cured hams and cold meat products is believed to have originated with the Romans and Greeks as reflected in names such as "longaniza" (cured pork sausage) and "salchicha" (sausage) that come from the Roman lucanica and salsicius. The Mediterranean Diet is more than simply a sum of particular ingredients or recipes and makes better sense when associated with the climate, geography, customs and lifestyles in Mediterranean areas. Iberian Bellota Ham plays a key role in this kind of diet. Not only is it tasty and succulent, but it also has specific properties that make it a unique food product and thus stands out from the other cured hams available throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

 

 

 

 

Iberian Bellota Ham is a low-calorie food, which is rich in vitamins and contains 50% more protein than fresh meat. A particularly surprising fact! Due to the natural and traditional curing process, Iberian acorn ham is a pure and aseptic food and the meat is free from any kind of manipulation. Iberian acorn ham is not just a food product, but also a delicacy with numerous other qualities. As well as being a pleasure for the palate, it also offers great health benefits.  Iberian ham is full of antioxidants and is high in vitamin E. It is especially beneficial when eaten with tomatoes. Iberian bellota ham contains excellent quality fat, with increased levels of oleic acid (over 50%), as found in olive oil. This facilitates the production of HDL ("good cholesterol") in the body, while reducing LDL ("bad cholesterol"). So when you start to combine extra virgin olive oil, Bellota Ham and other ingredients you can see suddenly how the Spanish diet is in particular so healthy, take a look at my post on “Pan Catalana”, so simple yet so healthy! For these reasons moderate consumption of the product helps to maintain cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular diseases as with extra virgin olive oil.

 

It provides a generous dosage of B group vitamins, especially B1 and B2. Just 100 grams of Iberian acorn ham provides 24% of the recommended daily allowance of this vitamin. It is also rich in iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium and above all phosphorus, providing 30% of the recommended daily allowance. 

 

 

 

It is a recommended food for hypo-calorific diets as 50 grams of our Iberian Bellota Ham has only 150 calories. So is Iberian Bellota ham the same as Jamon de Pata Negra( black hoof ham)? And how does it differ to Serrano Ham? This term “Pata Negra” refers exclusively to races of pigs with black hoofs and does not necessarily refer to Iberian pigs or those of a specific quality as commonly thought. In fact, there are Iberian pigs with different colourings. Serrano ham comes from a white pig which is fed mainly on fodder and is cured for a period of between 7 and 16 months. Gastronomically, serrano jamón is considered inferior to Iberian ham and is dried in a cold dry climate in the hills or mountains.

 

And Jabugo Ham? Where does this come in? Well, it is a high-quality Iberian Ham which comes from the mountainous region of Huelva. Jabugo is the best known of the mountainous villages. The name comes from the town not the type of ham. Many think cured ham should be salty, and normally find it dry but really if it is fresh and well made it should be juicy and not salty. With regard to the firmness, the ham should be cured to an optimum point, though never too much (this point will vary depending on the part of the ham being cured). One of the differences between a serrano ham and an Iberian ham is the fluidity of the fat. An Iberian ham should always be moister than a serrano and a lot shinier.  It is common to see white dots in Iberian hams that may look like imperfections in the product. However, these dots are produced by the crystallisation of the thyroxine, an amino acid derivative of the proteins that experts consider a sure mark of quality and indicative of a long and unhurried maturing process and a sign of the pig having exercised well while in the pasture, as all pigs raised for Iberian acorn ham are free range and feed on acorns.

 

 

 

 

The main parts of a cured ham are the maza, the contramaza and the babilla. The maza is the part with the most meat and is the richest and most succulent. The babilla has less jamón as it is confined by the femur and coxal bone. This part is less succulent than the maza so it is recommendable to start cutting here if the cured ham is going to be consumed over a period of time. The part known as the jarrete and the caña are usually diced into cubes of cured ham as the meat has a firmer texture and a different taste. Ham must always be eaten at room temperature in order to enjoy all of its sensual nuances. If the ham has been cut and stored in the refrigerator or comes sliced in a packet, take it out of the refrigerator an hour before eating, to allow it to reach the correct temperature. 

 

 

I highly recommend it, as it is a delicacy you will find hard to live without once tasted!

 



Like 0        Published at 14:45   Comments (1)


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