Saturday, November 27, 2010

Flamenco, Flamenco

I had a cookathon today, producing bread, chicken stock, bolognaise sauce, tomato sauce, tripe with chickpeas, rabbit with olives and some oriental meatballs all in one session. However, it nearly came to a very unpleasant end, as I was sitting in the cinema this evening watching Flamenco, Flamenco, when I suddenly remembered that I had left the bolognaise sauce on. The film was nearly finished and the cinema is only five minutes from home, so I nervily stuck it out to the end, then rushed home expecting the worst. Fortunately, the sauce was on minimum and had barely even begun to stick, its flavours just intensifying nicely after three hours of slow simmering.

Tripe with chickpeas (menudo gaditano)

Mention tripe in the UK and you're bound to get a chorus of disparaging remarks and expressions of outright disgust. The conventional explanation is that it came to be seen as poverty food during World War Two, but I don't think that is the whole story. There is obviously something a bit deeper behind the move away from offal in the British diet, and the same trend can be seen in Spain, although not to the same extreme.

I suspect a number of factors have come together to push tripe and other offal off our menus.
  • Increased wealth means that high prestige meats (steak, lean mince, chicken etc.) are now widely accessible and relatively cheap, so there is less incentive to eat the cheaper cuts.
  • This, in turn, means that these high prestige cuts become the norm, and set the standard of what meat should be like.
  • On top of this, increasing health consciousness puts people off consuming fattier meats or any meat (such as tripe) which looks as if it might be fatty.
  • More generally, there has been a move away from gelatinous textures, to the point where just about the only gelatinous foods eaten with any regularity in the UK are jelly itself and creme caramel. Meat can be tender, crisp or firm, but never gelatinous.
In Spain, tripe is far more widely eaten in the UK, but it is definitely still a little old-fashioned, the kind of thing generally eaten by people in their 50s upwards and a few younger men who think that 'nose to tail' eating is cool. (I guess that includes me.) I often eat it in bars, but have never made it at home, partly because nobody else in my family eats it.

However, I decided it was time to break it out of the ghetto, hoping that even if the tripe itself went uneaten, the chickpeas would be a success. I also took the liberty of adding some green beans and a red pepper to make it a bit more interesting, although this is definitely not part of the traditional recipe.

olive oil
500g mixed tripe (plus a bit of trotter)
500g dry chickpeas (soaked overnight)
plain flour
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
1 red pepper
chicken stock
3 tsps salt
3 tsps paprika
1 tsp tabasco
white wine
green beans

  1. Wash the tripe in cold water (it should already have been prepared by the butcher), and cut into small pieces.
  2. Peel and chop the onion, peel and crush the garlic, cut the red pepper into small chunks, and top and tail the beans and cut them into pieces.
  3. Put plenty of olive oil in a pressure cooker, add the onion and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes
  4. Meanwhile, dust the tripe in flour, then add it to the onion and garlic and fry for a few minutes until browned.
  5. Add the chickpeas, red pepper, paprika, a splash of white wine, salt, tabasco and enough chicken stock to barely cover the ingredients, bring to a boil, put the lid on the pressure cooker, bring up to full pressure, reduce heat to minimum and cook for 50 minutes.
  6. Turn off heat, allow pot to cool fully, open, add the green beans, cover the pot, bring back to pressure and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Like all stews, this benefits from sitting for a day.
When I made this, I more or less followed a traditional recipe. However, the result was a little watery and bland for my liking. It was partly my fault, for not using hot enough paprika, so I rectified it with some tabasco. I also made a little roux with some olive oil and flour and gradually ladled some of the liquid into it to create a thicker, silkier sauce - obviously the sensible point at which to add the flour is at the beginning.

A load of tripe (menudo menudo)
When I was buying my tripe, I made the mistake of being too vague with my ordering. I asked for a little bit of tripe (un poquito de menudo) but what I got was 2 kg of assorted cow's stomach, with a trotter thrown in for good measure. Next time I shall be more specific, but in the meantime I have a couple of bags of tripe waiting in my freezer.

Wild rabbit with Spanish olives

All of a sudden, it's hunting season in Andalucia. It's a bit of a pain if you go into the country, as the place is teeming with guys in camouflage and guns taking potshots at anything that moves, but on the upside stalls all over the market are suddenly offering rabbit, hare, partridge, venison and pigeon, which makes a welcome change from beef and pork.

When I went along to my butcher's the other day, a whole section of his counter was packed full of cute-looking furry bunnies, nestling in among the pots of manteca colorada, so I thought I would try a wild version of my rabbit stew with olives. It seemed only right to honour the wild rabbit with some of Matias' fat verdial olives instead of the tinned black ones I had used the previous time.

1 rabbit, cut into joints
plain flour
olive oil
6 sticks of celery
1/2 onion
2 carrots
3 cloves of garlic
250 g of marinated Spanish olives, together with their marinating liquid
4 ripe tomatoes
a splash of white wine
1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of dried rosemary

  1. Peel and finely chop the onion, slice the celery, peel and slice the carrots, peel and roughly crush the garlic.
  2. Heat plenty of olive oil in your pressure cooker (with the lid off, obviously!), dust the rabbit pieces in plenty of flour, and brown them on both sides in the hot oil. Remove the browned pieces to a plate.
  3. Gently fry the onion, celery, carrot and garlic in the oil.
  4. Return the browned rabbit pieces to the pot, add the tomato, olives (including any marinade liquid), rosemary, salt and a splash of wine, and put the lid on. Bring up to pressure, reduce heat to minimum and cook for 20 minutes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marinating olives: part 3

Having left my olives in to soak for another 5 days (making 12 in total) I reckoned it was safe to marinate. Part 1 of my olive marinating post describes what has to be done to prepare them, while part 2 provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of getting caught shopping around.

Me and Sammy made these this afternoon, after a rather frustrating morning in which it felt that nothing had really been achieved. So it was good to suddenly have 3 kg of home-marinated olives sitting in our kitchen and went some way to getting rid of our feeling of futility, and Sammy topped it off by taking a few photos for the blog.

We kind of made this up as we went along, ignoring the olive salesman's advice about only adding salt when the olives were ready to serve (bearing in mind that we will be away when these are ready to eat, so they have to last a little longer). I shall report back on the results in January.

3 kg of olives which have been soaked in water, changed daily, for 10 days (see earlier post)
250 ml of sherry or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of fine salt
250 ml of boiling water
plenty of cold water
2 bitter oranges
12 cloves of garlic
2 large wild fennel stalks
plenty of wild thyme

2 large jars

  1. Drain the soaked olives
  2. Dissolve the salt in the boiling water, stirring well until it is completely dissolved. Add the vinegar.
  3. Chop the oranges into segments, squash the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, and cut the fennel stalks and sprigs of thyme into short pieces.
  4. Divide the olives between the two jars, adding the the orange segments, garlic, fennel and thyme as you go.
  5. Pour plenty of cold water into each of the jars, until they are about three-quarters full.
  6. Pour half of the vinegar/saltwater mixture into each jar, then top up with more cold water until the olives are completely covered. Shake gently to dislodge any air bubbles.
  7. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive into each jar, so it sits on top of the water, sealing it.
  8. Close the jars and leave in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks before opening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marinating olives: cheating on Matias

Having soaked my olives and changed the water every other day for 6 days, as instructed by the man on the olive stall, I went back to the market today to get my ingredients for stage 2. He gave me a bag containing plenty of wild oregano, some wild thyme, some wild fennel stalks, a couple of heads of garlic and, to my surprise, two bitter oranges.

I wonder if these are the same bitter oranges which grow on the trees in Seville and Cadiz. They're not generally used in Spanish cooking, and as far as I know were treated as ornamental both by the Arabs who presumably brought them here, and also by modern Spaniards. In Cadiz, they drop to the ground and the few which escape the city's street cleaners are left to rot. These, of course, are the oranges which are used to make British marmalade and even quite recently in Seville, a British company had a contract by which they were harvested and then sent to the UK, although there is certainly no local tradition of using them for marmalade or anything else that I am aware of. But apparently they can be used to flavour olives.

I then got some very vague instructions about how to marinade the olives, which seemed to involve adding whatever marinade ingredients I fancied (whole sprigs of herbs, chunks of fennel stalk, squashed whole garlic cloves and chunks of orange) covering them in more water and then adding a small amount of vinegar (not much, half a wine glass) and no salt, which should be added when serving, to which a guy standing next to me nodded vigorous agreement.

My next job was to get hold of a couple of large containers to do the marinating in. I asked at a couple of stalls that specialise in market paraphernalia - bags, paper towels and the like - but had no luck, and realised that my best option was to buy them from my usual supplier of marinated olives, Matías. It felt a bit like cheating. Actually, it felt a lot like cheating, and on my first pass by his stall I was put off by the fact that standing there was the same guy who had been nodding away at the first stall I had bought my marinading ingredients from, so I wandered off to buy some fruit and veg. Ten minutes later I was back, and found myself unwittingly eavesdropping on the following conversation:

Lady customer: These olives are good. Nearly as good as you, Matías! If I had you in my bedroom you'd be in no hurry to leave!
Matías: If you had me in your bedroom you'd be too busy to talk.
Lady customer: Ah, but we're both married.
Matías: All the more fun. (Más morbo todavía)
Lady customer: I don't cheat on anyone.
Matías: Who's talking about cheating?

After Matías' horny customer had left, it was my turn, and I thought I should order plenty of olives to soften him up for my impending betrayal. I'd just asked for half a kilo of verdiales, when who should turn up but the guy from the other stall, who seemed to be trying to assemble a motorbike part for Matías with reference to an English-language manual which neither of them understood. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I played dumb on the linguistic front, ordered another quarter of olives, and then pushed out the boat and bought some mojama (salted, dried tuna) too, before Mister Motorbike Parts finally left. And then I sheepishly bought a couple of 2-litre containers from Matías and headed home to get marinating.

I strained the olives, set out my marinating ingredients but thought I should actually taste the olives before I got started. The man on the olive stall said they should be 'sweet' at this stage, by which I assumed he meant they just shouldn't be overpoweringly bitter. I tasted one and it was fine, but the next one I tried was still completely inedible, so I decided to give the olives another few days of marinating, changing the water daily, and testing the greener of the olives for bitterness.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Marinating olives: part 1

I am a creature of habit, and because I have always lived near one end of my local market in Cadiz, I have tended to concentrate my shopping in that area, too: my regular fruit and veg stall and butcher are both near the main entrance, and while I am more eclectic in my fish shopping, that still leaves a whole bit of the market that I never really wander into.

When I went to the market with my man trolley a couple of days ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to branch out a little (helped by the fact that it was a Tuesday, which is always much quieter than the pandemonium of Friday and Saturday mornings). At the very far end of the market, way beyond my usual territory, I came across a stall with the sign "Productos de la Sierra de Cádiz" (products from the hilly interior of Cadiz province) with a range of stuff including partridges, rabbits, wild herbs, snails and raw olives, and thought it would be fun to try marinating some olives at home.

I had a chat with the stallholder about what needed to be done, and he showed me how to gently crush the olives, then leave them in water for 6 days (changing the water every 2 days) before actually doing the marinating. So I went off with a 3 kg bag of beautiful green and black olives for just 5 euros, and a promise to come back next week to stock up with marinade ingredients.

Stage 1: crushing and washing

3 kg of raw olives

  1. Put plenty of cold water in a large container.
  2. Put the olives on a table or board, and gently crush them by hitting them firmly but not too hard with a mallet or something similar. (We actually used some very sturdy Ikea drinking glasses.)
  3. As you crush the olives, transfer them to the container. Top up with more water if necessary.
  4. Stir the olives around well with your hands, strain off the water and then cover the olives with fresh water.
  5. After 2 days, strain off the water, rinse the olives well, and cover with fresh water.
  6. Repeat again after 2 days.
  7. And again after 2 days. Your olives are now ready for you to start marinating.