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IAN & SPAIN

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!

Spanish Cold Soups with a twist
13 July 2018

Cold soups, like salads, are starters we crave for in the warmer 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
Salt. 

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.

Ajoblanco

 

 

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 
Salt. 
 

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
 Salt
 40 grams of extra virgin olive oil

 

Garnish:

 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 3        Published at 22:43   Comments (1)


Alboraya - Home of Horchata
25 June 2018

For those who are not so familiar with this summer refreshment I thought I would share some of its history and how it is grown in and around Alboraya, next to Valencia. It is made from chufa, which in English would be the tiger nut and as a drink it goes back thousands of years. Old civilizations such as the Egyptians left samples of this healthy product in their tombs and sarcophagi. Also, diverse Persian and Arab authors already mentioned in their writings the digestive benefits of the chufa. But it was in the 13th century when the Arabs introduced their crop in the Mediterranean area. 

Valencia was and continues to be the only area in Europe where chufa is grown. Currently, it is farmed in 16 towns around the area known as L'Horta Nord (or the Northern fertile land), which surrounds Valencia.

Alboraya is the world capital of Horchata an if you ever happen to be passing through Valencia I highly recommend you visit Horchateria Panach on the main road that runs through Alboraya. It is as good as it gets and also at an unbeatable price.

 

 

The chufa is cultivated in sixteen Valencian towns in the L'Horta Nord area, where a few specific climatic requirements combine and make it the only area of Spain where such a unique tuber is cultivated. About 5.3 million kilograms of tiger nut is produced in this area, of which 90% are covered by the Denomination of Origin.

The tiger nut from Valencia (Cyperus esculentus) is a herbaceous plant of around 40 to 50 centimetres in height. It has a rhizome radicular system from which some little roots grow and in the tips of these roots the tiger nut is formed. 

The chufa is sown from March until May, date which is determined by the previous crop. Before the planting begins, a series of preparatory work is carried out, so that the soil remains spongy, loose and well levelled. The planting is carried out in a mechanical fashion, in ridges 20 cm high with 60 cm between them. The depth of the seed is from 4 to 5 cm. The depth of sowing is an important aspect since the yield and the quality of the tuber depend greatly on these measurements. 

 

 

The harvest is carried out from November to January. Once the plant has completely withered and dried, it is burned and the ashes and remains are cleaned up. Then, it is sown again mechanically. A few weeks after the new planting, the tuber germinates. You shouldn't miss the opportunity to see the legendary irrigation ditches of Roman origin, improved and expanded by the Arabs throughout the area, which still remain.

Legend says that a young villager from the fertile area of Valencia known as L'Horta offered King Jaume I a white and sweet drink. The King, very pleased, asked; "Qué es això?" (What is this?), and the young woman answered "Es llet de xufa" (Its tigernut milk). The King, having tasted the drink replied, "Això no es llet, això és OR, XATA" (This is not milk, this is gold (=OR), pretty girl (=XATA).

Legend or reality, the drink became famous throughout the country, adopting the name of Horchata de Chufa. This drink, made from the chufa is a refreshing and essential product in the Mediterranean diet thanks to its innumerable and healthy benefits.

 

 

Known since antiquity as a source of vitamins and nutrients, the horchata is also considered a source of health and energy the world throughout. Along with its delicious and refreshing flavour, several medical studies have accredited its many beneficial properties for the body. Investigations have concluded that the horchata has great digestive properties thanks to its high level of amino acids and starch.

Several prestigious specialists from the University of Valencia have also determined that it is rich in minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and iron as well as unsaturated fats and proteins. It is also recommended for all types of people, from the youngest to the oldest. The natural horchata can also be drunk by patients with a declared lack of tolerance to lactose and it is recommended for pregnant women as it includes more iron and potassium than a glass of milk.

It is an energizing and nutritious drink that thanks to its characteristics has become part of the Mediterranean diet. Its cardiovascular properties are similar to those present in olive oil and it helps in reducing cholesterol and triglycerides as it has over 77% of oleic acid. All these characteristics make the Horchata of Chufa of Valencia a very complete and nutritious drink thanks to its macro and micronutrients. However is can also be used in cooking and I thought it would be interesting to share a rather novel recipe with you all.

This recipe is quite different from anything else and I doubt very much that any guests you may have in the future have tried it before, so if you are looking to surprise someone this may be the dish. These are the ingredients you will need for 2 people:

 

½ Chicken.
4 Mushrooms.
3 Sun dried tomatoes.
50g of Pine nut kernels.
2 Spoonfuls of white rice (basmati) with freshly chopped dill.
500 ml of Horchata.
1 Teaspoonful of refined cornflour.
Olive oil.
Salt.
Pepper.

 

 

First, you will need to season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper, put it in a small non-stick baking tray and smear it with olive oil. Roast it in pre-heated oven at 180C degrees for one hour and a half approximately. Baste the chicken every ten minutes with a little horchata. When the chicken is golden, remove it from the oven and cut it up into pieces.

Pour the juice from the chicken and the horchata into a frying pan to reduce it and then thicken it slightly with a little cornflour that needs to be previously diluted in water. Once the sauce is ready, place to one side.

Now cut the mushrooms in julienne and cook them on a low heat in a frying pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste. Lower the heat, add the pine nut kernels and toast them slightly. Once golden in colour add the chopped-up sun-dried tomatoes and toss them all together in the pan for a minute

Serve the chicken and place the mushrooms, tomatoes and pine nut kernels garnish on top, next pour over the horchata sauce. Accompany the dish with basmati rice mixed with finely chopped fresh dill. Finally, decorate with a sprig of parsley.

Enjoy!



Like 1        Published at 18:10   Comments (3)


The Mediterranean Mussel - Clochinas Valencianas
08 June 2018

 

The Valencian 'clochina' is considered the finest mussel in Spain.... so what do we know about this mollusc? What sets it apart from the other varieties? Are Valencian Clóchinas better than traditional mussels from Galicia, Cataluña, Scotland or even any other part of the Northern hemisphere? 

 

 

 

Three difficult questions to answer but lets concentrate on the latter of them. Are they better?

 

The Valencian clóchina is a true delicacy, superior in taste and organoleptic qualities to its Galician, Catalan or even Scottish  cousins. ​ That said they are extremely scarce and highly localised in both region and season. The main difference in flavour is due to the breeding ground being in the Meditterranean sea whihc is saltier than other harvesting regions such as Galicia or Scotland. Quality control and technique also plays an important role. Modern cultivation of the Clóchina dates from the late nineteenth century and it all began on two mussel rafts positioned in the very same port of Valencia as we see today. The rafts in those days collected about 35,000 kilos during the season but the popularity of the Clóchina with Valencian families meant mussel ​​rafts were increased until they reached the twenty-two they are today. The inexorable growth of the port forced them to move to the outer harbor, finding even better waters with a calm current which kept the breeding ground clean while at the same time did not disturb the mussels. For farming Clóchinas they have always used old barges, these were the basic supports from which structures were built to hang the special breeding ropes, a technique that has been passed from father to son for over a hundred years.

 

 

 

 

 

The Clochina farmers share a similarity with normal crop farmers, so much so that their work shares similar terminology to that used in the field; they 'plant the seeds' (when they tie the baby molluscs to the breading rope with netting) and 'harvest the barge' (whent they pull in the fully grown mussels). However it is the lunar calendar that governs the whole process which is from the full moon of April all through to the waning moon of August.

 

Its production or harvesting is limited to the period from May through to August (The Clóchina farmers always make reference to their season as the months without an 'R'), so any other product that is offered at different times of the year will be Galician mussel, French or Catalan, but never Valencian Clóchina. Luckily we have just entered the season for Clóchinas and now would be an ideal opportunity to try them if you have the chance, I highly recommend them. They are wonderful as a starter for almost any meal and so simple to prepare. Not only are they far superior in taste but their texture and color is also different to other mussels. The Clóchina is slightly paler in color and much more tender than normal mussels, so you need to be careful as they are fairly easy to over cook.

 

To prepare Clóchinas  all you need to do is to clean them by removing any debris hanging from the shell, scrub and rinse with cold water, so they are nice and clean. The traditional way is to place some extra virgin olive oil in a deep frying pan with a couple of rosemary leaves a tea spoon of pepper corns then pop in the mussels. Heat them on high heat and cover them with the lid of the pan until all the mussels have opened, shaking the pan from time to time, then serve with a slice of lemon. Alternatively you can pop in a squeezed lemon quarter with the rosemary so the mussels cook in the lemon juice, although this sometimes overpowers the flavour if you use too much, so be careful. Other alternatives are to add two crushed garlic cloves,a  little chopped parsley and table spoon of dry white wine, absolutely fantastic.

 

Valencian Clochina mussels release an intense salty stock which is bursting with flavour and impossible not to soak up with some lovely crusty bread.

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!



Like 3        Published at 22:26   Comments (2)


8 'Super-wines' for under 2 Euros!
01 June 2018

The oenologist and writer Joan C. MartÌn has been tasting wines for years, bought at supermarkets. His work, as the author of 'Los Supervinos 2018', consists of capturing aromas and analysing labels. He study each bottle and, once proven its origin and its price, among other factors, it is given a score on a scale of 10 points (or five 'Eyes').


The eight wines reviewed in this article are the only ones that, without going over two euro mark, this year have deserved a score that ranges between 9.5 and 9.9 (equivalent to four eyes). Wines that clearly gather more virtues than would appear at first sight. Wines that are worth more than they cost. Wines that are available to any consumer with any budget, and in the eyes of an expert, stand out from among the hundreds of references competing to get into your shopping trolley.

Los Supervinos is the most sold wine guide in Spain because it includes a selection of 110 superwines that cost less than 7 euros and another 40 that do not exceed 15. Extremely interesting and above all informative for those who know little about wines. These superwines bring unrivalled value for money to everyone's dinner table enabling wine to be a daily enjoyment, although always in moderation of course! Here are the stars of the show this year, I can vouch for Comportillo Rosé, a wine I have often enjoyed in Summer. Naturally you will not find many red's in this list beacue of the cost involved in producing reds, in fact, I was amazed to see even one and a 'crianza' at that! Torre Oria is a red wine I have often seen in Mercadona and always shied away from because of the price - foolish me! I will definitely be trying it this weekend. As for the others I will work my way through them shortly! If you have any feedback on any of these wines please post a comment.

 

 

 

Blancauvas - White (1,65)

A young white "fresh, fruity and acidic" that alludes to the story on the label and of which Joan C. MartÌn highlights "a very favorable quality-price ratio". It does not accept any Denomination of Origin, but we do know that Torre Oria makes it with Sauvignon Blanc and Viura grapes. It can only be purchased at Mercadona.

 

Viñas Altas - White (1,94)

A wine from the Condado de Huelva made with zulema grapes, a very old variety in which, according to the author, there is "magic and mystery". With a greenish yellow color and a white fruit aroma, Martín believes that "the supermarket has scraped the limits to have a great product at a low price". Available in El Corte Inglés and Hipercor.

Pluvium - Rosé  (1,36)

A mixture of Bobal and Garnacha grapes -something rare in the Mediterranean, with which Vicente Gandía has obtained a wine that "tastes great!". The screw cap, in addition, works perfectly, because it is a wine "that is not going to mature with age". For sale in Carrefour, Consum, Masymas and Vidal.

Los Molinos - Rosé (1,65)

Joan C. Martín says that Felix Solis is one of the wineries that, despite managing industrial dimensions, better transmits its personality to wine. Elaborated in Valdepeñas, the author also highlights that "the rosés from central Spain do not usually achieve the intensity of color of the Mediterranean rosés", but points out that this wine is an "impressive" exception. "A luxury pink at popular prices" which can also be purchased at many establishments: Alcampo, Alimerla, Caprabo, Cash Diplo, Consum, Condis, Dia, Dinosol, Eroski, Gadisa, Hiber, Hyperusera, Masymas, Simply, Supersol, Unide. ..

Gran Castillo -  Rosé (1,75)

Another rosé from the Utiel-Requena area, where "the tradition of making rosés with bobal is very well established", but in this case Murviedro winery. According to Joan C. MartÌn, an "exquisite and well-made" wine. Available in Consum.

Comportillo - Rosé (1,89)
The only Rioja on the list has many virtues. According to the description of the guide, "a magnificent and superactive pink, bright red" that belongs to a brand that produces exclusively for Mercadona.

Castillo de Lliria - Rosé -  Bobal (1,89)

Joan C. Martín sees in this DO Valencia wine "traces of finesse and elegance typical of a more expensive rosé", which also combine perfectly with the Mediterranean gastronomy. The price, according to the author, "supposes a gift". It can be found in Carrefour, Consum, Lidl, Masymas, Mercadona and Vidal.

Torre Orias - Red - Crianza (2.00)

The only red wine with four eyes and that does not exceed two euros is made in the Utiel-Requena area with Tempranillo grapes. An "easy to drink, friendly and light" wine from the 2013 vintage. For sale only at Mercadona.

 

So there you have it! Why not go out and give them a go!



Like 2        Published at 20:00   Comments (10)


It's Barbecue time! - Recipe Nº1 - Chimichurri
22 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

You will need the following:

 

 

1 Cup of chopped fresh parsley 

2 Tablespoons of dried oregano                                        

2 Finely Chopped dried Ñora peppers

1 Tablespoon of crushed dried chilli flakes

1 Tablespoon of dried basil

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

¼  Cup of red wine vinegar

½  Freshly squeezed lemon (juice only)

5 Chopped sun dried tomatoes

¼ Cup hot water

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

1 Teaspoon black pepper

1 Teaspoon sweet Paprika

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Absolutely incredible! Enjoy!



Like 2        Published at 23:52   Comments (3)


Tapas - Gambas al Ajillo
11 May 2018

                                     

As with the majority of Spanish cooking, simplicity is king and their success will depend entirely on the quality of the ingredients. This dish is a classic Spanish tapas which is bursting with flavour. So if you are short of an idea for next gathering this might tickle your fancy.

 

You will need for this dish, a good quality extra virgin olive oil, as it is a main ingredient and any old olive oil will definitely not give the same result. The best variety for this dish is a Picual or an Hojiblanca as they are high in antioxidants and resist the high temperatures better, they also make a wonderful contrast in flavour with the sweetness of the prawns (about 75ml). Additionally you will also need 10 large prawns, I suggest medium sized king prawns (gambones in Spain), as the smaller prawns or shrimps will reduce in size considerable when cooked and not make for a very appetising bite! They must be raw prawns, preferable fresh, but frozen will work too although the end result is noticeable. If you are looking for a special touch make sure they are fresh. The peeled prawns should be left to marinade for a couple of hours in a little white wine (medium dry). Next you will need 4 cloves of fresh garlic, two whole red dried chillies, salt and paprika and a sliced baguette for dipping.

 

 

This will serve two people as a starter.

 

Start by peeling the 10-15 king prawns and clean them, if you want you can butterfly them, as I did, just slice a little groove along the back of the prawn, this will help you get everything out and make the presentation look so much better. (I was preparing for four people)

 

 

 

 

Put the langoustine heads to one side, we'll need them later. Cut up the cloves of garlic into slices, do not dice them or crush them and slice up the chillies as well in the same manner, we don’t want the chillies crushed for this dish.

 

 

Do not prepare the dish until you are ready to sit down and eat them, this dish must be served immediately and piping hot, sizzling. Any other way is just not the same! So once you are ready, put the olive oil in a small pan or clay-cooking dish, as they use in Spain, along with the prawn heads and  two table spoons of the white wine used for the marinade and start to heat up the oil. As the oil is heating up squeeze down on the heads of the langoustines with a fork so that they release all of their juice and cook them for a couple of minutes on high heat.

 

 

Once they are slightly browned remove them from the oil and put in all the garlic and the chillies and then a few seconds later pop in the raw langoustines, as soon as the langoustines are turning pink remove them from the heat, sprinkle some paprika over them, season with a little salt, a little diced parsley and let them sit for 1 minute and then serve immediately while they are still piping hot. Enjoy, they are an absolute delight and don’t forget to dip your bread in the richly flavoured olive oil!

 

 
Enjoy!
                                                          
 
 
 


Like 3        Published at 19:28   Comments (3)


Tuna Capital of the World
26 April 2018

 

 

When the first full moon of May arrives, the large ‘Bluefin Tuna’ or the ‘Red Tuna’ as it is referred to here in Spain, migrate from the cold waters of the Atlantic to the warmer Mediterranean in order to reproduce. For years the environmental movement has warned of the danger of extinction of this species due to over-fishing. An agreement on the catch quota does not leave anyone completely satisfied but it is difficult to balance the requirements to preserve resources and preserve a fishing tradition and consumption that dates back thousands of years, especially when certain methods of fishing are far more ecological than others and less aggressive.

 

International negotiations on Bluefin tuna catches have resulted in less than a 4% increase in quota for this year. The Bluefin tuna is considered ‘ La Pata Negra of the Sea’ in Spain and is one of the most highly prized fish used in Japanese raw fish dishes. About 80% of the Atlantic and Pacific Bluefin tuna is consumed in Japan. Bluefin tuna sashimi is a particular delicacy in Japan and ‘Red Tuna Tartar’ a gastronomic speciality in Cadiz. All tuna were definitely not born equal.

 

 

 

Not all species of the tuna family are equally appreciated from a gastronomic point of view but the Bluefin tuna is the protagonist and the most acclaimed of all is the ‘Red Tuna of Almadraba’ caught on the coast of Cadiz in the Straights of Gibralter. La Almadraba is an art that dates back 3,000 years and is considered the most ecological and sustainable method used to date, as it permits individual selection and the fish that are set free are not injured in any way.

 

The word Almadraba comes from the Andalusian Arabic word Almadrába, which means a place where one is hit or fights. This technique has its roots dating back to the time of the Phoenicians and even the Romans fed their legions on this migrating tuna. It uses a complex and labyrinthine net system that sinks more than 30 meters deep. It is funnel-shaped and located on the migratory path of the Bluefin tuna, usually near the coast and then pulled up by hand (La Levantá) so the fish come to the surface where they can be selected according to size and the rest are then returned to the Sea (La Bajá).

 

 

The fishermen join their boats to form a circle and while all the Bluefin are raging around on the surface, the fishermen are pulling them out of the water by hand, many of them weighing over 200Kg. It is quite a spectacle. This method is truly artisan and is of unquestionable effectiveness and has no consequence to the environment unless too many fish are captured but the Almadrabas are the leading source of information on the control of the species and were the first to give the alarm when numbers started to drop. As opposed to other methods used throughout the Atlantic and Pacific that include industrial nets and lines trapping enormous quantities of tuna of all ages and all sorts of marine life along with them. On some occasions in other countries, even explosives are used to speed up the process, killing everything around. The following video will help understand how the Almadraba actually works.

 

 

The Red Tuna of Almadraba is caught when it returns from northern Europe, after spending the winter off the freezing coasts of countries like Norway and Iceland, on the arrival of the Spring and Summer, between May and June, it sets off to the Mediterranean to reproduce in the warmer and less turbulent waters. Like all migratory animals, the Red Tuna builds up its energy reserves and fattens up as much as possible before setting out on that immense Odyssey of thousands and thousands of miles. When it appears on the Andalusian coast its meat has obtained an optimum level of fat and it is at this point when the meat is most succulent. 

 

The Red Tuna of Almadraba can be caught ‘on the way in’ or ‘on the way out’, depending on when it passes through the Strait of Gibraltar. The return journey to northern Europe is in the months of September and October but the ‘first leg’ of the trip delivers the best quality fish and is usually dedicated in its entirety to ‘fresh’ consumption as the tuna on the way back carry less fat and the meat is dryer. Most of this ‘first catch’ is sold to Japan where they queue up to buy the Red Tuna of Almadraba. In the central market of Tsukiji (Tokyo) this tuna goes on sale to the public at well over 90 Euros a kilo and on occasion much much more. Here in Spain this year it is exported from the fishing market at around 20 Euros a kilo. A very ppriceyfillet by the time it reaches the consumer.

 

The importance of this fish and the techniques used to catch it are little known in Spain but there is a growing awareness of its value in the municipalities where you can find an Almadraba such as Conil, Barbate, Tarija and Zahara de los Atunes where they are already boosting its gastronomic and touristic appeal.

 

Once the Red Tuna have been captured they are taken away to be cut up and filleted. This in itself is another art form that has been passed down over the generations and is called “El Ronqueo” because of the noise the knife makes when separating the different parts of the Bluefin. It is a hoarse grunting sound almost like the grunt of a pig caused by the knife running along the spines as they slice through the meat. It is quite impressive how they cut up a fresh Tuna in such a short time taking advantage of virtually every part of the fish and leaving just the bones, separating all the different cuts manually. Even the Japanese who are masters with their knives come to Cadiz to see the Masters of the Ronqueo and even pay more if certain reputable people have cut up the fish. It is quite a spectacle but certainly not for sensitive audiences. So who would have though that one of the most sought after fish in Japan is actually captured in Spain. 

 

 

 

Enjoy this wonderful Red Tuna Recipe :

 

Go to recipe: Red Tuna Tartare with Avocado

 

 

 

 



Like 3        Published at 12:42   Comments (5)


How do you know if your olive oil is good?
19 April 2018

It's only recently that Olive Oil has come to be considered a gourmet product. The varieties of this essential element of Mediterranean cuisine are constantly increasing. The type of olive, the climate of the place where the olives are cultivated, the time of harvest, the extraction method; these are only some of the factors that influence the flavour and quality of the oil, but how do we identify the qualities of each variety? 

STEP 1. Essential elements

For this type of tasting we need: an olive oil tasting glass, which consists of a small round glass with a somewhat closed opening and blue so we don't see its interior (the color of the oil doesn't influence its properties but can influence your perception of quality. If you can't find one a small cognac glass will do); a glass lid, a napkin or beer mat to cover the glass; an apple; water; and some bread to neutralise the flavour between tastings. The objective of the tasting is to pick out as many organoleptic qualities of the product as possible; that is to say, the characteristics of its flavour, texture and smell. This is why it's recommended that the tastings be in the early morning when our senses are more acute. It's also important that the ambient temperature at the tasting be around 28 °C (82 °F) which guarantees the best environment for both the oils and our senses.

 

 

STEP 2. The power of scent

The scent is one of the determining factors with oil as its intensity and complexity are synonymous with quality. To appreciate the aroma in its entirety we should follow some simple steps. After pouring the sample in the glass, we should cover it with a napkin or glass lid. Next, we should lightly rub the bottom of the glass to heat the oil and intensify the scent of the sample (for just a few seconds). When uncovering it, we should take in the aroma with slow, deep breaths. Our sense of smell begins to pick out all the nuances: fruit, almond, walnut, spice, tomato, banana, or even freshly cut grass can come to mind. The more intense and varied the aroma is, the more indicative it is of the oil's quality. 


STEP 3. The complexity of the flavour

For an oil to be considered virgin, it must be natural olive juice, and for it to be extra virgin, it has to be judged by a panel of experts. There are hundreds of distinct varieties that meet this requirement. To sense how fruity each variety is - the characteristic aroma and flavour - we should breathe in its scent and, around thirty seconds later, take a small sip of the sample. The oil must be distributed through the whole mouth to sense not only its flavour but its texture as well. It's important that it hits the tongue and the throat to stimulate our senses as much as possible. Sweet, sour, spicy... across our palate in distinct proportions. A trick to intensify the senses is to breathe a little air between our teeth while tasting each oil. Before trying a new sample, we should eat a piece of apple and drink water or eat some bread to eliminate all traces of flavour.

 

 

STEP 4. What have we sensed?

 When analysing our perceptions of the oil we should not only note the complex flavours and aromas but also the imperfections it may have, if it is excessively bitter, too flat or even if it has fermented during the harvesting process, before entering the oil press, this would give it a characteristic smell of 'damp'.

It's important to keep in mind, for tastings as well as home consumption, that contrary to wine, oil is best consumed as soon as possible after production. Once it gives off a rancid smell, it's best to throw it out since it has not only lost its properties but can be bad for the health. On the other hand, oils that seem murky or that are dense in the cold should not necessarily be thrown out. 

Lastly, if you are not familiar with good olive oils you will undoubtedly need some oils to benchmark aromas and flavours. I can suggest two which are perfect for either end of the scale due to their olive varieties :

1. Venta del Baron -  for a strong green fruit flavour with balanced strong bitterness

https://www.mueloliva.es/venta-del-baron/

2. Abbae de Queiles - for a balanced mature fruity oil with virtually no bitterness.

http://www.haciendaqueiles.com/

If you can get hold of these it will get you well on your way to recognising good and bad oils. If you can't find them and need some more suggestions, just post a comment!

Good Luck!

 



Like 1        Published at 13:22   Comments (4)


Make your own 'Salsa Brava'
13 April 2018

Patatas bravas are originally from Madrid, where it was created and then spread throughout the country. Now each region has made their own modifications such as in Valencia where they serve it with a garlic mayonaise and paprika pepper. But one of the most emblematic places to eat Bravas in Madrid with a traditional Brava sauce is Bar Docamar in Calle Alcalá 337. It's sauce is legendary in Madrid and a house secret. This bar goes through literally tons of potatoes every week and customers travel from all over Madrid to enjoy their Potato Bravas and buy their sauce. This classic tapas is basically potatoes cut into irregular chunks of approximately 3-4 cm, fried and dressed in a spicy sauce that is poured over the them and served very hot.


When it comes to Patatas bravas' sauce there are two schools of thought: with tomato and without tomato. From my experience of living in Madrid and researching I would say the more traditional Brava sauce without tomato. It is made with a base of extra virgin olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic, papika and cayenne pepper, wheat flour and water or chicken stock. However other ingredients are used which are well guarded secrets by each cook who adds a special something to the recipe.

In Catalonia the sauce is made with olive oil, chili, sweet paprika and vinegar. The important thing is that it's spicy, in fact it's name "bravas" makes allusion to this. In the Spanish language, bravo-a means brave or fierce if referring to an animal.

Patatas bravas are typically served in bars in many regions of Spain as tapas or "ración". It's considered one of the cheapest tapas due to its inexpensive ingredients. Should you ever visit Madrid, you'll absolutly have to taste patatas bravas and I highjly recommend passing by Bar Docamar.


Here is my take on the 'Madrid' Patatas Bravas - Potatoes and Hot 'Brava' Sauce - Madrid Style
Ingredients - four portions:

4 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
Pepper mix: 1 tsp of Paprika (normal) + 1 tsp of Paprika de la Vera (smoked) + 1 tsp of ground Cayenne pepper (hot) + 1tsp of white pepper
1,5 tbs of flour
1,5 tbs of sherry vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup of chicken stock    

Instructions:

1. Par-boil the potatoes. Cut the potatoes to size - uneven chunks of about 3 - 4 cms. Put the potatoes in a pot with water and bring to boil. Let them cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Dice the onion in fine chunks and chop the garlic
3. Heat three tbs of extra virgin olive oil and stir-fry the onion until its transparent.
4. When the onion is ready add the garlic. When the garlic is browned, remove from the heat and add the pepper mix. Stir well so it mixes properly and put at low heat.
5. Add the flour and stir in well for about a minute. Be careful not to burn the paprika.

6. Add the cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes to make sure the the flour and paprika are properely cooked. 
7. Add the salt and the sherry vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes. If it is too thick just add a little more stock or if it is too liquidy just let if reduce further and cook for a little longer. It should be thick but not too thick. The photo should give you an idea of the consistency. But then again, choose the thickness you prefer.
8. Put the sauce in the mixer and blend until there are no lumps or use a hand blender.
9.In a frying pan heat abundant extra virgin olive oil (very important) and fry the potatoes on medium heat and then raise the heat for the last 2 minutes to crisp. Once they are lightly browned put the potatoes on absorbent paper so any excess oil is drained.
10. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and pour the desired amount of sauce.

 


Patatas bravas are simple and cheap to make, and best of all, you can add any spice or herb to your taste, Recipes all over the country are usually modified by each cook. A popular alternative is to add freshly grated tomato instead of chicken stock and flour. They are an excellent tapas and starter to any family meal so if you are thinking of holding a party or inviting friends over for dinner, why not make these for them!

Enjoy!



Like 1        Published at 08:58   Comments (1)


Spanish Baked Rice
29 March 2018

Rice dishes are one of my favourites, but Valencian oven-baked rice or “Arroz al Horno” when I first came to Spain wasn’t exactly one them until I tasted the real deal. I took a disliking to it mainly because it was often too dry for my liking. However, when I learnt the tricks to get it right, everything changed. It was just a process of practice makes perfect to be honest. There is a fine line between an 'ok' rice and a great rice and I must admit it has taken me several attempts to even get close to a great “Arroz al Horno”, I wouldn’t say I have mastered it by any means but I am on the way. My last attempt went down very well with my Spanish family members. As with all traditional dishes they tend to be a lot of work but fortunately this dish isn’t that time consuming and the result is just fantastic. Valencian cuisine is normally eclipsed by the Paella but this dish is very much part of the Valencian’s staple diet. Traditionally it was prepared with the left overs from the “cocido”, a meat and vegetable stew/broth but nowadays everyone makes it with fresh ingredients. Another of it’s advantages is that it doesn’t make as much mess as a paella when you are cooking indoors!

 

This dish is cooked in a large flat earthenware dish. If you don’t have one you can also cook it in a non-stick baking pan. However the result is better in an earthenware dish. The ingredients you will need for this recipe are the following:

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients for 4 people :

 

400g  Round Valencian Rice – the same you use for a paella

300g Pork Ribs chopped up into small pieces

300g “Panceta” (thick cut bacon) chopped up into small pieces.

200g Grated tomato

4 Onion Morcillas ( Spanish black pudding)

1 large tomato cut into thick slices

1 large potato cut into thick slices

300g   Cooked Chickpeas (garbanzos)

1 Whole head of garlic

Saffron

Paprika

1 litre approx. Chicken and vegetable stock

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably Picual for frying)

 

 

(In Valencia you can buy "Arroz al horno meat packs" already made up in some supermarkets so if you find one you only need to pull together the rest. I like to add an little extra panceta if I buy a pack as they don't normally put much in them)

 

It looks like a lot of ingredients but it is fairly straight forward so I really encourage you to give it a go. 

 

The first step is to get the oven on full heat so it starts heating up while you are preparing the rest and start heating the stock. It needs to be almost boiling when you add it to the pan. Add a little saffron to the stock to give it a bit of colour and when the stock is hot add the chickpeas to it to heat them up, keep the stock hot. If you have homemade stock fantastic but the chances are you won't and I didn't, so I used as most people do, a ready made stock from the supermarket.

 

Grab a frying pan, put in some extra virgin olive oil and start to fry the potatoes slices. They don’t need to be cooked just half cooked and slightly browned. Remove them and place to one side.

 

 

   

 

 

Now you need to fry the pork ribs. They need to be really well cooked so they go brown and crispy around the edges. Once the ribs are turning slightly brown pop in the whole garlic with the panceta  until it goes crispy too. You need to put the pancetta in slightly later as it cooks faster than the ribs. Once ready remove it all from the pan and place the meat and the garlic in the earthenware dish.

 

 

        

 

 

Take the morcillas and quickly fry them, without cutting them up, in the fat that has been left in the pan, just for a couple of minutes and take them out. You are not cooking them now just sealing them and giving the fat a bit more flavour. The next step is to add the grated tomato to the oil with a teaspoon of paprika and fry it gently in the remaining oil for a minute or two. At this point you need to add the rice to the frying pan to seal it for a minute or so before putting it in the earthenware recipient. This will soak up all the fat and flavour from the pan and is essential for the final result. At this point you need to add the hot stock and the chickpeas to the earthenware dish as quickly as possible, move the ingredients around so they are all evenly in place and put the potato and tomato slices on top. Now place it immediately in the oven on full heat for 20 min (250ºC). During the last five minutes of the cooking time turn on the grill so it browns the top. When it is ready all the stock should have evaporated. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for a five minutes before serving.

 

As with all rice dishes the amount of stock or water is the key to success. The easiest way to measure the correct amount of rice and the correct amount of stock is to find a coffee cup or a small glass. I have one that holds approximately 100g of rice so I use one cup per person. The rule of thumb is for every cup/glass of rice you will need two cups of stock minus one from the total number. So if you are using 4 cups of rice you would need 7 cups of stock (using the same cup measurement). 

 

The secret to this recipe is time management and really cooking the meat well. The objective is to get all the ingredients into the oven while they are still hot so the oven doesn’t have to heat them up but starts cooking straight away from the minute it goes in. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now just serve up and enjoy. I accompanied this meal with a fantastic red wine that I bought from Carrefour, ILDVM - Tempranillo Colección Bolumar (€4). I highly recommend it. It is a spectacular red wine for the price. You will be really surprised. Hope you enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Like 1        Published at 21:49   Comments (6)


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