Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cuttlefish and potato stew (papas con choco): pressure pot version

I have finally converted to using a pressure cooker recently, so this is the pressure cooker version of a gaditano staple I made in an ordinary saucepan a couple of weeks ago. I've tweaked the recipe a little, and been a bit less anal with the measurements. After all, this is a peasanty stew so the quantities are necessarily vague.

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1/2 green pepper
1 large tomato
2 carrots
500g cuttlefish (substitute with squid if not available)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon of saffron
1 teaspoon of mild paprika
1 teaspoon of salt
1 glass of white wine
4 potatoes

  1. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. In a pressure cooker, fry it gently in plenty of olive oil.
  2. Roughly chop the pepper and tomato. Peel the carrots and cut them into slices. Cut the cuttlefish into chunks. Peel and cut the potato into chunks.
  3. In a small bowl or a pestal and mortar, crush the saffron well and mix with a little hot water.
  4. Once the onion is cooked, add all the other ingredients to the pot, stir thoroughly, put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to the boil.
  5. Cook at 2 rings for 10 minutes.

Cutting potatoes
As I was making this I was chatting to a Spanish friend, Pilar. When she saw me chopping the potatoes on a board with my razor-sharp German knife she told me she had been given a tip by a gaditana that the best way to cut the potatoes was actually to hold them in your hands, use a blunt knife, and break off the pieces as you go. That way your potatoes have rough edges, releasing lots of starch into the stew and helping to give it a good thick texture.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lentils with chorizo and wild mushrooms

I picked up some good chorizos the other day at a birdspotting fair in Tarifa (!!) and decided to cook them with lentils. I also chucked in a pack of wild mushrooms I had brought back from Scotland. (The last packet of wild mushrooms I brought back from my travels - in Italy - ended up as food for moth larvae, so I was keen to use these ones before they met the same fate.)

This is a dish that is perfect for pressure cookers, although make sure you add plenty of liquid, as the lentils soak up a surprising amount. Ideally, they should be almost soupy at the end.

olive oil
2 medium sized onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
500g brown lentils
2 litres of stock
5 fresh chorizos
50 g dried wild mushrooms, soaked in a little hot water
500 g carrots, peeled and roughly sliced
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of cumin powder

  1. In a pressure cooker, gently fry the onion, adding the garlic just before the onion is done.
  2. Add all the other ingredients, including the soaking water from the mushrooms, stir will, cover and close the pressure cooker and bring to a boil.
  3. When the pressure has reached the correct level, turn the heat to minimum and cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Turn off heat, allow to cool for a little and serve. If you like, you can season with a little vinegar at this point. (Spaniards usually add this individually at the table.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Morcón ibérico

Continuing with my trawl through the further reaches of Spanish charcuterie, today's featured sausage is morcón. It's pretty similar to chorizo, but with two differences. Firstly, it is made by stuffing the large rather than the small intestine, giving it its characteristic 'bulgy' shape. And secondly, it is made with leaner meat. (Because the morcón is larger than a chorizo, it is less prone to drying out and thus needs less fat to keep it moist.)


Chicharrones are little crusty, salty bits of belly pork and are great for snacking. Every butcher's stall in the Cadiz market has a tray of them on the top of the counter, and you can buy a little paper cone full of them to take home with you.

Chicharrones are also popular in Latin America, and the great Eliades Ochoa has even dedicated a whole song to discussing what they are made of:

El chicharrón es pellejo
Tú te equivocaste, muchacho, cuando creiste,
que el chicharrón era de carne,
Siempre anda diciendo que que tu eres el rey de los carniceros
Y yo estoy seguro que de carne no sabe nada
Yo puedo creer que tu seas chicharronero
Lo que no creo es que tu de la carne hagas chicharrón
Claro que no!

(You were wrong, my lad, when you thought,
That chicharrón is made from meat,
You always go around saying you're the king of the butchers
But I'm sure you know nothing about meat
I might accept that you're a bootlicker
But there's no way you make chicharrón with meat
No way!)

Followed by a rousing chorus:

Nada más que pellejo, pellejo, el chicharrón es pellejo

(It's just the skin, the skin, the chicharrón is just skin!)

In Cuba, chicharrón, in addition to being a delicious meaty snack, is also an obsequious compliment, so the target of this song is being lambasted both for his ignorance of pork butchery and for his smarminess. Touché! (In Spain, however, chicharrón is not just made from the skin but from belly pork, which contains plenty of meat. No wonder I got strange looks when I sang this to an overfamiliar butcher the other day.)

I had a slightly worried moment when someone commented that surely this was just a poncey Spanish name for pork scratchings. (It's never pleasant to be hit by the realisation that one has been openly bullshitting!) So I went off to the kitchen and sliced into some chicharrones just to check. The proof is below - as you can see, under the fat, they are quite meaty!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chicharrones especiales

Everyone is familiar with jamón serrano, chorizo and even salchichón (Spanish salami) but there are lots of other examples of Spanish charcuterie which are not exported. One of my favourites are the chicharrónes especiales, a speciality of nearby Chiclana. They are whole pieces of uncured streaky bacon which are cooked then served cold, thinly sliced and dressed with salt and lemon juice.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pasta with chick peas, tuna and lemon

This is a really quick 'store cupboard' meal. I'm a bit wary of putting things like this on the blog, but have decided to record the ones that come out well to help jog my memory and get me out of my 'tomato sauce' rut. Pasta with pulses seems like an odd combination to British (and Spanish) palates, but is actually quite common in Italy.

1 packet of pasta
1 large jar of cooked chickpeas
2 small tins of tuna
1 lemon
1 teaspoon of oregano leaves
1 teaspoon of salt
olive oil

  1. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water. When it is nearly done, add the strained chickpeas.
  2. Once the pasta is cooked, strain the pasta and chickpeas into a colander, drain and return to the saucepan. Slosh a bit of olive oil over them, add the drained tuna, the juice of 1 lemon, the oregano leaves and salt. Mix well and serve.

Carrillada (pig's cheek stew)

Carrillada or pig's cheek is a great cut for stews. It has plenty of flavour and a lovely moist texture too. The term 'pig's cheek' puts a lot of people off, but actually it is really the jaw muscle. I don't see why eating this should be any less appealing than eating a pig's leg or back muscles. Because it has plenty of connective tissue, it needs long cooking but develops a great texture and does not dry out.

The recipe below is deliberately 'rustic', with only a bare minimum of chopping or anything else, and is therefore perfect for children to make. And it's also good because it provides a basic stew recipe which kids can than improvise around, changing the ingredients and flavours as they wish, with only the bare minimum of adult interference.

olive oil
2 onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1 kg of carrilada (pig's cheek) - if you can't get it, substitute with any stewing cut
500g of carrots
2 large tomatoes
200 ml of chicken stock (more if not using a pressure cooker)
1 teaspoon of salt
4 bay leaves

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Peel and smash the garlic. If using carrillada, it comes in small 'steaks' and can be cooked whole. Peel the carrots but leave whole. Top and tail the tomatoes and cut into quarters.
  2. Put plenty of olive oil in a pressure cooker or large saucepan. Add the onions to the oil and fry gently. When they are nearly done, add the garlic and continue frying for a minute or so.
  3. Then add the paprika, stir and fry for a few seconds, add the meat, stir to mix, and fry for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  4. If using a pressure cooker, put the lid on, heat until the cooker whistles, turn to minimum and cook for 20 minutes. If using a conventional pan, cover and bring to a boil, turn to minimum and simmer for about 2 hours, check the liquid level occasionally.
  5. Like all stews, this is improved by being left for a day.

Pressure cooker
Like a lot of British people, I used to have a bit of a prejudice against pressure cookers. (Although oddly enough I remember a flatmate of mine at university having one - not sure that he ever used it, however.) In Spain, they are very popular, and are ideally suited to cooking pulses and wet stews.

They also have another great benefit, which I only realised when we started making this, and that is that they are perfect for use by kids. Sammy actually made this stew from scratch - my only intervention was to peel the carrots (every kid likes having his or her own personal kitchen porter), to do a bit of light supervision and to remember to turn the stew off at the end. You can make the whole dish in one pot, and don't need to worry about heat or liquid levels while cooking, or even to monitor it.

Manteca colorada con zurrapa

As an antidote to my healthy desayuno andaluz, I bought some manteca colorada. The literal translation of this is 'red lard' which is a pretty accurate description, as it is pig fat, flavoured with paprika. You can buy it with 'zurrapa', which is pork loin which has been fried in the lard and is then shredded, and you can also buy it plain (manteca colorada), without paprika (manteca blanca) or with whole pieces of pork loin in it (manteca con lomo).

'Colorado' is Spanish for 'red' (as in the Colorado River, whose muddy waters are a reddish brown). Apparently, it is not used in the north of Spain, and a friend of ours, upon being told this, replied in shock, "But how do they say "manteca colorá" then!?" Indeed.

Mediterranean diet
I'm always amused when people talk about the wonders of the Mediterranean diet. Manteca colorada, after all, is the culinary equivalent of asking a heart surgeon to open you up and spread a little cholesterol on your veins. And another popular Spanish breakfast, churros con chocolate, involves frying strips of batter before dipping them in chocolate. We may deep-fry Mars Bars in Scotland, but at least we have the decency to put the batter on the outside.

Iced mint tea

It's still rather hot and sticky in Cadiz, so a pot of iced mint tea seemed like a good idea. You have to make the tea very strong, as it is then diluted by the ice. We make ours without sugar. If you want it sweet,then it's probably best to add a lot of sugar directly to the teapot.

8 teaspoons of good quality green tea
1 smallish handful of fresh mint leaves

Put the green tea and mint in a teapot, and fill with boiling water. (I have a pot with a removable filter, which is good, because once it comes to the right strength you can remove it.)
Fill a large jug with ice cubes, pour the tea over it and wait for a few minutes until most of the ice has melted. Serve.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cuttlefish and potato stew (papas con choco)

Cuttlefish stewed with potato is one of the staples of gaditano cooking. Cuttlefish isn't eaten at all in the UK (unless you're a budgerigar) but it's actually very good. It tastes quite similar to squid, with the same mild slightly sweet flavour, although the texture is different. It is more tender than squid but because the flesh is much thicker, it has a slightly meatier consistency. This dish belongs to the category of peasant and working-class food which involves stretching a little bit of meat (or in this case seafood) with vegetables, pulses or grains. I guess the nearest equivalent in the British isles would be Irish stew.

olive oil
150g onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
50g green peppers, roughly chopped
500g of cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into chunks
250g of ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
750g potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
200ml white wine
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
2 bay leaves

  1. Put the onions in a large saucepan with plenty of olive oil and fry gently. Once they start to soften, add the garlic and green pepper and fry for another few minutes.
  2. Then add the cuttlefish, tomatoes, salt, pepper, paprika and bay leaves, stir well and fry for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes and white wine, bring to the boil, cover, turn heat to minimum and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender. (About 20 to 30 minutes.)
Protein vs. carbs
Perhaps inevitably, as we become richer and our diets have become more protein-heavy the tendency is to up the meat content in such dishes, and I have to admit that my version has slightly less potato than the original recipe I was working from (in Pescados y Mariscos Gaditanos by Carlos Spinola and Manuel Fernández-Trujillo).

Desayuno andaluz (Andalucian breakfast)

I don't know when the habit of defining 'typical' breakfasts started, but I suspect it is fairly recent. In addition to the 'full English' you can now get a 'Scottish breakfast' north of the border (which is suspiciously similar to its English cousin, give or take the appearance of a slice of haggis). And bars in Cadiz proudly advertise their 'desayuno andaluz' as if it were some culinary marvel. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a toasted roll with some chopped tomato but it still makes a tasty and healthy breakfast.

toasted bread
2 ripe tomatoes
large slosh of olive oil

Roughly chop the tomatoes, squeeze out some of the excess liquid, and whizz them in a food processor with the olive oil and salt. Transfer to a bowl and serve accompanied by plenty of toast.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kitchen beauty

We are now back in Cadiz, having spent the summer in Edinburgh, and are surrounded by piles of our stuff that has come out of storage. There were six boxes of kitchen equipment alone (most of which have been sealed up again and stashed away in a cupboard for that distant day when we finally manage to buy our own flat). I did take the opportunity to grab a few essential items, including some saucepans, a chopping board and a couple of mixing bowls, but what gave me most pleasure was coming across the Japanese teacups. I think they speak for themselves: we all need a little beauty in our lives.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Curried baked beans

I first had curried baked beans at a barbecue in Stirling in the 1970s. At the time, it seemed incredibly exotic, partly because it tasted of curry powder, but also because it was the kind of thing my mum would never have made. I remember eating a lot of it and I think I can probably trace my tendency to splash chilli sauce on things back to that day.

1 tin of baked beans
1/2 teaspoon of curry powder

Open the tin of beans, pour a little of the excess sauce away, put the beans and the curry powder in a small saucepan and heat gently.

Scotland in the 70s
Apart from making curried baked beans, my barbecue hostess and her husband were "fond of a drink" as the saying goes, and it may be that the addition of curry powder to boring old beans was an alcohol-inspired act of culinary genius. My other memory of her was that she happened to come for lunch the day my mum went into labour with my sister, Clara. As a result, my brother Mark (13) and me (11) were left in her care for the rest of the afternoon. She kindly shared her cigarettes with us to help calm all of our nerves.