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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!

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)


How to Make Chorizo
22 March 2018

From time immemorial the people of Spain have used salt, spices and fresh air to preserve sausages. Over the centuries these skills have been honed to an art, creating a myriad of unique chorizos, salchichones, morcillas and more. Smoked paprika, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt - simple ingredients that, when mixed with pork, create the spectacular Spanish sausages and there is no sausage that is more Spanish than the Chorizo. Although they may seem complicated they are in fact very simple to make yourself at home. Chorizo has always been one of my favourites, especially the hot spicy ones that combine perfectly with a slice of cured manchego cheese and a glass of red wine, an authentic Spanish titbit. Cured meats throughout the Mediterranean were being produced ever since the discovery of salt approximately 3000 years before Christ. However, Chorizo was probably one of the latest in arriving. Chorizo is chorizo thanks to the smoked Paprika, and this ingredient didn’t reach Spain until the XVI century after the Spanish discovered America, up until that time all cured meats were pale in colour or black if they had blood in them. So successful was this spice that it quickly spread all over Europe and Chorizo became one of the most popular cured sausages of the time and still is today.

Chorizo is a typical Spanish sausage cured either by smoke or air, obviously, smoking is more complicated at home unless you happen to have a smoking house in your back yard, but fresh air is more than sufficient. They made with minced meat marinated in spices, of which the most popular is paprika, which gives it a red colour.  The traditional season for homemade chorizo has arrived as the cold weather helps the drying of the sausages.

Homemade Spanish chorizo is normally made with the same ingredients in all provinces with the only difference being in the blend of spices used, which can vary from region to region, the main ingredients for chorizo are determined by the amount of lean pork used. These are guidelines as there must be hundreds of recipes for chorizo around the country and proportions can vary and so can your tastes and preferences.

So as a guide, for each kilo of lean pork we will need to add:

300g of pancetta / uncured bacon

20g of salt

1 clove of garlic – crushed

20g of Paprika

8g Cayenne Pepper (if you want it spicier increase the cayenne pepper and reduce the paprika proportionally to reach 28 grams combined or vice versa)

Pig intestine (available from butchers or some supermarkets)

Cotton string to tie the ends

Optional:

200ml dry white wine

1 tsp. dried Oregano

Other additions can be parsley, cumin, bay leaf and thyme.

During the chorizo elaboration process at an industrial level, other ingredients are added: ascorbic acid is added to accelerate colouration and to prevent the fat from oxidizing and maturation regulators are added as sweeteners to promote the maturation of the chorizo and speed up the whole process. So if you make it at home at least you know it is completely natural with no additives or preservatives. All you need is patience.

Chorizo can be encased in a wide intestine (chorizo cular) or in a narrow intestine. Its form can vary being straight, “chorizo de vela” or like a horseshoe – “chorizo sarta”, the latter being the most popular form used traditionally.

 

To prepare chorizo at home you need lean pork such as pork shoulder or a “Boston butt” cut which the high part of the shoulder, the blade shoulder of the pig. The first thing you need to do when making chorizo is to mix the meat thoroughly together with the fatty pancetta/uncured bacon. So this needs to cut up and coarsely minced. You can either get your butcher to do this or you can do it at home with a manual meat mincer. You must bear in mind that the meat to make chorizo needs to be below 4ºC so the consistency is firm and you are able to cut it with a knife; it should also be checked that the temperature of the pancetta/bacon fat is between -2ºC and 2ºC to avoid melting during the mincing, leave the fat in the freezer for approximately 2 hours should be sufficient.

 

Secondly, when making the sausage at home, add the garlic, previously crushed in a mortar or a garlic crusher, add the salt and paprika/cayenne pepper; you can also incorporate a glass of dry white wine to help to mix and bind everything in together and make sure the mixture is as even as possible, so use your hands to do this. The chorizo mix must be left to stand for 24 hours in a cool place, which is why it's advisable to cover the mixing bowl with cling film or cotton cloths and put it in the fridge until the following day; then, with the help of a sausage filler or just a funnel, fill the intestines with the marinated mixture, trying not to leave air pockets and then tie them off at both ends with thick cotton string.

 

Finally, the chorizos must be pricked all over with a needle or a similar to remove possible air pockets that could have formed and then they are hung in a cool, dry and airy place leaving enough space between them that the air can reach the whole surface area and they will dry out properly in about three months; after this curing time the weight of the chorizo will have dropped by about 20% of its original weight. An ideal place would be an airy garage where you can hang them from a beam.

 

It is important to have in mind that the chorizos that are made at home do not contain preservatives, therefore it is important to control the curing of these sausages; the ideal drying conditions are areas with low humidity and cold temperatures, conditions that are perfect for curing meats. If the temperature and the humidity are too high they will not cure. In which case if you do live in a climate that is not very appropriate, you can just cure them for a week in a cool dry place and cook them on the barbecue or grill them. So as you can see its no more difficult than preparing a homemade beef burger. Give it a go!

 

 



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Probably the Best Spanish Ham in the World...
19 February 2018

It's not the first time I’ve decided to talk about Spanish ham. But the other day I was fortunate enough to try again what many consider to be the best Spanish ham in the world and I must admit it was spectacular, just as I had remembered it.

Whether or not it is the best in the world or not, I will leave up to the experts but what I can say is that you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

Ibérico cured ham from the free-range, acorn-fed Ibérico pig has always been a hallmark of Spanish cuisine and enjoyed all over the country. But now it is making its mark all over the world and one brand stands out for the quality of its product: “Joselito”, the one I was fortunate enough to try the other day, cut by a professional may I add. At the end of this post, I have added a video on how to cut a Spanish ham because it is an art form and takes quite a bit of practice. A good cut can make a mediocre ham good and a bad cut can make a good ham mediocre. Cutting ham is actually a profession in Spain and takes many years to perfect. However, if you are patient and practise a little you shouldn’t have any problems cutting a ham by yourself to a respectable standard. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to ham and I do not like thick-cut slices so to enjoy a professional cut the other day was just divine.

A certain mystique has grown around Spanish cured ham and, among the experts, the town of Guijuelo in Salamanca province (Castile-Leon) has acquired a reputation for producing the finest examples. In fact, while the hams are cured here, the pigs are to be found largely in the Extremadura region in the west of the country where tens of thousands of pigs roam over endless pastures, gorging on the abundant acorns from the thousands of oak trees. Of all the ham producers in the country, none enjoys greater prestige than the family-run business “Joselito”, which now exports its products to 48 countries.

 

 

Hams from Joselito, among the most expensive on the market and worth every penny, have won acclaim from leading chefs. According to Basque maestro Juan Mari Arzak and Ferran Adría (considered world’s best chef), ‘Joselito’ is "the best ham in the world."

At first sight, Guijuelo with a population of 6,000 is a discrete sort of place. But, thanks to its flourishing business in pork products, it is one of Spain's most prosperous communities, with relatively few unemployed. At 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level, the town enjoys an ideal climate for curing pork: chilly in winter, hot in summer. As it is a brand with such an established reputation I thought I would research the reasons behind its success.

 

( photos by 'Joselito Ham' )

 

The first requirement for a superior-quality ham is a superior breed of pig, the native cerdo ibérico (Ibérico pig). Hams are also distinguished by the way pigs are reared. Many pigs spend little or no time on the open range and are fed mostly on authorised meal. In contrast, the jamón ibérico de bellota comes from free-range animals, feeding on natural herbs and, most importantly, acorns.

Joselito's cerdos ibéricos de bellota roam over more than 100,000 ha (247,105 acres) of wooded scrublands called Dehesas much of it the company's property and the rest rented, in the Extremadura and Andalusia regions, Salamanca province and Portugal. As part of a 30-year reforestation plan, every year the company plants 70 to 80 thousand trees, mostly holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and cork oaks (Quercus suber). The company's efforts were rewarded this year with a management certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-governmental organization promoting responsible forest management worldwide. It is the first time a business of this type has been selected anywhere in the world.

A key aspect in producing quality hams is the animals' freedom to roam. Each pig forages for food and water over 2 to 4 ha (4.9 to 9.8 acres) of pasture. This keeps them in shape, which contributes to the particular texture of their flesh. During la montanera, the months between October and February, each pig eats about 15 kg (33 lb) of acorns a day.

When the two-year-old pigs weigh about 180 kg (396 lb), around 40,000 are transported to Guijuelo to be slaughtered. The hams are stored in sea salt for a week or so, then washed and hung in the secaderos, with immaculately maintained, carefully ventilated chambers. In the summer heat, the hams sweat and the outer fat melts and penetrates the muscular fibres, a process vital to making the meat tender and aromatic.

For further maturing the hams are stored in dark bodegas at temperatures between 14 and 18ºC (57.2 and 64.4ºF) and humidity between 60 and 80%. More than 400,000 hams, from the years 2004 to 2011, hang in Joselito's installations. Hams from the paleta, or shoulder, are cured for a minimum of two years, and hind-leg hams, known as the Gran Reserva, for at least three years. A select number, vintage hams known as the Colección Premium, is matured for more than 82 months. 

The succulent meat in Joselito's hams is purple-red and marbled with veins of pinkish fat. It is, claims the firm, a healthy product, containing oleic acid, vitamins and natural antioxidants which help reduce cholesterol and the risk of arteriosclerosis. Joselito backs this up with the results of scientific surveys and points out that 100 g (3.5 oz) of their ham contains fewer calories than a plateful of rice of the same weight. To improve quality, a staff of 15 in Joselito's research and development department analyzes everything, from the pig's diet to the final product. Joselito also markets pork loin and various varieties of pork sausage, chorizo, salchichón and longaniza (spiced with pepper, salt and garlic), all from free-range Iberico pigs and naturally cured.

Spain exports annually around 20,000 tons (40 million lb) of cured leg and shoulder hams, from all breeds, representing sales worth more than €170 million. 0nly 10% of Spanish cured ham comes from the Ibérico breed, but it is this product which sets the standard and reinforces the country's prestige in foreign markets.

In the words of Ferran Adrià: "Hams like those of Joselito are the standard bearer of a sector which the whole world can enjoy." So if you have the opportunity to get your hands on some don't let it go by!

 

 

 

GO TO POST : SPANISH HAM: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW



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Breakfast with Extra Virgin Olive Oil reduces inflammation
01 February 2018

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.



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Not Green...But White
26 January 2018

 
                              White Asparagus Region in Spain
 
 
The asparagus is one of the most emblematic products of Navarra, this fertile land is often referred to as the larder of Spain. On the banks of the Ribera del Ebro, with a warm Mediterranean climate and located in a landscape scattered with hills and small mountain ranges, the Autonomous regions of Navarra, Aragon, and La Rioja can be discovered. This area is where the Asparagus of Navarra is cultivated and protected by its Designation of Origin as well as many other Spanish gourmet delights from the north that I will be writing about in future posts and have already mentioned before in earlier posts such as the Cecina from Leon.
 
Asparagus is a very contemporary product despite its ancient origins, as proven by Egyptian paintings dating back to 3,000 years BC that show the first images of this vegetable. However, the first time they were actually mentioned was during the Roman Empire in writings by authors such as Pliny.
 
According to legend, the first seeds of this refined foodstuff were brought from Baghdad in the baggage of a local citizen who was obliged to leave the city and ended up settling in Cordoba. A man from Tudela, who was travelling in those parts, tasted the delicacy for the first time and asked him to spare a few seeds, sowing them on his return in the capital of the Ribera region and making asparagus one of the leading lights of Navarrese cuisine.
 
                 
The Asparagus of Navarra is a perennial plant which loses its leaves and trunk during the winter, with a productive life that lasts from six to eight years. It has a very powerful root system composed of main roots which grow horizontally and from which the small secondary roots grow. From a central stump or bulb turions or asparagus  grow upwards looking for light.This is the secret: to stop them reaching the light. If the "turions" or stems reach the surface, the frond is formed. On the other hand, if they are harvested before they see daylight, we have white asparagus, if not they would turn green with photosynthesis so the earth is frequently raised to form little hills so that the asparagus never sees daylight until it is ready to eat.
 
          
 
Asparagus is planted during February, placing it at the bottom of a furrow and covering it with sand afterwards. During the spring, the stems grow, and in this period and throughout the summer, the plant accumulates reserves in the roots to be able to sprout the following year. During the winter, the parched frond is cut, and the land is prepared.
In the second year, during March, before the plant begins to sprout again, the ridging is carried out. A ridge is a small pile of earth on the plantation line so that the sprouts reach  the surface much later. This provides them with their traditional white colour and makes them much more tender and sweeter
 
Although the Asparagus from Navarra has traditionally been related to a canned or bottled product, in recent years, a strong demand has grown for fresh white asparagus. Fresh white asparagus is available during the harvest-time, which is between April and June. The fresh white asparagus needs to be peeled and normally boiled, a simple process that allows you to enjoy their fuller flavour.
 
To peel them it is necessary to hold the asparagus by the tender tip and, with a kitchen knife or a vegetable peeler, it must be peeled from top to bottom, being careful not to touch the head, and turning it to homogeneously peel all of it. Lastly, the bottom part of the stalk is cut, and the asparagus is washed in cold water.
 
To boil them, fill in a deep pan with water and bring it to the boil. As soon as it begins boiling, add three teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar, carefully insert the asparagus piece by piece so as to maintain the temperature. Boil for approximately twenty minutes until they are tender (you should be able to easily spear them with the fork).
 
Once boiled and drained, it is recommendable to eat them warm, to be able to appreciate their full flavour with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. However this may seem a bit simple for some so at the end of the post I have included three dressing recipes to accompany the asparagus, wonderful recipes for this summer if you fancy a healthy, light and fresh meal which is really simple to make.
 
Vegetables have, in general, a low-calorie content, but the asparagus is a particularly low-calorie vegetable. It almost has no fats or carbohydrates, and strangely has a strangely high amount of proteins for a vegetable. Its content of dietary fibre is very significant, as are the content of vitamins and minerals.
 
When mentioning vitamins, one needs to mention the presence of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and above all, alfatocoferol. This substance, also known as vitamin E, is one of the natural antioxidants we can find in food. It plays a very important role in the development and maintenance of the central nervous system, peripheral nerves and child and adult muscles. Nowadays, its influence on the cardiovascular risk profile and its inhibiting actions on the growth of leukaemia cells are being investigated. Although we do not have a specific organ to store vitamin E, we have small storage rooms in our liver and in the adipose tissue, with the added advantage that when someone loses weight (loses fat tissue), the amount of vitamin E stored in that tissue remains.
 
But beside these facts, the asparagus has a very characteristic substance: asparagine, a volatile substance which enhances the diuretic effect of the asparagus, helping with the water retention and hypertension associated with being overweight. It is a food source highly recommendable for:
 
  • People who need to eat low-calorie food, but which is rich in nutrients, as happens with people who are on a slimming diet
  • People who suffer from constipation, due to the high content of fibre of asparagus.
  • People who suffer from hypertension or water retention.
 
If they are going to be eaten fresh, they should be boiled with the smallest possible amount of water in order to minimise the loss of vitamins in the water.
 
The asparagus should not be washed after being peeled, as its water-soluble vitamins can be lost in the water. The stock resulting from the boiling of the asparagus is highly diuretic, which makes its use recommendable for soups, and rice dishes.
 
So who would have thought that this unusual vegetable would be so good for you and why isn't everyone eating them? Well we should be and if you find them a bit bland at times here are a few ideas to jazz them up and create a wonderful summery starter or light main meal. Either buy fresh D.O.P Asparagus from Navarra when they are in season, (which at the moment they aren't ) or buy them already cooked in a glass jar or a can, try and find the large thick asparagus (extra grueso) rather than the thin cheaper ones, it makes all the difference. 
 
    
 
 
 
Asparagus with Pipirrana 
 
 
 
 
1 large green pepper (not the long thin italian ones)
1 large sweet onion (cebolleta)
1 large salad tomatoe
1 small cucumber
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Picual / Hojiblanca is just great and gives it a little fruity kick
Sherry Vinegar
1 hard boild egg yolk
Salt
 
Simply finely dice up all the ingredients, put three parts olive oil to one part sherry vinegar and 1/2 part of water into a cup and blend, crush the egg yolk into powder form and then blend into the oil and vinegar, whisk together to form an emulsion, season with salt and pour the vinaigrette over the diced vegetables and leave the Pipirrana to macerate for at least an hour in the fridge. Then simply serve the asparagus cold with the "pipirrana" poured over the top.
 
TIP: If you want this meal to be slightly more filling add tinned tuna steak to the pipirrana while it is macerating.
 
 
 
Asparagus Tropicana
 
 
This is similar to the previous Pipirrana but with a  tropical fruity twist to it. You will need:
 
Slices of smoked salmon
1 mature mango (cebolleta)
1 sweet onion
1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
1 bunch of fresh chives
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sherry Vinegar
Water
 
Finely dice the mango, the sweet onion, the red pepper, the yellow pepper and the chives as in the previous recipe.
Make the vinaigrette as before in a bowl but this time with no egg yolk. Pour the vinaigrette over the diced vegetables and leave for an hour to macerate. Wrap the salmon around the asparagus and place on the plate and then dress the asparagus with the tropical pipirrana.
 
 
Finally one for those who want a few more calories!.....
 
 
Asparagus from Navarra with Cashew Nut Cream
 
8 large white asparagus
2 tablespoons chives, cut in 3/4-inch lengths
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground white pepper
1 cup salted cashews
1/3 cup whole milk
 
In a food processor, pulse the cashews into a fine powder; be careful not to over-process and turn into a paste. Place 2/3 of the ground cashews into a small saucepan; set aside the remainder for garnish. Add the milk to the pan, with 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Mix well and then set aside. Cut up one asparagus julienne style and place in a bowl with the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste and then set aside.
 
Heat the oven to max temperature and wrap the asparagus in double tinfoil, baste them with extra virgin olive oil before closing the foil. Place them in the oven for about 5 minutes until they are warm (if you use fresh uncooked asparagus, peel them and leave them in for about 20 minutes). Remove from the oven, unwrap them, place each of them on the serving plate on top of  a spoonful of cashew cream, place the asparagus julienne on the side and garnish with crushed cashew.
 
Enjoy!
 
 
 


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