Spanish food

You are currently browsing articles tagged Spanish food.

Artisan foods at shop in Santiago de Compostela. Photo by David Lansing.

San Simón is a Gallego mountain cheese and until recently was hard to find in restaurants and shops. This slightly smoked cheese is beautiful to look at, with the appearance of a polished brass knob. It looks like an artifact. Slice it horizontally, so it won’t dry out, and you find an interior that is dense and yellow with a creamy texture.

Cabrales is named for the Asturian town where it is produced. It is a blue cheese, cured in the cool, damp caves found in the nearby Picos de Europa mountains.

It is wrapped in maple leaves, giving its rind a slight ochre tint, which contrasts beautifully with the blue penicillium mold. Cabrales is very creamy, salty, and assertive. It coats the mouth when you eat it, giving you plenty of reason to drink more cider to prepare your palate for the next bite, and more cider. It is widely available in better restaurants all over the country.

Afuega’l Pitu is from the Asturian town of Oviedo. This is a valley cheese, and is salted. Sometimes the makers add a bit of paprika to it for variety. Before you buy you should ask first if it had paprika. At the very least, ask for a taste because it will be gladly given. For an Atlanctic cheese it’s a bit on the dry side, with a granular quality, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth. It has a nutty flavor and a long finish. This is a cheese you can really linger over.

Tetilla (literally, nipple) from Galicia is so named because of its distinctive shape. One wonders if the original was in any way a representation of that of its maker. It is a quickly ripening cheese, full fat, and with a mild and sweet, not a salty, taste, Tetilla has a very creamy texture. It melts easily, which makes it good for cooking, if the Spanish were given to cooking with cheese. Perhaps they will be some day.

Ahumado de Aliva is from the area around Liebana in Cantabria and was originally made by shepherds during their stays in the highland pastures. This cheese is smoked over juniper wood, giving it a unique aroma. It reminds us of gin. Its taste is like butter, rather mild except for the smoke. A very good cheese with beer or white wine.

Tags: , ,

Maluca Duran preparing centollas at Posta do Sol. Photo by David Lansing.

Driving around yesterday afternoon, I was starving. Was it the dewy green hills dotted with spring lambs and baby calves that made me so ravenous? Or the rivers and estuaries with their perfumed air of salt and seaweed? Or maybe it was Eva describing in minute detail how her grandmother would prepare Galicia’s signature dish, pulpo a la gallega.

“As a little girl, I would watch her dip it in the hot water, take it out, dip it in again, take it out. On and on. You see, it’s all about cooking the octopus at the right temperature for the right amount of time.”

And then she would tell me about some of her other favorite Galician dishes: the sweet berberechos (cockles) and the tiny, much-prized goose barnacles known as percebes, “Which look like your fingernails, oh, and the centollas! Oh my god how I loved centollas!”

Centollas, she told me, were “something like spider crabs, only bigger and sweeter.” And she knew just where to get them: at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Cambados where the ria de Arousa, one of the five rivers that make up the Rias Baixas, flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

It took us awhile but after stopping and asking for directions a couple of times, Eva found the restaurant she was looking for: Posta do Sol. It was still early (not yet two) so we got a good table, close to the open kitchen where we could see (and hear) an old woman smacking giant crab claws with a large cleaver. “You see?” said Eva excitedly, “Centollas!”

This is how you eat the spider crabs at Posta do Sol. Photo by David Lansing.

The old woman smacking crabs was named Maluca Duran. She wiped her hands on an apron that looked more like a surgical outfit, covering her from neck to feet, and chatted with us. The restaurant, which she started with her husband, had been there for 45 years, she said. “No,” said her daughter who had joined us. “More than that.”

Maluca shrugged and smiled. “Who can remember?” she said.

It was still a family-run restaurant, said Maluca, who told me her real name was Amalia, “But people call me Maluca,” and who admitted to being closer to 80 than to 70. Her daughter, Masu, waited tables and helped cook. Her son-in-law, Manolo, was the bartender and also helped bring food to the table.

“Go sit!” said Maluca. Without us ordering, food suddenly began to appear at our table. First a plate of bright orange shrimp, their heads and tails still on, and then bowls of tasty mussels and the famous goose barnacles, and finally platters of the local centollas which were every bit as sweet and juicy as Eva had promised, all washed down with a couple of bottles of local Albariño. A meal fit for a king. All I wanted to do afterwards was take a nap. But Eva had other plans for us.

Tags: ,

Cocido, the dullest dish in Spain.

The following is an excerpt from the excellent Lonely Planet book, World Food: Spain, which, sadly, is out of print:

Now to that other famous Madrid-style dish, cocido a la madrileña. The word ‘cocido’ is simply the past participial form of the verb, to cook. It is a stew of chicken, chorizo sausage, maybe some ham or other cured meat, potatoes, cabbage and chickpeas and macaroni. Eat a dinner of it and it will seem to stay with you for three days. It is typically eaten ‘from front to back,’ starting with the broth along with the macaroni or rice, then you eat the chickpeas, then you eat the meat. You can do this at one meal, or you can do it over a span of three days. We recommend the three day approach. We have never seen anybody stagger from the table having downed an entire dinner of cocido. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘miracle of the loaves and the fishes’ because though there might not seem to be enough as you look at it, in the end everyone is full and there is always some left over.

But this is about the dullest dish in Spain. There are so many good things to eat that we don’t know why any non-Spaniard would bother with cocido except as an experiment in culinary anthropology. It’s not that we think it bad. It doesn’t have enough taste or smell to be bad. Its long cooking in much water seems to strip its good parts of their native goodness. And yet the Madrileños swoon for this stuff. They dream of it when away from home. They even compose songs to it. We tell no lie.

Tags: ,