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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!

Alioli or Garlic Mayonaise?
30 November 2017

‘Ali Oli’ or ‘Ajo Aceite’, as we call it in Valencia, is probably the simplest and one of the hardest recipes you will ever try to make. Simple, because traditionally it only has two ingredients and hard because it will make you break out in sweat, especially if you make it in summer! Ali Oli is often translated as garlic mayonnaise but in fact it is not mayonnaise at all, its not far off mayonnaise but it isn’t a mayonnaise. This is probably the recipe where your choice of olive oil is most important as it is the main ingredient and is pretty much 90% of the final product. So you need to find a very good quality extra virgin olive oil, which is fruity but not too bitter and not very pungent. The variety Arbequina is by far the best due to its high quantity of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) that favours the cohesion of emulsions and sauces. However any good extra virgin will do. Cornicabra is very popular as is Serrana de Espadán here in Valencia. However if you can’t find these varieties look for an Extra Virgin ‘Suave’. I have read many recipes throughout the net suggesting sunflower oil and refined oils for this recipe. Please do not use these types of oils as they will definitely not give you the same result and are far less healthy.

The recipe I am going to share with you is the authentic one, the one passed on from generation to generation, not the popular garlic mayonnaises being offered around most of Spain (However I will also tell you how to make that towards the end of the post). It is a recipe that dates back thousands of years and has spread all over the Mediterranean so I can assure you it was never made with refined olive oil or sunflower oil. Basically, Ali Oli is an emulsion of olive oil, garlic and salt, nothing else. The secret to the recipe is in the technique, which does take a bit of practice. This is not a mayonnaise, a traditional recipe that originated from Mahon in Menorca, as it does not use egg yolk or lemon.  In the case of mayonnaise, it is the egg that acts as the emulsifying agent and with Ali Oli, it is the garlic that has the emulsion-producing properties.

 

Ingredients

 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic

& Rock Salt

 

How do we make it?

To start with we need a pestle and mortar, not a blender or a mixer, this is a traditional recipe and must be done by hand to achieve the best results.

For this recipe, we will use ½ a litre of olive oil and 4 large cloves of garlic. Depending on how strong you like it you can add more or fewer cloves to the recipe. As this involves a substantial amount of garlic it is a good idea to remove the roots of the cloves before starting. This means slicing it down the middle, lengthways and taking out the core of the garlic, this will help reduce the characteristic bad breath and the taste of garlic coming back up throughout the day. It the root of the garlic that our stomach finds so hard to digest and it just seems to linger around for most of the day!

 Once the garlic is peeled and the cores removed place them in the mortar with a pinch of rock salt and start grinding them. Once we have a lumpy paste we need to start adding the olive oil. It is very important not to add too much or too quickly. Patience is a virtue with this recipe. Start by adding the oil drop by drop and move the pestle in a circular action from left to right following the hands of the clock. Once you have started this action you should not stop until the Ali Oli is ready.

This is when it gets a bit tiring, as you need to apply force as well and keep the pestle moving at a constant speed to draw out the juice from the garlic. Slowly you start adding more olive oil, little by little but always waiting until the previous dose has blended with the emulsion. This continues until you end up with a thick sauce/paste or find the consistency that you prefer. The whole process can take up to 15 minutes. You will probably have problems along the way to achieve an emulsion, it takes practice and isn’t as easy as it sounds but it is really worth the effort! Here is a video that might help ...

 

 

 

For those of you who find it too difficult there are a couple of tricks that help to keep the garlic moist and facilitate the cohesion of the emulsion, one is adding 3 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the mortar at the same time you add the garlic and the salt. This will help you keep the emulsion stable and also reduce a little bit more the pungency of the garlic.

Finally, if you prefer a garlic mayonnaise, which isn't as strong, the only thing you have to add is an egg yolk (no egg white) to the garlic with the lemon juice before you start adding the olive oil. Another trick which works with either recipe is making a little ball of dough from a loaf of sliced bread and wetting it with water. You add this dough ball when you add the egg or just before adding the oil and grind it into the mixture, this will help create the emulsion and stop it from separating!

Once finished it is common to garnish the Ali Oli with a bit of fresh parsley and Listo! Ready to eat.

In Valencia, it is particularly common to eat Ali Oli with anything from fried potatoes seasoned with paprika or Black rice which is a dish which uses the ink from squids. It is very versatile and fantastic with vegetables, fish and meats so use it to accompany anything you want.

A very traditional dish is simply Potato Ali Oli, which is a boiled potato salad eaten cold but made with Ali Oli (with or without the egg yolk) instead of mayonnaise, absolutely delicious with cold meats and salads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Like 2        Published at 13:49   Comments (2)


Fancy a change from 'Jamon'?
23 November 2017

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


Like 2        Published at 09:35   Comments (4)


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