A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. . This is the first in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, or by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway.
Even in this, the year of our Lord 2017, being a vegetarian in some western European countries is not unchallenging. As my host in Andalusia put it: “the Spanish don’t actually understand what being a vegetarian means. To them, fish is vegetarian, chicken is vegetarian, and some even think that pork is vegetarian. They just about acknowledge that steak is a meat and that some people might not eat it.” In Andalusia this is moreso the case than in Catalunya.
With this in mind, it came as somewhat of a surprise when my host in Andalusia told me that he hadn’t eaten red meat for over 20 years. He mostly cooks at home, and eats a lot of cheese when dining out. I managed to try morcilla when I was in Andalusia, otherwise my Spanish red meat experience is limited to Catalunya. Regardless, I will boldly say that meat is something that the Spanish do well across the country. Being that I have stayed in two coastal areas, I can but wonder what additional treasures the interior holds. But for now, here are my carniverous cavorts in Catalunya.
Steak / Fielete / Tall Que es Pella
Steak, glorious steak! The special occasion meal ad infinitum. The family’s meat of choice, consumed at least twice per week. Indeed, it would surely be all of our meat of choice were finances and blood pressures were not issues that we had to take into consideration. My reason for trying to cut down on red meat is based loosely on an article that I read about cows being one of the greatest environmental risks facing our planet today. As it turns out, my concerns over the environment aren’t nearly enough to necessitate me to turn down a steak whenever there is the potential for it, which, as it turns out, is pleasantly often.
A friend of mine once sang the praises of Slimming World as under its guidelines most of her meals were steak and chips. As far as I can tell, she did not lose any weight. But it’s the thought that counts, as they say.
The Spanish do not, I am sure, put so much thought into the relative merits and pitfalls of filete. They like it so they cook it and they eat it. If we look at the new Spanish, particularly the Argentinians, their love of carne de vache is so great that it forms a substantial part of their national identity, dammit.
At home, the steak is either cooked a la plancha or frito.
Filete a la plancha (griddled steak) is the healthier of the two options, and the style they serve it most frequently and with the better cuts of meat. Adults have ribeye, rump or top loin and the children a softer cut. Everyone takes it bloody as hell. If we’re having steak, we’re having it properly. When you have good meat, treat it with respect. A little bit of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and flash cook it. There is nothing specifically Spanish about this, but it is a lesson to be taken in life (something which in theory I would like to do when trying out a steak restaurant is to order a steak well done and see if they let me. If they do, I will leave).
Approximately once every nine days, when the family either decides to cater more to a child’s palate or see that they need to use up the inferior meet, the steak is served frito, or breaded and fried: “chicken fried” if we are to go with the American term. The mother told me that the Catalunya for the cut of meat which they use for this is tall que es pella, or onglet/hanger, a popular cut for the carnicero and customer alike due to its value, ease of preparation, and durability. Even chicken fried it is served quite bloody, and is bloody tasty as a result. I put this down to the skill of the chef.
Mop up the juices with some bread, and feel that your intermittent iron deficiency is being remedied.
The mother says that she likes the eat her steak with white wine. My wine knowledge is lacking to be able to formulate a strong argument to the contrary, but I will say that my wine pairing of choice is either Malbec or Rioja. I accept the argument that for summer it is too hot for red, and I also accept her statement “I can have Cava any time. Cava for breakfast” but white wine over red for steak is not something that I am willing to accept.
Blood Sausage / Morcilla
A favourite tapas of the Italian girl at my Andalusian Workaway.
With her limited English she was unable to communicate to me what morcilla was other than that it was “like sausage”. It is indeed like sausage in that it is a meat and is sausage shaped, but it is a blood sausage which can better be described as essentially an (oftentimes) spicy black pudding. She was able to express, however, that the morcilla that we had was not representative of how good morcilla could be (and, in this particular case, also not spicy).
As with all the other tapas at this restaurant, it was served on small slices of white bread that was neither big enough nor strong enough to act as a useful vessel for the morcilla. But it was a preferable choice to that taken by two other members of our convoy, who opted to not stop for food so that they could get back to the homestead more quickly but instead ended up lost in a rambla for two hours. And that, kids, is how I came upon the life lesson that you should never not stop for beer and tapas.
Pork blood, onions, fat and rice / is twice as nice / as having lice. Add some spice? / That’s my vice.
Take a look at my Spanish sausage.
One of the most famous and well-traveled of the Spanish ingredients, featuring regularly in menus and supermarkets across Europe and the Americas. If a chorizo has never made its way into your shopping basket, you should take a long, hard look at yourself and ask “why not?”. Even vegetarians and vegans have options.
As we all know, a chorizo is a type of cured, smoed sausage which can be eaten cooked or uncooked, on its own as a tapa or added to dishes to add a certain je ne sais quoi (meaty, spicy goodness). It is seasoned with pimentón (smoked paprika) and its flavour profile ranges from sweet to spicy depending on type.
At a food festival in Canterbury two years ago, the only thing that my mother bought was some uncooked chorizo which I believe she proclaimed was “deee-licious”. It is far less common for chorizo to require cooking before eating, but this is preferable for those of you who may have found the traditional chorizo too tough on the old chompers.
The uncle of the host mother brought along a gift basket which included five types of chocolate, a cake, candy for the kids, and a chorizo. Spot the odd one out; spot the beloved national ingredient. And hold for surprise as I tell you that it was the chorizo not los dulces which were finished first.
Here is a girl who loves a stew, hurrah hurrah. A Catalan stew is just for you, hurrah hurrah.
My broken Spanish review: “Possiblé paella o esta es mi, como se dice “favourite?” “favorito.” “Si. Mi favorito.” “Vale. Bien.”
As I took another piece of bread and was offered more sauce, the mother declared “now here is a girl who definitely likes the Spanish food!”
My hypothetical death row meal used to be ribs, corn and fries. It was later amended to a really good steak, then intermittently crispy seafood noodles, but on reflection – and I have had nothing but time to reflect for the past few months – it would probably be a good stew. My mother’s stew is one of my favourite dishes in the world. Then Chinese hotpot, boeuf bourguignon, scouse, yadda yadda yadda: I am a girl who mucho gusta stews. A humble dish. A peasant dish. A perfect dish. One that satisfies our basest instincts, which sings to our primal desires. Mwah, with some red wine. Perfecto. A rich, Autumnal traditional Catalan dish eaten in the mountains of the French-Catalan Pyrenees.
Now for some vague cooking instructions: lightly fry beef; fry onions and tomatoes and then add the strips of beef; add wine, reduce, add water; add mushrooms (the family pick their own mushrooms); simmer for at least one and a half hours. Meanwhile, prepare the picada sauce – one of the typical sauces in Catalan cuisine. There are many different ways to make the picada, but commonly it includes garlic, saffron and parsley; add just before serving.
Serve. Eat. And just try and stop a smile from creeping over your face.
Find more carne in part two.