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The Classic Chicken in "Pepitoria" - Almond and saffron sauce
23 September 2020

Discover this succulent chicken Pepitoria recipe, cooked in a flavoursome almond, egg yolk and a delicious saffron sauce. A recipe that has survived hundreds of years and is still enjoyed today.

The Pepitoria is a poultry-based recipe that has been a popular part of  Spanish gastronomy several centuries now. Some claim that its origin is French-based on some French recipe books referring to the ‘petit-oie’, which means ‘little-goose’, a bird that was traditionally cooked by the French in almost an identical manner to the way the Pepitoria recipe is prepared nowadays. Others though are convinced that it was the Moors who introduced the recipe to the Spanish Peninsula, which would also make sense if we look closely at the ingredients and the way they are cooked, typical of many traditional Moorish recipes.

Whichever is right, it can not be denied that the Pepitoria recipe has been around the Spanish peninsula long enough to be considered a traditional Spanish recipe in its very own right.

Back in the time, chicken wouldn’t be as broadly available to the masses as it is today. And when it was, it would be affordable to the more affluent classes only. This means that originally the Pepitoria would have been prepared with cheaper and more easily available cuts of meat, such as poultry offals or hen. The Pepitoria method of cooking meat is not restricted to hen or chicken. It is also delicious with rabbit, partridge or turkey to mention just a few. Here are the ingredients for 4 servings:




1.6 kg Chicken – approx. 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
2  Brown onion – finely chopped
1  Carrot – finely chopped
2  Egg – boiled
2 cloves Garlic – peel and crushed
2 slices Bread – toasted
1 pinch Saffron – toasted
15  Almonds – toasted
250 ml White wine
250 ml Chicken stock
100 ml Extra virgin olive oil
1  Bay leaf
  Salt to taste
  Freshly ground black pepper - to taste
1 sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley

So, here are the steps you need to take...

1.Cut your chicken into medium-sized pieces. Remove the skin –except for the wings– to avoid excess fat when cooking the chicken. Season and put to one side
2. Brown the chicken in a very hot heavy-bottomed saucepan with a little olive oil until golden-brown all over. Remove from the heat and put to one side.
3. Chop the onions and the carrot. Crush and peel the garlic cloves. Place in the same pan we used for the chicken and cook for 10-15 minutes until soft and transparent, deglazing the pan as you do so.
4. In the meantime, boil the eggs and put the egg yolks to one side. Toast the almonds slightly using a small pan, then the saffron and finally the bread.
With the help of a pestle and mortar, make a paste using the egg yolks, the almonds, the bread and the saffron. This is called typically called a ‘majado’ in Spain
5. Mix in the chicken and the ‘majado’ in the pan with the vegetables. Add the glass of white wine (dry) and cook until the alcohol  has evaporated, 3-4 minutes. Then add the chicken stock, the bay leaf and cook on medium heat for approx. 35-40 minutes or until the chicken is soft and tender.
6. Serve immediately, topped with a mixture of chopped egg white and fresh parsley.

You can pair it with french fries or with some plain steamed rice or just get dunking with a good slice of crunchy bread!


Like 1        Published at 16:36   Comments (0)

How to make Crema Catalana
18 September 2020


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!

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.



Like 1        Published at 20:55   Comments (0)

Homemade Spanish Ham Croquetas
10 September 2020

The first-ever homemade Spanish recipe I ever tasted was Serrano Ham Croquetas (croquettes) - I managed to discover these little delights from a school friend who happened to be half Spanish and his mother would make them from time to time and give him a Tupperware full of them to take to school. Naturally, we were best friends! Since them, I must have tried dozens and dozens of different recipes, textures and ingredients but for some reason, I always come back to the original - Spanish cured ham. Traditionally it would be made with serrano ham but I must admit I now prefer to use Iberian acorn ham, which is not as salty and really full of flavour. When I say "traditionally" I am referring to the typical Spanish recipe, but Croquetas aren't, in fact, Spanish by origin, but French. The modern-day recipe was developed by Antonin Careme who introduced this food to the Nobles' tables towards around the mid 18th century. The name originates from the French word "croquer" which means 'to crunch'.

As far as difficulty is concerned, it is a fairly simple recipe so I thought I would share it with you. These are the ingredients you will need for about 30 bite-sized balls or 15 normal sized croquettes.



Iberian acorn ham or Serrano ham - 150g, chopped into very small pieces
Bay leaf 1

Spring onion 2 - finely chopped
Butter (not margarine) 75g
Plain flour 75g
Whole milk 500ml
Manchego cheese 50g, grated (optional)
Nutmeg 1 grating or a small sprinkle if already ground
Eggs 2, beaten
Panko breadcrumbs or normal breadcrumbs 100g - I prefer Panko
Extra virgin olive oil  for deep frying



1. Heat a non-stick pan and fry the ham and bay leaf gently until any fat has melted off the ham, then scoop it out leaving the fat behind.

2. Add the butter to the pan and, when it has melted, stir in the flour to make a thick paste.

3. Gradually stir in the milk until you have a smooth sauce.

4. Add back the bay leaf, spring onion and ham and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted, then add a good grating of nutmeg and season really well.

5. Scoop into a tray or dish, cool, then chill completely in the fridge. (This can take 2-3 hours, or you could do it the day before.)

6. Scoop out large teaspoonfuls of the mix and roll each into balls about 3cm across.

7. Put the beaten egg on one plate and breadcrumbs on another. Roll the balls in the egg then the crumbs. Repeat so you have a double layer of egg and breadcrumbs. This gives an extra crunch to the croquettes!

8. Fill a pan no more than ⅓ full with oil and heat to 180C (or until a cube of bread browns in around 30 seconds), then deep fry the balls in batches for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden. Scoop out and drain on kitchen paper (you can keep cooked croquetas warm in a very low oven).




Like 1        Published at 15:06   Comments (4)

Ridiculous! A Crianza for €2!
04 September 2020


I normally write recommendations about wines under two Euros, but in this case, the wine in question deserves to be in a different category. The best-value-for-money wine in the country!  I have been drinking this wine as a 'house' wine at home for about a month or two and I have to say that it surpasses many wines 3 and 4 times as expensive. It really is a no-brainer. Torre Oria Crianza - €2. For the price, I haven't found a red wine that can even get close. Naturally, this price is only possible due to the mass purchasing power of Mercadona, as it is the only place in Spain where you can buy it, but that is all the more reason to pick up a few bottles. Quality wine at an extremely fair price, practically ridiculous when you compare it to other wines and other countries. It is extremely easy to drink, has a full-body flavour and low tannins. You can drink it with a snack, some cheese or a full meal or even alone. It works well at room temperature and also slightly chilled during the summer months. It is very much an all-rounder red wine.

Bodegas Torre Oria is located in the Spanish region of Utiel-Requena (the south-east of Valencia). At the end of the 19th century, the Oria de Rueda family successfully were dedicated to the silk business in Valencia. Years later, the family decided to move their business to the city of Requena, 60 km away. towards inland Valencia. With the decline of the silk trade, they decided to convert their business into the world of wine growing vineyards between 650 and 905 metres above sea level. This unique geographical location has given heir wines a characteristic mark.

If you haven't discovered this wine yet it is about time you bought a bottle. I walked passed it for months and months dismissing it because of its price - "How can a Crianza cost only €2?" (for those who don't know, a Crianza is a red wine that has spent a minimum of 12 months in an oak barrel) I would say to myself... How wrong I was. I have blind tasted this wine with friends who know their wines and they have all valued it well above its real shelf price. I also use this wine when cooking, for once a decent wine for cooking that doesn't make you feel guilty for using it!

Give it a go! I am sure you will enjoy it.



Like 1        Published at 14:32   Comments (13)

Cold Soups to fight the Spanish heat
28 August 2020

Cold soups, like salads, are dishes I crave for in the summer months, so here are a few proposals that are slightly different from your standard gazpacho or vichyssoise. They are really easy to make so you can easily make them in advance and cool them in the fridge for later. 


1. //   This first recipe might surprise you because of its ingredients but its taste will also surprise you. Roasted peppers, watermelon and basil make a wonderful blend; the fruit brings a unique freshness to the dish. It is garnished with crispy croutons and boiled egg. You could also add Serrano ham or even ‘mojama’; salted fish. Roasted peppers and basil marry together perfectly but make sure the basil is fresh and the watermelon is flavoursome.


Roasted Peppers, Watermelon & Basil



To make the soup you will need:

Ingredients (4 servings) 
400 grams of roasted peppers (red bell peppers), 
200 grams of roasted pepper juice
250 grams of watermelon 
2 cloves garlic, 
Fresh basil,
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Garnish :

4 eggs, croutons, extra virgin olive oil, champagne vinegar (optional). 

Make sure you have enough time to roast the peppers and let them cool down before making the recipe. To roast them, clean them inside and out but leave them whole and place them on a tray covered with tin foil and roast them at 200ºC for about an hour or until they are tender, turning them over half way through the cooking time.

Turn off the oven and leave them until they are cool then peel them, remove any seeds and recover the juice that that has been released by the peppers, this will help lighten the soup but maintain its flavour. Place the peppers and half of the juice in the blender. 

Cut the watermelon into cubes, remove the skin and seeds and add it to the peppers in the blender. Peel the garlic cloves, cut them length ways and remove the central roots and add them the blender along with several basil leaves, the amount depends on how much you like the flavour of this aromatic plant. So blend and taste.

Blend until it is creamy and add a trickle of extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend again to emulsify.  Now you can add the rest of the roasted pepper juice depending on how thick you want the soup to be. Add and blend until you get the consistency you want. Taste for salt and pepper and then store in the refrigerator. 

Make 4 hard-boiled eggs; cool them off in cold water. Peel the eggs and separate yolks and whites, grate the yolks and dice the whites to sprinkle on top of the soup.

Season the croutons with a little extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of vinegar for a touch of acidity. Finally add a few leaves of basil before serving and a slight drizzle of Picual extra virgin olive oil.


2. //  This next soup is a Spanish classic; The Ajoblanco, which is like gazpacho or Salmorejo in that every cook has their own proportions and their slight differences but is unique in flavour and always a favourite. I like Ajoblanco with a slight thick and creamy texture, and that is how I am going to share it with you today.  This soup is believed to have originated with the Romans and I can assure you any garlic lover will be asking for seconds so make plenty of it.




Here are Ingredients (4 servings):

 ½ Litre mineral water
250 grams of peeled almonds (to peel them scald them in boiling water)
2 cloves garlic (not too large)
A piece of bread from the previous day (the amount needed will depend on the texture you want)
Sherry vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil  - Arbequina 

Again this a recipe that creates hardly any work and if you have a half decent blender you’ll get a velvety texture, however the real Ajoblanco was made with pestle and mortar, only to be done if you fancy a tough workout.

So to save time introduced into the blender the water, the bread, the peeled almonds and garlic, blend them and then emulsify with olive oil, adding it little by little. Finally add the sherry vinegar and salt. 
Taste and rectify accordingly if necessary and then pass the soup through a fine sieve. Cool in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 

Usually you can accompany the Ajoblanco with grapes or melon, however you can also garnish with anchovies or ham, eggs and a few drops of sesame oil, tomatoes or just with fish roe and a sprig of parsley. There is nothing written in stone so here you can leave your mark.


3. //  The last soup today is another recipe that uses melon. Melon goes very well with nuts and also with mint and peppermint, and if we add a touch of flavour with the crispy Serrano ham you can imagine that the combination becomes very interesting. So you must try this recipe soon while the summer is still here. 


      Melon, Almonds & Mint



Ingredients (4-6 servings)
 900 grams of Galia Melon
 120 grams of almonds (can be whole, chopped or ground)
 2 cloves garlic
 6 mint leaves (10-12 spearmint)
 Black pepper
 40 grams of extra virgin olive oil



 Melon balls, cherry tomatoes, crispy Serrano ham bits, small mint leaves, extra virgin olive oil. 


Thoroughly wash the melon, dry it, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Make some melon balls using a Parisian spoon and put to one side. Next remove the skin and place the melon fruit, chopped up, into the blender. Peel the garlic, remove the central root inside and add to the blender, add the peeled almonds and mint leaves and finally salt and pepper. Blend into a fine and homogeneous soup. 

Add the extra virgin olive oil and blend into an emulsion. Keep the melon soup in a glass covered container until it has chilled.  When ready to serve add a cherry tomato and one or two melon balls a couple of mint leaves. Serve melon soup and garnish with almonds, a cherry tomato and one or two balls of melon, a few mint leaves, a sprinkle of crispy ham and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 

Well that’s it and I hope you enjoy these refreshing starters.


Like 1        Published at 18:55   Comments (5)

Alicante Crusty Rice - "Arroz con costra"
18 August 2020

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


• 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



• 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.



Like 2        Published at 17:58   Comments (0)

Seafood Popcorn - Can't get enough of it!
12 August 2020

One of my favourite starters is a Mediterranean classic and one that always gets ordered whenever we have a paella away from home: ‘Puntilla de Calamar’, unbelievably tasty, moreish and easy to prepare. I like to refer to them as "seafood popcorn". The reason we love it so much is not just because of its taste but also because it is a light starter that doesn't kill your appetite before a paella, which can often be quite a heavy meal.

‘Puntillas de Calamar’ are effectively ‘baby squid’ and are eaten all over Spain as a starter but mainly on the coast and normally they accompany rice dishes, as they are light and flavoursome. They are effectively like seafood popcorn and I just can’t put them down when I get going! With or without a little squeezed lemon, they are just fantastic. 


You will need for 4 people :

800gr Young Squid – “Puntilla de Calamar” (they reduce in size by around 50% when cooked)
Wheat flour - Tempura 
Bread crumbs (optional) 
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

They are extremely easy to prepare and a few details need to be addressed to achieve the best results. Firstly you will need to clean and prepare the ‘puntilla’. This means removing the eyes, which we will then dispose of, and removing the transparent tough membrane that goes along the inner body, effectively like a backbone and it just slides out when you pull on it. Then we thoroughly wash and dry the puntilla.  This is the first of the key points that need to be addressed. If the puntilla are not dry the flour with go all stodgy and cause a real mess. So before we flour the squid, make sure it is completely dry.  

Now to flour the squid: You can use a sieve or a plastic bag, whichever you find easier. So place the squid in a bag or a sieve, salt them lightly and cover with flour and shake repeatedly, ‘tempura flour’ is best but any wheat flour will work. Here comes another trick, although it is not always done and using just flour will work just fine, a good trick to get a nice and crunchy squid is to blend the flour with bread crumbs in a 50/50 mix. This will give them that crunchy edge which I love. Notice we are not adding egg here, we don’t want a batter, of any sort. Once the squid is completely covered with the flour mix we need to deep fry.

At this point, we need to fry the floured baby squid ‘puntilla’. Lastly, it is very important to make sure the olive oil is very hot, but not smoking. You can test the temperature with a small piece of bread, if it browns fairly quickly, it's ready. The oil needs to be hot so the squid doesn’t soak up any oil and the flour crisps properly, so if you are doing a large batch be careful how many you put in the pan or the fryer as the temperature will drop if you place too many in at once so do them smaller batches and make sure you have abundant olive oil in the pan, so they can float. Once they are golden in colour, remove them and place them on kitchen towel. Dry them and serve immediately with a few lemon quarters.



So there you are an extremely easy starter. Now, this same technique can be used for many types of seafood such as Large squid rings – Calamari (as I explained in a previous blog post) or even large prawns for dipping.


Like 1        Published at 12:28   Comments (6)

Galician Style Octopus - A Great Tapas
05 August 2020


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
Spicy paprika
Olive oil

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.


Like 2        Published at 22:25   Comments (1)

Squid Rings - Calamares - The perfect Tapas and how to prepare them
28 July 2020

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. 

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.









Like 2        Published at 22:18   Comments (10)

Cecina - Spanish Cured Beef... a tasty alternative
21 July 2020

Although Spain is famous for its "Jamón" or cured ham, which in my opinion is the best in the world, there is also another cured meat speciality which is not as well known and as equally exquisite.
"Cecina" from León can be defined as a smoked dried and salted beef, which in a similar way to ham is taken from the the hind leg. The outer part of the Cecina has a toasted brownish colour which is caused by part of the elaboration process. It is similar to the Italian Bresaola.
The Cecina is a delicacy with a millennial tradition and even though it is a product which is very well known in Northern Spain, there are endless written references about Cecina going right back to it's origin. The word “Cecina” comes from the latin "siccus", which means "dry". Even in the IV century before Christ, in the Agricultural Treaty 55 by Lucio Julio Moderato Columela, a friend of Seneca, there is a description of the manufacturing process of the dried beef “Cecina”, which recommends that it should be cured during the last quarter of the moon, especially during the winter solstice. In the XVI century, "El lazarillo de Tormes" is published, a picaresque novel, where there is also a reference to the dried beef Cecina. It was also present in the discovery of America, since it was on the list of the supplies taken aboard the caravel Santa María, together with other salted meats.
Cecina, when it is cut, is a cherry-maroon colour, increasingly getting darker towards the edges as the maturing process advances. Similar to Iberian Ham, and if it should present some light fatty embedded seams running through the meat, which gives the Cecina that juicy flavour. It´s a meat with a characteristic flavour, lightly salted and with a fine fibrous consistency. 
Every piece  of meat is identified individually and is perfectly controlled at all times throughout the processing. When the meat is received it is weighed and analysed and if the weight, fat and other essential requirements are met following the guidelines of the Ruling Council, the meat will be labeled and stamped with the Designation of Protected Origin to guarantee it's quality before being sent off for curing.
After a minimum time of seven months, required for the whole manufacturing process, each piece of meat must pass the organoleptic and physical-chemical controls carried out by the Regulating Council before it can be finally certified and given the definitive quality label of guarantee.
If the product is put into circulation in portions or in slices which are vacuum-packed, the quality label will be visible on the packing together with a reference number which will inform you from which piece those portions or slices come from.
Cecina from León, as its name clarifies, can only be manufactured by producers within the province of León. The average altitude of the province of León (1500 m) together with a mediterranean continental climate and long winters with an average temperature of 2ºC and relatively low humidity followed by springs and autumns with a lot of rain, bring together the ideal climatic conditions for manufacturing Cecina.
The climate makes possible the slow process of drying out the meat, helping to get that peculiar aroma and taste that is characteristic. Only free-grazing local breeds are used to make this cured meat.
The process of manufacturing Cecina consists of a  highly controlled process of transformation from the original cut to the final product.  The aromatic and flavour characteristics will mature thanks to a biochemical and microbiological processes which occurs inside the meat. The processing is made up of different stages:
Shaping: the cuts are given the correct shape
Salting: the cuts are covered with coarse grain sea salt. This helps with the dehydration, the development of the aroma and perfect preservation. The time spent salting lasts approximately 12 hours per kg of meat and it´s done at 2-5 ºC and with a relative humidity of 85%.
Washing: The cuts are washed with luke-warm or tepid drinking water in order to eliminate all excess salt..
Resting: It usually rests from 30 to 45 days. This eliminates excess water and makes the salt penetrate equally helping to develop the characteristic microflora.
Smoking: Oak and Holm oak wood is used. This phase lasts between 12 and 16 days.
Drying and hardening/curing: This takes place in natural drying rooms or areas until the maturing is complete; the temperature (close to 11ºC) as well as the humidity (75-80%) is always regulated and controlled.
Cecina can be eaten as any other cured meat, on its own or with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved "Viejo Manchego" cheese as you would a carpaccio with parmasan. You can use it as an ingredient in a whole list of recipes, it is absolutely divine and a wonderful alternative to Serrano or Iberian Ham if you fancy a change, for example you can use it to make a Pan Catalana or better said a Pan Leonese.
I thought I would share this wonderfully simple and tasty recipe with you, a classic but with a taste of León. Similar to the traditional bacon and eggs but with a Mediterranean touch and lot less fat!
//  Poached egg with crispy smoked Cecina from Leon and EVOO-Fried bread //
The first step is to make the crispy Cecina. Cut the Cecina into strips the size of streaky bacon and then crisp them. This can be done either in the oven at 180ºC for about 12 minutes or in the microwave (1000W) for about 2 minutes.
The next step is to prepare the poached egg and the EVOO-Fried Bread.  Fill a pot with water and heat it up until boiling,  now we want to prepare the eggs. A way I love to prepare poached eggs is by using "cling film", it makes for an almost perfectly shaped egg and avoids loosing flavour and egg white because of the water. Take a square of cling film and stretch it out on the work top, brush the inner surface of it with a little olive oil and introduce the cling film into a small glass (as in the photo),
now just pop in the egg, season with a little pepper and close the cling film and tie it up tightly into a little sack with a piece of string. Now it is ready to pop into the water.
But before that start heating up a non- stick frying pan, take a slice of country bread or the bottom slice of a baguette (cutting horizontally) and generously baste both side with a good fruity extra virgin olive oil. 
Make sure the the water is boiling and the pan is hot, pop the egg into the water for 3 minutes, while the egg is cooking pop the bread into the frying pan and toast it in the pan on both side pressing down the bread with a spatula to remove the air in the bread. You will be left with a lovely crunchy fried olive oil bread, yes fried bread, but a healthy one!
After 3 minutes remove the egg sack from the water and carefully open it up, it should look like the egg in the photo! The white should be cooked but the yolk should be totally liquid.
Place the bread on a plate, create a Cecina lattice with the crispy strips on top of the bread and then finally place the egg on top. Listo and ready to serve. Enjoy!

Like 0        Published at 21:15   Comments (3)

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