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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!

Should I fry vegetables or boil them?
29 October 2015

 

It has been revealed by a Spanish scientific study that vegetables fried in extra virgin olive oil  are more nutritionally beneficial than boiling them, contrary to common belief. It has been shown that frying vegetables in extra virgin olive oil  EVOO (not any olive oil)  actually increases  the antioxidant qualities of the produce being cooked.

The study which was carried out by the University of Granada revealed that frying vegetables in extra virgin olive oil is a far better method of cooking as it imprives the nutrient value.

There has been much debate on the advantages and disadvantages of different cooking methods for vegetables and how certain techniques affect phenolic compounds.

This latest study aimed to put domestic cooking techniques to the test and determine how they affect or enhance the antioxidant qualities as well as the quantities of phenolic compounds found in a Spanish Mediterranean diet which typically contains high volumes of potato, pumpkin, eggplant and tomato.

The Mediterranean diet in Spain is also characterized by high consumption of extra virgin olive oil which, alongside vegetables, are sources of certain compounds that have been linked to the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases like cancer, diabetes and macular degeneration, a condition that causes blindness.

During the study three cooking methods were employed; 120 gram cubes of the vegetables were fried in EVOO, or boiled in water, or boiled in a mix of water and extra virgin olive oil.

All tests were carried out under controls with close analysis of the cooking methods and storage of the vegetables in optimum conditions so as to accurately measure factors like moisture, fat, dry matter, phenol content and antioxidant capacity, said the university.

In what they described as a “breakthrough in food science,” the researchers found frying in EVOO produced higher levels of natural phenols.

Professor Cristina Samaniego Sanchez said  “while comparing the total phenol content of the fresh vegetables, we found both increases and decreases in their levels, depending on the cooking method employed,”.

“As a heat transfer medium, the EVOO increases the amount of phenols in the vegetables, in contrast with other methods such as boiling, which use a water-based heat transfer medium.”

According to the results of the study, the overall quality of the vegetables was significantly improved when fried in EVOO because the produce becomes enriched with EVOO phenols transferred from the oil.

“We conclude that frying in EVOO was the technique with the highest associated increases of phenols and can therefore be considered an improvement in the cooking process, although it also increases the calorie density of the food because of the amount of oil absorbed,” Sanchez added.

“If the concentration of phenols found in the raw ingredients is high to start with, the overall concentration level is further increased if EVOO is employed during the cooking process, while boiling does not significantly affect the concentration levels.” Boiling is recommended if the vegetables are to be consumed together with the cooking medium (i.e. the water/sauce/stock) .

 

If this interested you,  you might like to read my article : Can I fry with olive oil?

 

 

 

[source olive oil times]



Like 1        Published at 18:28   Comments (8)


A Really Special Tuna Sandwich
20 October 2015

Recently I read Sandra Piddock's recipe for her favourite healthy sandwich and it reminded me of a really special tuna sandwich I ate a while back, which was made with home-made preserved tuna. Although I totally agree with Sandra when she says tinned tuna in Spain is generally better than in the UK, nothing beats making it yourself. So maybe you should give it a go to make the ultimate sandwich! It was with my good friend Angel from San Sebastian, a fisherman by trade and from a long line of fisherman going back several generations, who taught me this recipe. Unfortunately the crisis forced him to search for new frontiers and is now working in the port of Valencia.

Fishermen are renowned for being tough people and Angel is no exception, contradictory to what his name may imply... He has a handshake that would crush your fingers if you gave him half a chance so  every time we meet I make a conscious effort to give a firmer and firmer handshake to try and counteract the force he exerts! So when I saw him working in the kitchen in such a delicate manner it seemed quite surreal. He was preparing his mother’s preserved White Tuna (when it is cooked it turns white), or as they refer to it here as “Bonito del Norte” (Thunnus alalunga) which is more highly prized than normal tuna fish for its fantastic delicate flavour, which is not at all “fishy”. This was something that I had always wanted to learn as I find myself eating canned tuna throughout the year and it seems to be getting more and more expensive every year and the quality worse and worse, although by UK standards it is still pretty good.

Buying good quality preserved tuna can set you back an arm and a leg so I thought now was the ideal time to learn and also share this discovery with you all. I am not going to pull the wool over your eyes, it is simple but it is also very time consuming so I suggest you make a lot of it to last the entire year! It's like a large Christmas dinner; after making the stuffing from fresh chestnuts, the garnishes, roasting and basting the turkey, puddings etc. its such a palava that you need a year to bring yourself round to doing it again! Maybe I’m exaggerating here, but I haven’t really preserved much food before, just chutneys and the odd rasberry jam, when I used to help my Dad as a kid, a huge chutney fan! So this was a first for me, at least with fish.

Being honest fish isn’t my cup of tea but I am lover of tinned/preserved tuna, I never get tired of it so I always have it in the cupboard like most other people in the country, but when I tried the real deal, homemade preserved tuna, the difference was outstanding and well worth the effort, once it's done, it's done and you can spend the entire year enjoying it!  October is pretty much the month for the White Tuna season so it should still be readily available in supermarkets at around 8-10€/kg but if you go straight to the fish market you can get it cheaper, however if you buy it already reserved in cans you’ll be paying in the region of 24€+/kg for and I eat a lot of tuna, so it adds up at the end of the year and the cost is not so “Bonito”.

There are two ways of preparing preserved tuna you either pre cook it and then preserve it or you preserve it raw and then cook it in the jar. It depends on how you like your tuna. If you cook it in the jar it will be much softer and delicate and is will keep all of its flavour as nothing is lost in the cooking process. I personally find this method to have too much flavour for my liking, as I am more accustomed to traditional canned tuna, which is always pre-cooked. It's a question of tastes but Angel does it both ways depending on what he is going to use the tuna for. However I only know the pre-cooked method so far and when I have the raw method I will share it with you.

You will need the following ingredients for eight 450g jars:

2,5kg White Tuna (Bonito del Norte)
Rock Salt
1L Extra Virgin Olive Oil (not a strongly flavoured oil, so Arbequina is a good choice, we want no bitterness and no pepper otherwise it will overpower the taste of the tuna)

8 Jars (450g each) for preserving food. 

You can either ask for the tuna to be cleaned and deboned in the supermarket or do it yourself at home, but what ever you do make sure it comes in large pieces or in thick slices of about 2cm. Make sure you have a pot which will take all the fish in one go or you be at it all day. 

   

1. Place the tuna in the pot and cover it with salt water. The water we need to prepare before hand. So we should mix about 240g of rock salt with 3 litres of water. Once it has completely dissolved add it to the pot, if the water doesn’t completely cover the fish repeat this step until the tuna is completely covered by the salt water.

2. Turn on the extractor fan and close the kitchen door, otherwise the house smell of fish, a little...

3. Put on full heat until it is boiling, remove the lid from time to time to scrape off the foam, which rises to the surface of the water. When it is boiling, lower the heat to a minimum and continue cooking for 60 minutes. Make sure the tuna is always covered with water, so you’ll have to be patient and keep a close eye on it.

4. After 60min. turn off the heat and let the tuna and the water cool down naturally, about 4 hours later it should have cooled down enough, take it out of the water and dry it completely with kitchen towel. Wrap the fish in tin foil and leave it in the fridge over night so it cools down completely and the meat hardens becoming more compact.

5. The next day, the first thing we need to do is sterilise the jars, you can either do this in the oven or in a pressure cooker. You could place them in boiling water for 30 minutes but really to be sterilised completely they need to be at a minimum of 120ºC for at least 30 minutes, so to be on the safe side we put them in the oven at 140ºc for 40min. There is a bacteria that can survive without oxygen and it is only killed at temperatures above 120ºC, I can’t quite remember what its called but we don’t want it, just in case! If the jar lids have a rubber seal, well you will have to sterilise them in water with a pressure cooker.  Once sterilised let them cool down upside down on a clean cloth/kitchen towel. Make sure they are completely dry before filling them.

6. Take the tuna out of the fridge and place it all on a large tray. If you already cleaned it before cooking (which we did) all you have to do is remove the unsightly dark pieces if there are any left. If you didn’t clean the fish before hand remove the skin, bones and darker coloured pieces of tuna fish. All we want is the clean white flesh. Cut up the pieces of tuna meat into large chunks or strips, but measure the ideal size according to your jar and remember that we need at least 1cm of air between the surface of the oil and the jar lid so we can create the vacuum later.

7.  Now pour about 1 cm of extra virgin olive oil into the jar, we pour this in first so that when we start to pack the jar with tuna no gaps of air are trapped at the bottom. Start to place the pieces of tuna steak in the jar and make sure you pack them very tight but be careful not to break them. Once full if you need more olive oil top it up and make sure all the tuna is completely covered with oil but leaving at least 1 cm between the oil and the top of the jar. Bang the jar a few times on the table to make any air bubbles come to the surface or use a bbq skewer or something similar to carefully move the tuna inside and make sure the oil is evenly distributed and there are no air bubbles.

8.  Now close and seal the jars very tightly. Place them in a pan of boiling water to poach them. Make sure the water does not reach or touch the lid. Boil them for 30 minutes. This is to create the vacuum inside. After 30 minutes remove from the heat and leave the jars in the water for approx. 3-4 hours, then we remove them and place them upside down on a kitchen towel over night to make sure the vacuum has been created properly.

9. The following morning put them away in storage for 3 months before opening. You will need a cool dry ventilated cupboard. If you don’t have one you can also keep them in the fridge. You will need this time for the flavour to settle in. The day you open it, if you notice the slightest unusual smell or discolouring discard it immediately. More than likely the vacuum wasn’t done properly or the jars were not properly sterilised. Don’t risk it, chuck it out. However if you take care and follow the steps you shouldn’t have any problems. However if the centre of the lid doesn’t flex it is a sign that the vacuum seal has been done correctly and as this method involves a double technique for the vacuum it should be fine.

Preserved tuna can last in good storage conditions easily a year, if you need any longer, you prepared too much! Once opened it will last up to two weeks in the fridge. None the less I suggest preparing jars that are suitable for the amount you might need in one sitting depending how many you are in the household. I find ½ pint jars to be ideal for two people. And my last piece of advice is that you buy a good quality extra virgin olive oil. After all that oil will be your tuna’s home for quite a few months and I personally wouldn’t want a refined oil being soaked up by my tuna steaks!

 

So there you have it, the perfect filling for the perfect sandwich.

Happy Eating!



Like 0        Published at 11:02   Comments (2)


Fit for Kings - Lobster Rice
07 October 2015

                                

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

 

I’ve cooked many rice dishes over the years and untold “calderetas” (stews) so the techniques are straightforward, it has always been the fact that I knew I would have to kill the lobster while it is still alive that always held me back. Ever since I saw my first lobster being boiled alive and listening to it banging against the side of the pot and the lid, it made quite an impression on me. However we had special guests over and I figured it was time to tackle this dish once and for all. However with this dish you can not boil the lobster first to kill it, with that technique you just pop it in the boiling water, put the lid on and  the lobster starts bashing around the pan until it eventually dies. Logically with this technique you don’t see anything, you just hear it, not even sure it is a good tehcnique, but it was the first I ever witnessed in Spain. However, when making a Lobster Stew you need to chop up the lobster while it is still alive so the meat doesn’t toughen. This is quite disturbing the first time you see it and do it. However I was curious to know if lobsters actually felt anything or if these movements were in fact just spontaneous nervous reactions, so I started to investigate on the Internet and found several sources that actually confirmed that they do not feel pain. I have no idea if they were reliable sources or even if the information is true but it was just what I was looking for so I stopped investigating in case I found some contradictory evidence that would ruin my meal. That made me feel much better knowing that I wasn’t personally going to be inflicting pain on the animal as I chopped it up. So full steam ahead with the recipe and I started to phone around friends to get the best tips on this dish. In reality it is a very easy dish to make but the real secret is in the seafood stock, which must be prepared before hand. It is the same stock you would use for seafood paella, so that was one of my specialities. Infact the recipe is exactly the same for a Lobster paella only we would use less stock and let it dry out.

 

So, off I went to stock up on ingredients and there are quite a few, even though it is a rather simple recipe, the one I made was for 4 hungry adults, so adjust the ingredients accordingly. (five could eat easily from this recipe, though)

 

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

 

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

400g of raw unpeeled “langoustine/scampi/Norway lobster/Dublin Bay prawn” (what ever you want to call it! In Spanish: Cigalas)

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

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

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

2 tbsp Fresh chopped parsley

1 large onion chopped into quarters

2 peeled cloves of garlic (whole)

100ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Picual variety

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

50ml White wine (preferably Albariño)

1 tbsp Paprika

2,5 litres of water approx.

Salt

 

 

  Scampi

 

Carabineros/Scarlet Prawns

 

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

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

     

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The peeled seafood from earlier

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

4 sundried Spanish Ñoras (dried capsicums)

3 mature medium sized plum tomatoes

1 medium sized red onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp. paprika

0,2g ground saffron

50ml Brandy

50ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fresh parsley

Salt

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

                                 

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

 

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

 

 

  

 

 

 

 



Like 0        Published at 13:38   Comments (1)


It's that time of year again - mushroom picking!
01 October 2015

 

After a classic summer in terms of rainfall and the cold wet front, which is now crossing the peninsula, Spain's forests are giving birth to the autumn season of wild mushrooms or Níscalos as they are called here, and they are popping up all over the country. Any pine forest around the country should have Níscalos, but at least two intense rainfalls within a maximum period of 40 days is necessary to bring them to the surface and get them growing. The wild mushrooms need around 21 days to grow to a reasonable size so you will need to watch the weather. Mushrooms will normally pop up in open sunny areas if they have received abundant rainfall, but if they haven’t they will be more likely to appear in the shaded damp areas of the forests. However I strongly recommend if you go out one day to collect these wild mushrooms you do it with someone who understands what is what and which ones are still edible and which ones aren’t as there are poisonous Níscalos too which are similar in shape and colour. Mushroom picking can be dangerous if you do not know what you are doing. I for one have been fortunate enough to go Níscalo  (called Rebollónes here in Valencia) picking in Valencia, Castellon and the Sierra of Madrid accompanied by experimented “mushroom hunters” as they humourously refered to themselves as “Cazadores de Setas”! There is a skill in identifying where these mushrooms hide, as they are not always visible to the eye at first and it is necessary to separate the loose pine needles and grass on the forest floor to discover them and then dig them out. If you have the chance to go I highly recommend it as it is a great day out to get some fresh air and at the end of the end of the day you will have a wonderfully tasty reward.

The grill or the BBQ are the perfect pieces of equipment for cooking mushrooms. Because mushrooms contain a high percentage of water they remain moist under high, direct heat. As they lose moisture the flavour of the mushroom (and anything you've put on them) is intensified. Purists will tell you that you shouldn’t wash your mushrooms in water. Mushrooms should be gently brushed of any remaining dirt or debris, washing should be a last resort as it will affect the final flavour. If you do wash them make sure you dry them straight away with kitchen towel and wash them quickly. A small paint brush or even a toothbrush are ideal for cleaning them, but admittedly it can be time consuming. No matter where I have picked Níscalos I have pretty much always ended up eating them the same way. Grilled on the barbecue with a dressing made from fresh parsley, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. This is very easy, dice up a few garlic cloves making sure you remove the heart (root) of the garlic and then chop up some fresh parsley. Next. mix them in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, a fruity Picual is ideal. Blend it all together to make the dressing. You can also blend this in a blender if you don’t want any bits but I prefer it slightly more rustic. Place the mushrooms on the barbecue upside down and with a teaspoon just pour the dressing over the mushrooms, season with a little salt and cook until they are ready. There is no need to turn them over. Once ready just eat them and they are divine!

Another variant is to bake and grill them. Place all the mushrooms upside down on the baking tray sprinkle chopped parsley and chopped garlic over the mushrooms and them sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top of each mushroom. Finally drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top, season with a little salt and put them in a pre-heated oven (top and bottom) at around 200ºC for about 20-30 min (depending on the size of the mushrooms) until the breadcrumbs have gone golden and the mushrooms are cooked. Remove them and squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the mushrooms and serve.  

 

 

If you can’t find them in the wild they will soon be available in the shops so there is no excuse for not trying this wonderful seasonal appetiser. Which ever way you prepare them I am sure you will get hooked on them. Enjoy!



Like 0        Published at 17:57   Comments (1)


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