Fancy something different for Christmas lunch this year?
Although nowadays Christmas Eve is probably the most lavish meal of the Christmas holidays in Spain, originally it was Christmas day, much as it is in the UK. It was a day for bringing together the entire family including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and any other family member that you may not have seen throughout the year. Depending on the family, each year it would move house and thus the hosting of this enormous event would be shared amongst the family members. Nowadays, still very much a family event though, Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now normally split between the parents and the in-laws, one day with each.
Each region of Spain has its own tradition for the Christmas menu, which is determined mainly by local cuisine, for example on the coast seafood or fish is common and inland, meat plays a more important role such as roasted suckling lamb, however nowadays most regions tend to combine both, especially on Christmas Eve. However Christmas day in the Valencian community is a day for enjoying a rather special typical dish called ‘Puchero de Nadal’ ó ‘Cocido Navideño’. Effectively it is a stew with giant meatballs but it is enjoyed in two stages. It may seem very simple and rustic but it is a very long meal and takes time to digest. It contains almost everything you could possibly imagine putting in a stew. What makes this stew different to the rest of the stews in Spain is the use of local sausages and local vegetables. The Valencian community is well known for its vegetables and this is well portrayed in the Valencian ‘Puchero’.
As with most traditional recipes there is nothing written in stone, except using a giant cauldron! So grab the biggest pot you can find otherwise there is no way all the ingredients will fit in. Remember the stock, the meat and the vegetables can all be frozen afterwards so if you have a lot left over, which you will, ration it out in Tupperware and freeze it for another day or use it for another recipe as mentioned later on.
For the stew you will need the following :
½ medium sized Chicken (approx. 1,25kg of meat)
2 large meatballs (recipe as follows)
1 piece of bone marrow
1 piece of knee bone
150 grams of beef
1 Blanquet sausage
1 Onion Morcilla sausage
100 grams of pork fat
300 grams of chickpeas (soaked in water over night)
1 stick of Celery, 1 stick of Cardoon, 1 sweet potato, 1 white turnip, 1 yellow turnip, 1 parsnip, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 leek, 5 runner beans and ¼ cabbage. (As far as the vegetables go, you can chuck in what ever you have at hand, but this is the standard recipe in Valencia)
So, to make the stew it is as easy as cleaning and peeling the vegetables and placing them all in the pot with the meat and the meatballs, except for the carrots, potatoes, runner beans and the morcilla. These need to be held back for later as they cook more quickly. Cover with water and slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Remember to skim off the foam that rises to the top. After 90 minutes pop in the rest of the ingredients that were held back and then simmer for another 90 minutes. To make the meatballs all you will need are the following ingredients:
150g lean minced beef
150g minced pork.
1 sausage (with skin removed)
1 tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley
50g Pine nuts
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon powder
10ml fresh Lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Stew net for binding
Cabbage leaves for wrapping up the meatballs.
If you feel like saving some time you can always make the balls the day before. Mix the meat, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, eggs and pine nuts to taste. Pour the breadcrumbs in and knead it all together until it forms a thick mass. Add the lemon juice and knead it all together again. Separate the meat mass into two parts and then roll into two large balls. Once you have made the balls wrap each ball in cabbage leaves and then place inside the stewing net and tie up tight and add to the rest of the meat for the stew.
Once the stew is ready it is customary to first enjoy a bowl soup from the stock cooked either with rice or noodles. Some may add a piece of the meatball to the soup and others may add a bit of everything and then move onto the rest of the meat and vegetables, the choice is yours. It would also be customary to make an oven baked rice the following day with the left overs. So there you have it, a very hearty meal from the heart of Valencia and ideal for this time of year, it may not look very sophisticated but it tastes incredible!