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IAN & SPAIN

WELCOME TO MY BLOG. HAVING LIVED IN SPAIN FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS I HAVE TRULY MANAGED TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE AND FEEL TOTALLY INTEGRATED. I WILL BE WRITING ABOUT MY PASSION FOR SPANISH FOOD AND DRINK AS WELL AS ITS CULTURE, PEOPLE AND PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

Tortilla Española - Spain's national treasure - So simple, yet so disputed. But can you make it?
28 February 2019

One of the easiest Spanish recipes and probably the most travelled of them all is the Spanish potato omelette. But when such a simple dish has become an important part of a staple diet it tends to convert into an art form in Spain. There are over 40 million people in Spain and probably 20 million different ways of making a Spanish omelette.

Everyone has there own personal touch that makes it slightly different. This is very similar to a fried egg, simple in essence but believe me a simple fried or poached egg can be a raving success or a disaster. There is a fine line between culinary heaven and mundane foodstuff. Exactly the same thing goes for the Tortilla Española. Having so few ingredients each must be prepared to perfection and the main trick lies in the timing.

Eggs are eggs and potatoes are potatoes pretty much anywhere in the world so finding decent ingredients won’t be a problem here. I have eaten hundreds of Spanish omelettes and I imagine most that are reading my blog have done so too. I’ve eaten really thick ones, really thin ones, ones loaded with potato, ones with hardly any potato, but the vast majority are really dry and overcooked meaning it’s almost compulsory to add a bit of mayonnaise so your mouth doesn’t dry up! But every now and again you come across a tortilla that takes you by surprise and you say WOW! What is it that is different about this omelette? For me it’s a “tortilla” that isn’t too thick or too thin, is nicely browned but isn’t dry in the middle giving it moisture and thus there is no need to add anything else. I also prefer it with onion as it gives it that extra edge of flavour, a sweeter touch.

Maintaining that moisture is quite complicated as eggs are so easily overcooked and when you take it off the pan it keeps cooking on the inside so really it’s a question of practice makes perfect as the eggs are never the same size and nor are the potatoes so giving exact cooking times is a bit pointless. However I am going to share some guidelines that I learnt from a “Master Tortilla Maker”, as I call her, but she is more commonly known and Maribel! Our good friend’s mother, who is now 77 going on 27 with a heart of gold and a love for life, has been making omelettes every week for as long as she can remember, well over 60 years, so I would say she is an expert on the subject. Not a week goes by without making one and Maribel is a Spanish food encyclopaedia and still spends most of her life in the kitchen working, although fortunately for her she really enjoys it. 

Last Sunday we paid her a visit and lone behold she was making a tortilla...again, so I thought “perfect!” this is the opportunity to share her secrets with you all and take a few photos to help in the process. I’m not bad at it myself but she makes it look so effortless, the way she finely chips the potatoes directly into the oiled pan without even looking with a small knife and at a speed akin to nimble young women. No chopping board, no potato peeler, nothing, just a small sharp knife and a pair of hands, chipping away at a rate of knots and before you have realised it she had three chipped and in the frying pan only to be followed by an onion which was also chopped up in a blink of an eye. I had to tell old Maribel to slow down otherwise I’d miss out on interesting photos! But she said, “You speed up, you’re the young one!” so that put me in my place and I quickly managed to grab some photos to share with you. Maribel said “It’s just an omelette what’s all the fuss about? But Maribel’s omelette isn’t just any omelette.  So what is Maribel’s secret? Well, it’s quite simple, so I will run you through the steps.  

For a normal Spanish omelette, you’ll need three medium-sized potatoes, one large onion, 4 large free-range eggs, salt and some good extra virgin olive oil. This will serve 4 adults as part of a main meal or 8 as a light tapas. If you want to make it bigger and thicker just multiply the ingredients accordingly.

If you don’t think you're as nimble as Maribel then you should chop up the potato and the onion before heating the pan, because if you are too slow the first potato chips will cook faster than the last ones. So to be on the safe side you need to chip the potatoes before. I don’t mean cut them into slices or chip shapes but cut away at the potato with a knife as if you were carving a wooden sculpture and cutting off large uneven chips of wood. The pieces of potato shouldn’t really be much bigger than a 50p coin and no thicker than say two 50p coins if you get what I mean…we don’t want them very thick not too thin but it doesn’t matter if some parts are thicker than others and that every chip is different, this helps them to hold together better and the omelette has less chance of breaking up and it is also easier to cook all the potato uniformly. Chopping them unevenly also means some parts of the potato chips brown slightly giving the tortilla more flavour. There is nothing worse than having cooked and undercooked potato together in an omelette so be careful not to cut really thick pieces of potato. Cut the onion into quarters and then slice it up but not too finely. Some people fry the potatoes and the onions separately but here we are going to do it together. If you do them separately make sure the onions go really soft and don't burn.

At this point, we are going to need two deep frying pans, one to cook the potatoes and then one to make the omelette. We aren’t going to use the same pan. We need a wider frying pan to evenly cook the potatoes and onion and then a smaller frying pan to get the thickness for the omelette.

Pour some extra virgin olive oil into the pan being careful not to pour too much, we are not deep frying the potatoes so just cover the pan all over leaving about 1 mm of oil across the pan and put it on medium heat, let the oil heat up and then reduce to a low heat straight away. At this point, we need to add the potato and the onion and season with salt. Cook the onions and the potato on a low heat for about 20 minutes until they are well cooked, remember we are not frying them so we don’t want to brown them too much or make them go crispy, towards the end they will slightly brown in parts and that is fine but if they brown too quickly your heat is too high and if they go crispy you have too much oil in the pan too. If they absorb all the olive oil and it looks like they are drying up don’t be afraid to add a little more olive oil while cooking.

Once they are cooked you need to beat the four eggs together. Maribel has a great little trick but takes a little practice; she beats her eggs on a plate and not in a bowl helping to air the egg mixture making it lighter and spongier. Another trick is to beat the egg whites first and then the yolks. Once beaten the eggs should have air bubbles all over the surface of the egg mix, season with salt and put to one side. Wait for the potatoes to cool down a bit and pour a little olive oil in the smaller non-stick frying pan and add the potatoes. 

   

Next, we add the beaten eggs, let them sit for about 10 minutes so the egg mixture has well and truly settled amongst the potato and filled every nook and cranny, shake the frying pan to help evenly spread out the potatoes. Now you can put the frying pan on low heat and start cooking the omelette.

Once the eggs have set grab a plate which is larger than the diameter of the pan and place on top of the frying pan to turn the omelette over, slide the omelette back into the pan and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Turn the omelette over again cook for another 30-40 seconds then turn it over again until both sides are slightly browned but not too much. Remove from the pan and place on a serving plate. It is now ready to eat. There are millions of ideas as to what the perfect tortilla is but for me it is one that is nicely cooked on the outside but still moist and slightly liquid in the centre, so it is not cooked all the way through, this timing takes practice but when you get the balance right it is a real delight. What would otherwise be a heavy dry omelette becomes a fantastic culinary masterpiece that needs nothing added except for a slice of thick crusty bread, to clean the plate!  Enjoy!

 

 

  

 

 



Like 4        Published at 13:40   Comments (1)


Europe's biggest covered market is in Spain
15 February 2019

Markets are no longer what they were. Following in the wake of the culinary revolution forged in restaurants, they too have chosen to reinvent themselves. Madrid and Barcelona have some of the most significant examples of this new trend, although other cities, such as Valencia and Bilbao, are not far behind. We're no longer talking about a place to sell food, but of spaces for gastronomic experiences. Without renouncing their vocation as traditional markets, they now also include restaurants, book stores and even exhibition spaces.

 

 

Ribera Market, located beside the river estuary in Bilbao, is a reference in terms of shopping for the whole of Biscay. One of its many merits is to have been recognized in 1990 as the most complete municipal food market by the Guinness Book of Records, at that time being the largest in terms of traders and stalls and the biggest covered market as regards space in the whole of Europe, with a surface area of 10,000 square metres. Refurbishment work began en mid-2009 aimed at renewing its structure, stalls and services in order to remain a reference for shoppers in the 21st century. Not in vain, life and business have never stopped in this space where more than 60 merchants manage to provide customers with the finest produce at the best price: meat, fruit, shellfish, cheeses, cooked meats, frozen food, mushrooms and fungi...

 

 

A complex of stands and the arcades of the lower levels of the buildings served as a market in the Ribera of Bilbao for centuries, when this area was an urban centre, with City Hall and the Consulate, right in front of San Antón. A metal market pavilion was built at the end of the 19th Century. It was an example of what was called ‘cast-iron architecture’, in use up through the mid 1920s.

After several proposals, in which even covering the Estuary was proposed, an ambitious project was developed to substitute the old market, then quite rundown. The project by Pedro Ispizua, Municipal Technician, was enlarged and improved from the time of its drawing in 1927 up to its construction in 1930. Issues such as monumentality derived from its representational character are combined with functional aspects and hygienic concerns. Ispizua takes on a nearly rationalist language in this project, in accordance with the functional needs of the buildings and construction issues. His plans include similarities with central-European architecture, more or less moving away from earlier somewhat regionalist views.

A voluminous, modern market with clearly monumental and representative ideals was built to replace the old ‘cast-iron’ market from the end of the 19th Century. Concrete replaced cast-iron to form a grand vessel with ample interior space for all of the stands. With its marked personality (volume, form, details…) the building has become an integral part of the image of this historic enclave along the Estuary.



Like 1        Published at 23:18   Comments (1)


Cod Pil-Pil - A fish dish worth trying!
01 February 2019

Bacalao (cod) al pil-pil is a recipe originally from the Basque country. It may be more myth than history, but there's a story that claims this Spanish dish was created during the 2nd Carlist war, when a merchant ordered 20 or 22 specimens of cod before the siege of Bilbao began. Instead of 20 or 22 fish, he was delivered 20,022.

The legend says that the merchant tried to sell most of the excess cod he had received in towns within the Cantabric region but then the second siege of Bilbao began. It was in fact a fortunate mistake, as there was an important shortage of food due ti the siege, and luckily there was enough olive oil as well. These two key factors helped soften the famine in Bilbao.

The story says that this merchant  went on to become a rich man and one of the most important business men in the city. This dish was particularly popular during Lent, as fish was the only meat source people were allowed to consume. However this is one version of history. There are other theories that claim that bacalao al pil-pil was the natural evolution of a dish called Bacalao a la Provenza or similar cod dishes.

Anyhow, despite it's dubious origin, what makes bacalao al pil pil such a successful dish? I believe it lies in the simplicity of its ingredients: cod, olive oil and chili. If you happen to visit Spain, most bars and restaurants in Spain will serve it so make sure you give it a try.

There is however some debate surrounding this seemingly simple cod recipe as there tends to be with most classic Spanish dishes. That debate concerns the way that the cod should be cooked. Some people believe that the cod should first be cooking skinside up for five minutes, before being flipped over and then performing the pil pil process. Meanwhile others say that the cod should be cooked skinside down first, and should be skinside up during the pil pil process. Both sides claim that theirs is the best way for releasing the gelatine from the fish to make the sauce. Maybe you should try both and decide yourselves. I personally tend to cook it skinside up for the first few minutes then skinside down for the pil-pil process.

Bacalao al pil pil is a little tricky and does require a little technique in order to make the pil pil sauce just right. However don't be put off as even the most novice chef, with a little patience, can produce an excellent example of the dish. To make sure you get it right, here are a few quick tips. Only use olive oil as other oils and fats do not produce the same emulsion effect and make sure the temperature of the oil is quite low. You can use fresh cod or salted cod, traditonally it is made with salted cod which you need to 'de-salt'  in clean water for about 24-48 hours (depending on the thickness), changing the water every 8 hours. Most claim that this is the best way but both syles of cod work.

The key is to create a good emulsion sauce with the oil and the gelatine that the cod releases. To do it the traditonal way by swirling the pan is very difficult and time consuming but the quickest way to get a good thick emulsion is once the cod is cooked you let the oil and cod gelatine mix in the pan cool down until it is warm, then transfer it to a sauce pan. The next step is to get a sieve and a ladel. Ladel a little of the oil and gelatine mix into the frying pan (no heat) and stir backwards and forwards with the sieve, basically whisk it with the bottom of the sieve in the frying pan, this will help to emulsify the oil. Add a little more and repeat. Do this until you have enough sauce. Remember it is impossible to emulsify the oil if it is still very hot.

 

  


Ingredients for 4 people:


    •    8 pieces of fresh or desalted cod loins
    •    300 cc of olive oil
    •    5 thickly chopped garlic cloves
    •    1 chopped chili (5 pieces more or less)
    •    Salt to taste


Preparation:

1. Desalt the cod if necessary, remove any fish bones.

2. Add the olive oil to a sauce pan at medium heat.

3. Add the garlic and brown them slowly.

4. Remove the garlic and add the chopped chili to the oil.

5. Place the cod loins skinside up in the oil (medium heat) for 2 minutes and then turn over for another 2 minutes, this should be enough to cook them through. (Remember you are not deep frying the fish. If it is sizzling a lot then oil is too hot and won't release its gelatine)

5. Remove the cod loins and place them on a dish, also remove the chillis.

6. Let the oil mixture cool down and then create the emulsion as explained earlier with the sieve.

7. Serve as displayed in the photo.

8. You can accompany this dish with runner beans and boiled  new potatoes if you wish.

 

 



Like 0        Published at 21:20   Comments (2)


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