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WELCOME TO MY BLOG. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AND IN PARTICULAR MY OBSESSION FOR OLIVE OIL, ONE OF SPAIN'S MAJOR ASSETS AND GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD BY THE MAJORITY OF CONSUMERS WORLDWIDE. I WILL ENDEAVOR TO PROVIDE YOU WITH ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO ENJOY THE WORLD OF OLIVE OIL WITHOUT BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT AND PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS!

A Winter Warmer from Valencia
15 January 2019

‘L’arròs amb fesols i naps’ is a well-known Valencian dish also known as “Caldera”, ‘Olla de San Antón’ ò “Olla Pobre” (poor man’s pot). Whichever way you call it, it is a fantastic dish, which is ever so easy to make. Commonly made all around the Valencian Community during village festivities it is on a par with Paella when it comes to feeding large crowds. Traditionally made in tall cauldron pots, it can be just as easily made at home in a large casserole pot.

 

 

In Valencian villages such as El Puig and those between Rivera, La Safor or La Marina, cooking this rice dish in the town square has become a yearly tradition. Usually cooked over a log fire made with orange tree wood, it is custom to prepare this on the day of the villages’ patron saint and a plate handed out to anyone who wants one. It is not unusual to see Falleros preparing it during the Fallas festivities too.

In English we would call it ‘Rice with beans and swede’ although it does have some meat in it as well. The basic ingredients include pork (ear, snout, trotters, nowadays some lean pork is included and sometimes bacon), white sausage, onion morcillas, white beans, swedes (also known as yellow turnip), and edible cardoon, round Valencian rice, paprika and salt. As with many dishes born out of poverty this one is no different, nowadays is isn’t unusual to find versions which substitute some of the cheaper cuts of pork for beef or lamb which also reduces the fat content and calorie count! Additionally other areas such as L’Horta near the camp de Turia will substitute the white beans for garrafón, the large flat bean used in paellas. However in all cases the essential ingredient that always characterises the flavour of this dish is swede, which gives a lovely sweet touch to the broth.

This rice broth or ‘arroz caldoso’ as we would call it is without a doubt the most widely established dish in the Valencian Community especially this time of year. It is, after the paella, probably the most popular rice dish for the locals and still greatly unknown by foreigners but the ritual behind this recipe does stir up a lot of curiosity.

In Vinalesa, a village in L’horta Nord (northern part of Valencia) they prepare their version of this dish on the 13 and 14 of October during their annual festivities. It is a recipe that is traditionally cooked by men, as with paella, in fact in Spain, men normally prepare any recipe that involves firewood. It’s sort of like the caveman syndrome. If it needs fire it’s a man’s job, if it needs sweat, it for the women, that’s why the women the day before have to peel all the vegetables and are known as the ‘peladores’ or ‘the peelers’ while the men cut up the meat and prepare the wood. It’s kind of like a barbecue back home; it’s a man’s thing isn’t it? Nonetheless all are happy and a huge quantity of food is prepared and given out to all the village.

In Godella, the Clavarios de San Antonio prepare this rice dish, en Masalfasar they also make this dish for the day of San Anton which has just past and they call it Poorman’s Pot: ‘Olla Pobre’. In Almàssera thay call it ‘Caldera’, en Estivella they prepare it for the day of San Blas, en Alaquas they celebrate ‘El Porrat’ en honor of San Francisco de Paula on the 23rd of March and hand out this dish to anyone who happens to pass by. In Foios, Villarmarxante, Olocao and practically every other village in the community will have a special day for preparing this rice broth. It is unique and well worth trying. After the paella, it doesn’t get much more Valencian.

Here is the basic recipe for 6 people : 

300g Round Rice from Valencia
300g White Beans (soaked in water over night)
300g Pork pieces (ears & snout)
300g Lean Beef in 3 large pieces
1 Pig’s tail cut into pieces
3 Pigs trotters cut into pieces
200g Pork Pancetta / un-smoked bacon
2 Onion Morcilla
1 Large White sausage – Blanquet
3 Medium sized swedes
2 sticks of edible cardoon
3 medium sized Potatoes
2 tsps. Paprika (de la Vera)
Saffron
Salt
           

  

The process is really very simple. Fill a large deep stew pot with 3 litres of water. It should fill the pot to about ¾’s of its maximum volume. Start to heat up the water on a medium heat with a large pinch of salt.

Once the water is hot, add all the meat to the water, cut it up previous into manageable pieces, but not too small so they are easy to remove afterwards if you don’t want to eat them. I am not a great fan of ears, snout or trotters, so I just use them for flavour and separate them afterwards. I prefer the beef and pancetta with the morcillas and the white sausage. It is important to remember to create a cross on either end of the morcillas with toothpicks otherwise they will disintegrate in the broth. Once all the meat is in let it cook for an hour or so. 

Now you will need to add the swedes and the cardoon. Don’t chop the swedes up too small; they should be in medium sized chunks/pieces. Let it cook on low heat for another hour. 

Now we will add a pinch of saffron and the paprika. Remember we should always cook the paprika before adding it to any dish, so get a small frying pan and add a little extra virgin olive oil, heat up the oil and add the paprika, stir it and fry it for a few seconds and then add a ladle of stock to the pan from the pot, stir around and pour it all back into the stew pot and mix in. 

Now we need to add the potatoes and the beans. Cut the potatoes into medium sized chunks. After 10 minutes we will need to add the rice but check for salt before doing so. Once the rice has been added stir in and cook(simmer) for a further 15 minutes and then remove from the heat. If the rice is still a little tough it will continue cooking in the stock so don’t worry.

That’s it. Serve up in a bowl or deep plate with a mixed salad and fresh crusty bread with a glass of red wine. It is also customary to eat this with raw sweet onion cut into pieces and sprinkled onto the plate.

 

 

ENJOY!



Like 0        Published at 13:56   Comments (0)


Breakfast with Extra Virgin Olive Oil reduces inflammation
10 January 2019

Studies published in 'Food Chemistry' show that adding phenol-rich olive oil to breakfast successfully lowers the inflammation linked to 'metabolic syndrome'.

Inflammation is associated with metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common condition characterised by the presence of three of the following pathologies in an individual: obesity (particularly abdominal fat), high blood pressure, a low level of “good” HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar and a high level of triglycerides. Left untreated, metabolic syndrome can trigger diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

The studies brought together forty-nine patients with metabolic syndrome added 40 ml of high-, medium- or low-phenol virgin olive oil to their breakfast. The high-phenol olive oil (398 parts per million) breakfast neutralised pro-inflammatory gene expression in patients while reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines in blood plasma. The result was an overall lower level of post-meal inflammation.

Phenols — phytochemicals found in plant-based foods such as olives, coffee, tea, and chocolate — have been enjoying the nutritional limelight as an increasing number of health-related benefits are revealed. While the lion’s share of studies to date focus on their anti-oxidant benefits, growing evidence shows that phenols also reduce inflammation.

Chronic low-grade inflammation precedes and predicts the onset of diabetes in adults with metabolic syndrome and researchers believe it plays a similar role in cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that over 30 percent of all adults in the USA have metabolic syndrome, a phenomenon seen in another western countries and quickly spreading to developing countries including India, China and Brazil.

These studies add valuable information on understanding how phenols reduce inflammation by modulating cell signaling pathways and suggests that a breakfast that includes phenol-rich olive oil helps alleviate inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome and related diseases.

One way of knowing that your olive oil is high in Phenols is its taste. Phenols give olive oil its bitter taste, so the bitterer it is the more phenols it has. Examples of varieties that are high in phenols are Picual, Cornicabra, Hojiblanca and Empeltre. In supermarkets you will more readily find Picual, Hojiblanca and Cornicabra.



Like 0        Published at 13:29   Comments (1)


Midnight Shopping with Chocolate & Churros
04 January 2019

Tomorrow, on the eve of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men, however you wish to call them, we'll follow the family tradition and go out to the “Reyes” market in the Cabañal. The Cabañal market is very well known in Valencia and it is at night when parents leave their kids at home asleep (with a relative watching over) and escape to buy a few last presents and give a helping hand to the overworked kings. Even though most presents have already been bought, a wonder around the market in the early hours of the morning is a must, especially with my wife and my sister in law. Both from the neighbourhood, and after years of frequenting the market at Christmas, they know every trick in the book on how to get a bargain and if you are prepared to hang around, they know the right time to really push the bartering into fifth gear and walk away with ridiculous bargains, normally around 4:00am. At that time the sellers are tired after a long days work, their opportunity to sell has come to an end, within a matter of minutes no one will have any reason to buy any presents at all and above all toys. This is when the toy prices plummet by over 50% so you can whip up some great presents for next to nothing. Although we enjoy wondering around the market and picking up a few stocking fillers, the real reason we head down there every year is to feel the Christmassy atmosphere that is in the air and enjoy our seasonal ‘churros and hot chocolate’, normally the first of the winter season.

On a chilly night, at 2:30 in the morning a hot cup of chocolate and freshly made churros is pretty much unbeatable, just what you need to get you through to the end of the market! However it’s not all about shopping, the number of people you bump into is unbelievable and this makes progress sometimes painstakingly slow especially for me at least, as I am not much of a fan of crowded places so I get a bit irritable and would rather take a quick detour to the local coffee shop and wait for the women there!

  I must admit I quite like this market though, its full of junk mostly but still its fun and if you look hard you can come across some nice stuff and if you are cheeky enough you’ll get a decent price. But it’s this night that kicks me into “pudding” mode and I start to cook sweets at home, normally during the summer and autumn I don’t bother but when the cold arrives and the smell of churros is in the air, I can’t help myself. So I thought I would share a recipe for churros, you can’t always find them when you want them and honestly, they are not difficult to make. So here is a recipe I was taught and I hope you find it useful too.  Remember the chocolate is the easy part, you can buy that in powder format in any supermarket, I normally buy the powder made by ‘Chocolates Valor’, which is really very good. Remember it must be thick!

 

The ingredients you will need for approximately 4 servings of churros is the following:

300gr Flour
400ml water
(300ml if you want the churros slightly heavier, a question of taste)
1 tsp. of yeast/bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp. fine table salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

First you will need to heat up the water and add the salt. If you are using tap water drop a slice of lemon peel in, this will help get rid of that tap-water taste. Once boiling, remove the water from the heat and let it cool slightly. When you can pop your finger in without burning yourself, add the flour that you have previously mixed with the yeast (brand ‘Royal’ is ok) or bicarbonate of soda. Mix in the flour and yeast mix bit by bit until it has become an even mass without any lumps. It shouldn’t be a very thick mix (unless you’ve reduced the water, it will be thicker). Once ready, let it sit for an hour or so. It’s important not to use too much yeast otherwise they will swell up too much and absorb a lot of oil and become indigestible. 

                          

Now fill an icing syringe or bag with a wide nozzle and squeeze out about 15cm of churros mix, cut with scissors at the nozzle tip and let it drop into abundant hot olive oil, careful it doesn’t splash the oil! Let it cook until golden and repeat the process until all the churros are cooked. When you remove them from the oil place them on a kitchen towel to soak up excess oil and sprinkle with sugar. One trick is not to cook too many churros at the same time, the more in the oil the quicker the temperature will drop and for the churros to be crispy and not soak up oil, the oil must be very hot throughout the entire cooking process.

 

So as you see they are no more difficult than pancakes so give it a go and start dunking churros with a cup of thick hot chocolate!

 



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Lentils for New Year's Eve
24 December 2018

At this time of year, there is nothing more warming and hearty than a hot plate of lentils with chorizo. In Italy, on New Year's Eve, it is a traditional meal with pigs trotters where they consider it to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. So if that isn't a good enough reason to try this dish I don't know what is! Even if you aren't in Italy, luck is luck and prosperity is prosperity!

This is one of my favourite winter dishes accompanied with some crusty bread and butter (that’s the British influence in me) and it is much easier to make than you might think. If you make a little extra it will last in the fridge for a few days, however, they don’t freeze well so it is always best to make them fresh.

‘Lentejas con Chorizo’ is a traditional dish which has spanned the Iberian peninsula, it is a dish that allows for some flexibility when it comes to ingredients as recipes vary slightly from region to region where different vegetables are added but chorizo is always the reigning ingredient for flavour. Rich in proteins, minerals and carbohydrates, lentils have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. 

This legume fuelled roman legions and it’s not surprising given that about 30% of their calories come from proteins. Lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They also contain dietary fibre, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. The low levels of Readily Digestible Starch (RDS) 5%, and high levels of Slowly Digested Starch (SDS) 30%, make lentils of great food for people with diabetes but more so they are a good source of iron, having over half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100g serving.            

To make this dish we will need the following ingredients for 6 people :

500gr Pardina Lentils “Extra” (a Spanish variety but readily available)
1 Green pepper - diced
4 large carrots – chopped into slices (not too thin)
2 large cloves of garlic – finely chopped
2 large onions - diced
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper – to taste
4 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large mature tomatoes – peeled and diced

3/4 chorizos – approx. 250g 
180g of diced Serrano ham (optional)
1 morcilla (optional)
1 piece of Serrano ham bone (optional)
1 piece of beef marrow bone(optional)

  

 

  

 

 

   
If you include all the ingredients you are in for a feast but you may not have all those ingredients readily available so if you can only get chorizo that will be sufficient to get a good result, the rest of the meat ingredients are optional. If you can’t find ham or bones, you could substitute them for 200g of Pancetta (unsmoked bacon) cut into large thick pieces, which is more readily available in the UK and actually more traditional than the chopped ham, it's just, I find that the pancetta adds, even more, fat to the dish whereas the ham doesn't. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is the class of lentil. Pardina lentils are used for this recipe and it is best to use the ones classed as “extra” as they don’t need to be soaked in water before cooking them. However, if you can’t find these you will need to soak the lentils in water for about 6-8 hours, so best to do it before going to bed and in the morning they’ll be perfect. You can, however, soak the “extra” lentils too and it will reduce the cooking by 30 minutes. That is up to you. I normally do it anyway and in the morning you will see that some lentils are floating on top of the water, these need to be scooped up and thrown away as they are not suitable for cooking. Whatever you decide, the lentils must be washed before using to remove any impurities. Once we have our lentils ready, put them aside until we need them. This recipe contemplates the lentils being soaked.

 Get a stew pot and add the extra virgin olive oil and heat it up. Then add the onions and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes. Then add the green pepper, tomatoes, carrots and bay leaves and fry for a further 3 minutes.

Add the bones to the pot and a generous teaspoon of paprika. Quickly stir the paprika and then add the lentils and the Serrano ham. Be careful not to burn the paprika, this will make the dish go bitter, a few seconds is sufficient before adding the lentils. Stir in the lentils and the ham so all the ingredients are well mixed in and then add the cold water straight away. For 500g of lentils, you will need 1,5L of water approx. The water should comfortably cover all the ingredients, as there are still ingredients to add. Depending on how you prefer your lentils you can adjust the water to have more stock or less stock at the end. If you see your lentils are running out of water before they are ready you can add more boiling water during the cooking process if necessary but it must be boiling so not to interrupt the cooking process. Slowly bring to the boil, when it is boiling some foam will appear on the surface of the water, scoop it off. These are impurities from the bones and we don’t want it in the stock. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and taste for salt and pepper. You may not need to add any as the ham does add salt to the stock.

Now add the chorizo, you can either add it whole or chopped up into large pieces, I prefer it chopped up as it releases more flavour.  You can now also add the whole morcilla if you have decided to use it (don’t chop it up otherwise it will disintegrate). Reduce to a medium heat for another 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Now you can remove the bones. For another 15-30 minutes cook on a low heat checking the texture of the lentils until they are perfectly cooked. Be careful not to cook them for too long or get distracted otherwise they will turn to mush. Once ready, remove from the heat and serve in a bowl with a side of crusty bread and butter. A little trick to jazz them up and give them a little kick from time to time is to dress the bowl with a couple of Basque chillis in vinegar, alternatively if you don't like chilli a little squirt of white wine vinegar gives it a great aftertaste, this was my father in law's favourite way of eating lentils.

If you are in a rush you can always use a pressure cooker, which will reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes depending on your cooker. If you are looking for a slightly healthier version of this dish you can remove the meat ingredients and add potatoes and leeks to the stock resulting in a fantastic vegetarian dish. 

I really hope you give this a go, it well works the effort and to be honest once you have chopped up all the ingredients it cooks on its own. 

 


Enjoy!

 



Like 0        Published at 17:28   Comments (0)


Not into Seafood? Try this alternative for Christmas lunch in Spain
20 December 2018

Although Christmas Eve is probably the most lavish meal of the Christmas holidays in Spain, originally it was Christmas day, much as it is in the UK. It was a day for bringing together the entire family including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and any other family member that you may not have seen throughout the year. Depending on the family, each year it would move house and thus the hosting of this enormous event would be shared amongst the family members. Nowadays, still very much a family event though, Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now normally split between the parents and the in-laws, one day with each.  

Each region of Spain has its own tradition for the Christmas menu, which is determined mainly by local cuisine, for example on the coast seafood or fish is common and inland, meat plays a more important role such as roasted suckling lamb, however nowadays most regions tend to combine both, especially on Christmas Eve. However, Christmas day in the Valencian community is a day for enjoying a rather special typical dish called ‘Puchero de Nadal’ ó ‘Cocido Navideño’.  Effectively it is a stew with giant meatballs but it is enjoyed in two stages. It may seem very simple and rustic but it is a very long meal and takes time to digest. It contains almost everything you could possibly imagine putting in a stew. What makes this stew different from the rest of the stews in Spain is the use of local sausages and local vegetables. The Valencian community is well known for its vegetables and this is well portrayed in the Valencian ‘Puchero’.

As with most traditional recipes, there is nothing written in stone, except using a giant cauldron!  So grab the biggest pot you can find otherwise there is no way all the ingredients will fit in. Remember the stock, the meat and the vegetables can all be frozen afterwards so if you have a lot left over, which you will, ration it out in Tupperware and freeze it for another day or use it for another recipe as mentioned later on.

For the stew you will need the following :

½ medium sized Chicken (approx. 1,25kg of meat)
2 large meatballs (recipe as follows)
1 piece of bone marrow
1 piece of knee bone
150 grams of beef 
1 Blanquet sausage 
1 Onion Morcilla sausage 
100 grams of pork fat
300 grams of chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
Saffron
1 stick of Celery, 1 stick of Cardoon, 1 sweet potato, 1 white turnip, 1 yellow turnip, 1 parsnip, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 leek, 5 runner beans and ¼ cabbage. (As far as the vegetables go, you can chuck in whatever you have at hand, but this is the standard recipe in Valencia)

So, to make the stew it is as easy as cleaning and peeling the vegetables and placing them all in the pot with the meat and the meatballs, except for the carrots, potatoes, runner beans and the morcilla. These need to be held back for later as they cook more quickly. Cover with water and slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Remember to skim off the foam that rises to the top. After 90 minutes pop in the rest of the ingredients that were held back and then simmer for another 90 minutes. To make the meatballs all you will need are the following ingredients:

2 eggs.
150g lean minced beef
150g minced pork.
1 sausage (with skin removed)
200g Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley 
50g Pine nuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon powder
10ml fresh Lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Stew net for binding
Cabbage leaves for wrapping up the meatballs.   

 

                   

If you feel like saving some time you can always make the balls the day before. Mix the meat, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, eggs and pine nuts to taste. Pour the breadcrumbs in and knead it all together until it forms a thick mass. Add the lemon juice and knead it all together again. Separate the meat mass into two parts and then roll into two large balls. Once you have made the balls wrap each ball in cabbage leaves and then place inside the stewing net and tie up tight and add to the rest of the meat for the stew.

Once the stew is ready it is customary to first enjoy a bowl of soup from the stock cooked either with rice or noodles. Some may add a piece of the meatball to the soup and others may add a bit of everything and then move onto the rest of the meat and vegetables, the choice is yours. It would also be customary to make 'oven-baked rice' (arroz al horno) the following day with the leftovers. So there you have it, a very hearty meal from the heart of Valencia and ideal for this time of year, it may not look very sophisticated but it tastes incredible! 

 

 

    Enjoy!

 

 
 


Like 0        Published at 12:07   Comments (1)


The Biggest Nativity Scene in Spain
18 December 2018

The Monumental Nativity scene in Xátiva has been declared the largest in Spain. When Christmas arrives, this Valencian city really takes the tradition to another level.

Each year the ‘Monumental Nativity’ grows a little more to show and interpret all the scenes from the Birth of the Messiah. This year it covers an area of 1600m2, it is approximately 70m long and 20m wide.

It is such wonderful creation and even if you are not particularly religious it is still a worthy way to spend the afternoon or the evening. If you have children in the family they are sure to love it. This unique spectacle in Spain has become a tourist attraction of the first order bringing tens of thousands of visitors every year.

However, if you do decide to visit there is some important information about this particular Nativity scene that makes it rather special, and you should know:

• Ecological: Throughout the year, City Council workers collect materials that will later be used to assemble the nativity scene. In addition, some of the tools used are of an ethnological character and are yielded by the locals to build the necessary scenes.

• Live animals: One of the great attractions is that in the scene there are live animals: ducks, geese, bulls, sheep, donkeys and turkeys among others. These animals are under veterinary control that care, at all times, for their welfare.

 

• Solidarity: The fruits and vegetables used and which are usually donated by local businesses are later donated on to charities that work with the needy in the local area. Visitors also throw coins in the fountains and once the event is over, all is collected and allocated to local NGOs.

Falleros Artists: The majority of the figures are life-size and have been elaborated by traditional Fallas artists, making this nativity scene a genuinely Valencian one. At nightfall, the nativity acquires a special magic with bespoke lighting throughout.

If you happen to be in or near Xativa this Christmas, visiting the nativity scene is really a must.

 



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Fancy a Seafood Christmas?
11 December 2018

 Christmas is approaching and seafood will undoubtedly be on the menu in Spain, so if you fancy preparing something a little different “Arroz caldoso de Bogavante” could de a special alternative.

To be honest it is quite confusing to give a decent translation for this dish, yes, it is a Lobster Rice but it is not dry like a paella is, it is cooked so that the lobster and the rice are left with a reasonable amount of broth or seafood stock making it almost soupy without being a soup! In fact it is in essence a rice stew: a combination of solid food ingredients (lobster and rice) that have been cooked in liquid (seafood fumée) and served in the resultant gravy - according to the dictionary! However one thing I can assure you is that this is one special stew!

 

I’ve cooked many rice dishes over the years and untold “calderetas” (stews) so the techniques are straightforward, it has always been the fact that I knew I would have to kill the lobster while it is still alive that always held me back. Ever since I saw my first lobster being boiled alive and listening to it banging against the side of the pot and the lid, it made quite an impression on me. However, we had special guests over and I figured it was time to tackle this dish once and for all. However, with this dish you can not boil the lobster first to kill it, with that technique you just pop it in the boiling water, put the lid on and the lobster starts bashing around the pan until it eventually dies. Logically with this technique you don’t see anything, you just hear it, not even sure it is a good technique, but it was the first I ever witnessed in Spain. 

However, when making a Lobster Stew you need to chop up the lobster while it is still alive so the meat doesn’t toughen. This is quite disturbing the first time you see it and do it. However I was curious to know if lobsters actually felt anything or if these movements were in fact just spontaneous nervous reactions, so I started to investigate on the Internet and found several sources that actually confirmed that they do not feel pain. I have no idea if they were reliable sources or even if the information is true but it was just what I was looking for so I stopped investigating in case I found some contradictory evidence that would ruin my meal. That made me feel much better knowing that I wasn’t personally going to be inflicting pain on the animal as I chopped it up. So full steam ahead with the recipe and I started to phone around friends to get the best tips on this dish. In reality, it is a very easy dish to make but the real secret is in the seafood stock, which must be prepared beforehand. It is the same stock you would use for seafood paella, so that was one of my specialities. In fact the recipe is exactly the same for a Lobster paella only we would use less stock and let it dry out.

 

So, off I went to stock up on ingredients and there are quite a few, even though it is a rather simple recipe, the one I made was for 4 hungry adults, so adjust the ingredients accordingly. (five could eat easily from this recipe, though). I might add that if you decide to go ahead and try the dish you could buy the ingredients frozen ahead of time as prices will soar the closer it gets to Christmas. The results will still be very good, although live lobster is always much better. You decide...

 

For the Seafood Fumée (stock) you will need the following:

 

400g of small raw unpeeled prawns/shrimps (Gambas arroceras or Gamba blanca)

500g of raw unpeeled “langoustine/scampi/Norway lobster/Dublin Bay prawn” (what ever you want to call it! In Spanish: Cigalas)

400g of Mantis Shrimps that look like aliens but are just for flavour! (Galeras)

4 large Scarlet (Cardinal) prawns - (Carabineros in Spain) – these are quite pricey so you can omit them if you want, but if you want a no-holds-barred stock, I highly recommend them, they are intense in flavour.

600g of white fish bones with head, such as hake or monk fish which are very flavourful.

2 tbsp Fresh chopped parsley

1 large onion chopped into quarters

2 peeled cloves of garlic (whole)

100ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Picual variety

50ml Brandy ó Cognac (sherry will do as well)

50ml White wine (preferably Albariño)

1 tbsp Paprika

2,5 litres of water approx.

Salt

 

 

  Scampi

 

Carabineros /  Scarlet or Cardinal Prawns

 

 

The first thing we do is peel the prawns, langoustines and the carabineros, putting the meat from the tail to one side and reserving the heads and the shells. The meat we will add with the lobster, later. It is a waste to use it in the stock as the real flavour comes from the heads and the shells. I don’t peel the mantis prawns because it’s such an ordeal and they don’t tend to have much meat in them.

Then we place all the heads, shells and mantis prawns in a large deep saucepan on high heat, as this is where we will make the stock. Pour in the olive oil, I recommend using a Picual variety as we are heating to high temperatures at first and this will withstand the heat better. When I made this recipe I used “Oro Bailen” which is €10 a bottle from Corte Inglés a very good olive oil for the price. 

     

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

We cook the shells and heads for a about five minutes until they have all changed colour and start to brown a very little, you will experience a fantastic smell as you are doing this, of sweet seafood.  Then we add the cognac or brandy, flambé the shells, to burn of the alcohol. If you use Brandy you can’t flambé it, so don’t worry the alcohol will evaporate as the cooking proceeds.

 

Add the wine and stir for about 2 minutes then add the paprika, stir it around and add half a litre of water immediately so the paprika doesn’t burn. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Next we need to get a hand blender and blend in all the heads and shells with the stock. Do this in short actions, we don’t want all the shells to disintegrate into tiny pieces we just want to break them all up into small pieces so that they release every ounce of their flavour, we’ll pass it through a sieve later. Now drop in the quartered onion, the cloves of garlic and the fresh parsley, add the fish head and bones and add the rest of the water.

 

We want to end up with 1,5 litres of concentrated stock at the end of all this so, add a litre first and that will give you a guide as to the minimum amount we will need once we’ve reduced the stock. Let the stock simmer for a minimum of 1 hour until all the fish bones have separated and any meat that was there has fallen off, skim the foam off the top as needed.

 

Now we pass all the stock through a sieve to remove the bones and the broken shells. I suggest you pass it through the sieve twice to make sure you remove everything. Now the last step is to salt for taste and slowly reduce the stock to the required amount so it is lovely and concentrated. As I mentioned, we want a minimum of 1,5 litres for this recipe which will be used for 500g of rice, It is always best to leave a little in reserve just in case.

 

Once the stock is ready put it one side. You can make the stock the day before if you want, it will keep in the fridge for a coupe of days.

 

Now the next step! These are the ingredients you will need for Lobster rice, as I mentioned it serves 4 hungry adults!

 

2 medium sized lobsters ( aprox 500-600 g each)

The peeled seafood from earlier

500g  Round Valencian Rice ( If possible Bomba), the same rice you would use for a paella.

4 sundried Spanish Ñoras (dried capsicums)

3 mature medium sized plum tomatoes

1 medium sized red onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp. paprika

0,2g ground saffron

50ml Brandy

50ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fresh parsley

Salt

 

Ok here we are at the moment of truth. Time to kill! But just before that we need to get everything ready. Capsicums always come dried, well they do here in Spain at least, so they need to be soaked on water overnight so they can soften.

 

Once softened, we remove the pulp from the capsicums with a teaspoon and place it in a bowl, discarding the tough outer skin. We scald the plum tomatoes in boiling water and then immediately place them under cold water to easily peel off the skin and then finely dice it. Chop the onion and garlic cloves up finely too. Mix it all these ingredients together; capsicum pulp, onion, tomatoes and garlic, now we are ready to move on.

 

 

 

 

 

Make sure the stock is hot and keep it hot, as we must add it hot to the pan. For this you will need a deep wide pan, in Spain we use a pan similar to a wok only that it has a larger base. 

 

The lobsters' time is now up, say a prayer, give them a blessing and ask them for forgiveness, as they are about to serve you very well indeed! A lobster will stay alive for just over a day in the fridge if you keep it moist, so a good trick is to get two kitchen cloths, soak them in water and a place one on the base of the vegetable drawer inside the fridge, lay the lobster on top of the cloth and place another wet cloth over them. When you buy them make sure they are healthy, a good telltale sign is asking for them to be held up in front of you once they are taken out of the tank, they should hold their claws up high as if surrendering, if their claws are sagging down towards their body, they are weak and I would reject them. 

 

                                 

There are many ways to chop up a lobster but I quickly learnt my first mistake, not pulling the claws off first. If you don’t, it is much harder to take them off once you’ve cut it in half. So hold the lobster firmly by the head and twist the claw firmly at the base where it is joined to the body, it should just pop off. Remove both of them, hit them with a rolling pin to slightly break the shell (don’t bash them!) in each part of the arm and claw and then put them to one side, you can take the elastic bands off now.  Next, we need to separate the tail from the head and cut it in half length-ways, you will need a large sharp knife for this. Finally cut the head in half length-ways and we are done. The last thing you will need to do is remove the stomach, it right at the tip of the head and is a small sack, sometimes with sometimes sand in it. Take it out and throw it away. You needn’t remove anything else, the green innards that look like brains, aren’t in fact brains and will add to the flavour, but if you find that a bit sickly, wash it out, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t include it. Heat up the pan and add the olive oil (Picual) and then place the lobster pieces shell down in the pan and fry them until the shell goes pink turn them over and seal the meat briefly and let it release the juices, fry for a few minutes, we just want to flavour the oil. Remove the lobster and put it to one side.

 

Then we add to the pan the tomato-onion-garlic-capsicum mix and stir fry it in the oil for about 5/6 minutes until it is nicely cooked. Add the brandy and stir, let it simmer for a minute or so and then add the paprika, stir it in and almost immediately add all the rice. Stir in the rice so it soaks up all the ingredients in the pan and keep stirring it for a couple of minutes then we add the stock. Add 1.5 litres of stock, stir it in and put the lobster and the peeled seafood which we reserved earlier, back in. Add the saffron and some chopped parsley to the pan, slowly stir it in and taste for salt. Add if necessary. Now we just wait for approximately 20 minutes until the rice is cooked. The pan should not run out of stock, if you see the stock going below the rice level, add a little more, but make sure it is always very hot. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes. It is now ready to serve! It is truly a fantastically special dish! I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

  

 

 

 

 



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Pulpo a la Gallega - Octopus
08 December 2018

 

Pulpo a la gallega - Galician style octopus - takes us back many centuries, not because the recipe was the same, but because octopus has been consumed in this autonomous region for longer than we can count.

Octopus was one of the few types of seafood that was transported from the coasts to the interior towns and in fact it was far more appreciated in these towns than near the sea, as those had other products such as lobster, king crab and a great variety of fish.

When America was discovered many products appeared in the Spanish markets, including a fake spice obtained from some crushed red chiles, in Spanish they call it pimentón, in English: paprika.
Not only does paprika give a tempting copperish tinge, but it's also great for preserving food in those time before frozen products and easy land transportation. Now it would be possible to preserve the meat and fish products without problems of rotting, molds or even worse. 

But it wasn't until a few years later that pulpo a la gallega became and actual dish. Some 125 years ago, when muleteers went to cattle fairs, they bought large amounts of octopus and then they'd prepare it with olive oil and paprika. Quite simple.

The name in galician for pulpo a la gallega is "pulpo a feira" (fair style octopus) for a very simple reason. During the cattle fairs the farmers would buy or sell cattle, sell their farm products, etc, and buy groceries such as salt, sugar and other products they didn't have daily access to.

The trip to the town where the fair took place took a long time and most people would stay for lunch or dinner. Those who stayed near the fair venue could eat octopus (as we've mentioned before, it was a very typical dish in fairs).

The "pulpeiras" (specialized in octopus) would cook the animal in copper cauldrons and serve the octopi on wooden plates. It is said that the copper pot gives it an incomparable taste that it's impossible to obtain with any other material.

 

 

Today the story is a little different, we don't need paprika to preserve food, but in Galicia, which is still a largely rural region, it's possible to go to cattle fairs and eat pulpo a la gallega and watch the preparation process which has it's own special magic. The good news, it's also possible to prepare it at home. This is what you 'll need to do...

 

 

Pulpo a la Gallega | Galician Style Octopus

Ingredients (four portions):
1 octopus of 2 kilos
500 grams of potatoes
Paprika
Spicy paprika
Salt
Olive oil

Preparation:
If it's a fresh octopus first we must soften the octopus, there are two ways to this, you can either beat it with a wooden rolling pin until its texture softens or freeze it for two days and defrost it the day before cooking it in the fridge (put it in a bowl because it will release a lot of liquid)

Dice the onion and add it to a pan with water. When it begins to boil is time to add the octopus. Grab it's head and dip it in the pan three times. After the third time you put it in and take it out add to the pan permanently. Cook for 50 minutes

Once cooked remove the pan from the fire and let it cool for 15 minutes.

Using the same water in which the octopus was cooked, cook the potatoes (previously peeled and diced). While they boil dice the octopus in medium sized slices.

When the potatoes are cooked remove from water and add to a platter. We add the octopus slices on top.

The final touch is adding the olive oil and paprika and abundant coarse salt. 

So, pulpo a la Gallega doesn't present many problems and it always tastes great, however, it is said that all food is better when tasted in its source of origin. Should you ever decide to travel to Northern Spain, ask the locals for the best Galician style octopus in town.

 



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Crusty Rice - Arroz con costra
08 November 2018

Arroz con Costra is yet another great Spanish rice dish that is relatively simple to make and tastes delicious. Claimed to be from the Southern-Alicante/Murcia region of Spain, this rice dish is a perfect example of how different cooking techniques are blended between regions.

 

 

Alicante is one of Spain's best regions for rice dishes, after Valencia where the ever-famous paella originated. However this dish is an unusual blend between a casserole and a paella, and when including an egg crust, it makes for a very unique but traditional dish.

The name of the dish, 'Arroz con costra' derives from this 'egg topping' - 'costra' means ‘crust’ in Spanish when used with food. This is because when the egg is baked on the top of the rice casserole, it turns into a tasty crust that compliments the meal exquisitely.

In this recipe, it is customary to include a typical Spanish sausage called 'butifarra blanca'. This is a white sausage and is typical of Murcia and the Valencian Community. The sausage is white as it is only made from pork meat. However, if you can't find Butifarra blanca you can replace it with a similar white sausage. 

Similarly, chicken is used in this recipe but many traditional versions of the dish use rabbit so you can choose whichever you prefer.

The largest dish of Crusty rice ever to be cooked ever was made using 1,500 eggs, 100 kilograms of rice and 120 kilograms of rabbit. The dish, which provided 1,500 servings, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, helping immortalise the dish forever.

 

 

This is what you will need for 6 servings -  Crusty Rice with Spare Ribs and Chicken

Ingredients:

• ½ cup Olive oil

• ½ lb spare ribs, chopped

• 2 butifarras blancas, cut into 2cm thick slices (optional)

• ½ lb pork loin, cut into large cubes

• 6 chicken legs

• 1½ tsps salt

• 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped 

• 4 cups chicken stock

• 1 tsp sweet paprika

• 2 cups Spanish round rice

• 6 eggs, beaten

 

Preparation:

• Preheat the oven to 230ºC (450ºF).

• Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a large (around 30 centimetres in diameter), deep casserole dish. Add the spareribs, sausage slices, pork and chicken and cook, turning as necessary, for around 10 minutes or until the meat is nicely golden brown all over, turning to a slight crisp.

• Add the salt and the tomatoes to the pan and mix well.

• In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and then turn down the heat, but keep it at a slight simmer. It needs to be hot when you add it to the rest of the dish.

• Add the paprika to the casserole dish containing the meat and tomato mixture and mix briskly to mix the flavour in. Then add the stock to the mixture and turn up the heat to high, bringing it all to the boil quickly

• Add the rice and stir the mixture to blend it with the rest of the ingredients, and make sure that it is evenly distributed throughout.

• Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes without stirring.

Next, place the casserole dish in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes or until the rice has become soft and absorbed most of the stock. Pour the beaten eggs evenly over the surface of the rice and bake for a further 5 minutes or until the eggs forms a crust on the top of the dish.

• Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

 



Like 0        Published at 15:14   Comments (4)


Truffles are in season
01 November 2018

 

European white truffles can sell for as much as €5000 a kg, making them and their fellow fungi the most expensive food in the world. One 1kg white truffle recently sold for more than €250,000. All of which has brought organised crime into the truffle trade, creating a black market and leading to theft of both truffles as well as the highly valued truffle-sniffing dogs. Add to that the influx of the inferior Chinese truffles passing off as their European cousins and you've got troubling truffle market. In Spain the black truffle of Teruel oscillates between €500 and €1000 kg and is considered one of the finest in the world. However if you are looking for a very special touch to your meal, this is it.

Truffles are hypogenous fungi. This class of fungi needs to join to the thinnest roots of certain superior plants such as holm oaks without which they are unable to live, a natural symbiosis.  The life of a truffle is linked to that of the symbiont tree it lives with. Truffles have a balloon-like shape, rough and irregular and variable in size and weight. Their aspect and size depend on the season: in spring you can hardly see them, in summer they are bigger in size and pale red in colour and by the end of the autumn they start to mature and get brown and black with reddish spots first and totally black by the end of the season.

Nowadays, over a hundred truffle species are known around the world, however, only a few of them are edible and appreciated. In the province of Teruel, there are two kinds of truffle which are harvested.

Firstly, the Tuber Melanosporum Vitt, which is commonly known as Winter black truffle or Black truffle of Teruel. The body of the black truffle normally has the size of a walnut or a tennis ball, rounded or irregular and lobed. The flesh of the black truffle is thick, compact and grey or violet coloured. It has very thin white veins, clearly marked and branched. They give off a characteristic smell, which is intense and pleasant, and their taste is unique, unmistakable and characteristic. The harvesting season of this truffle has just started and continues on until March. It is the black truffle variety, which is most valued in the market, due to its culinary value.

Secondly there is the Tuber Aestivum Vitt which is also known as Summer white truffle. It can be variable in size; from a walnut to a tennis ball. It also has round or irregular shape, as the black truffle, but sometimes with small concavities.

The main difference between Tuber Aestivum Vitt. and Tuber Melanosporum Vitt. is their inner part or flesh (gleba). The Tuber Aestivum Vitt also has a thick and fleshy gleba but it is white, yellow or ivory coloured. The smell and flavour of the summer truffle are also pleasant and characteristic, though less strong. This truffle has less culinary value and it is considered Tuber Melanosporum’s younger sister, so to speak and is harvested between May and August.

 

 

These two species must not be confused with other truffle substitutes that are also in the market and their culinary quality cannot be compared to cheaper species. You should check the label when you buy a truffle, as it should state the species and Latin name.

The Black truffle of Teruel is considered one of the best truffles in the world. The Mediterranean climate of Teruel, characterised for being extreme, moderately warm and dry, with cold winters owing to the altitude, promotes the growth of suitable vegetation. Although dry, Teruel receives the necessary rainfall that combined with the arid and chalky soil and the experience of the farmers, makes Teruel the Spanish province with the best conditions for producing high-quality truffles. 

    

The truffle of Teruel, which is a subterranean fungus, is harvested with the aid of dogs that have been previously trained for this hard job. They can be different kinds of pure breed or cross-breeds, such as a Pointer or a Labrador retriever. The dog must be young, affable and obedient, medium sized if possible and with hard hair to resist the low temperatures and the continuous rubbing up against the shrubs. Training a dog to find truffles is not an easy task and requires a lot of patience. The dog’s training begins with games: basically, you throw objects and then the dog has to find them and bring them back to you. Normally balls made up of clothes hiding a small portion of truffle inside are used. The animal also needs to be stimulated by eating small portions of truffle, so that it gets familiar with the smell of the valuable fungus.

Afterwards, the trainers will hide truffles under the soil several hours before the daily training session. This is done so that the smell of the truffle impregnates the soil and this way it resembles the real conditions of nature.
Every day, at the beginning of the training session, the dog is taken to the place where the truffle was hidden some hours before and then the animal is encouraged to search and scratch the land. When the dog finds the truffle it will be shown the fungus and allowed to smell it. Then, the dog is rewarded, which could be anything from a  piece of bread to very small bits of cheese, dry food or even a portion of its favourite treat. The dog needs to be stimulated with patting and games; however, it is never forced too much as it can get tired soon. Little by little, the smell of the truffle will become familiar to the dog and it will need 2 or 3 years of training and practise before it becomes a “professional seeker” of truffles. We all know that pigs were used in the past, but there was no way of training them not to eat their finds…so dogs were employed.

 

 

When a dog is searching out a truffle it goes around the producer trees with its nose stuck to the soil until it detects where the mature truffle is, then the dog scratches into the earth with its front legs until the order to stop is heard. The harvester extracts the truffle with the aid of special machetes; narrow machetes that are not pointed. He will dig carefully and unearth the truffle, covering again the hole with the same earth extracted before and after showing it to the dog he will give it a reward. The dog will not detect the truffle until it is sufficiently mature. Thus, it can pass over the truffle several times but never show any indication that the truffle is there.

As it is consumed in small amounts, its nutritional value is a secondary issue. However ,this is a low calorie food, with just 30 calories per 100gr, very digestive and many would say famous for its aphrodisiac powers…
The black truffle of Teruel turns any simple recipe into an exquisite delicacy, which is just unforgettable. This delicacy is treasured by the most demanding gurus of the national and international cuisine and by lovers of good gastronomic dishes. Its peculiar smell and taste, which has a strong personality, should not be mixed with other kinds of food that would mask its characteristics, for instance, garlic or vinegar.

If you use a black truffle to prepare a hot dish, it should be added at the end, as it does not require much cooking. This  truffle combines well with red meat, all kinds of game, pasta, rice, eggs and so on.
But I will share a very simple truffle sauce to accompany a rib-eye steak or an “entrecote de buey” in Spain.

 

You will need for four servings:

250ml of liquid cream
2 shallots
2 tsp. of butter
10gr of Teruel black truffle (finely grated)

   

 

 Simply dice up the shallots, melt the butter in a small frying pan and pop in them in, cook them for about 4-5 minutes and then add the cream. Then just add the finely grated truffle and stir the cream for a couple of minutes. Make sure you do this once the steaks are almost ready, the truffle doesn’t need much cooking time and it will continue to cook in the hot cream if you leave it standing for too long. Pour the sauce over the steak and serve with chips or steamed vegetables.


Enjoy.



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