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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!

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 (6)


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)


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