(above) Chorizo hanging in a market in Zaragoza…the smell was immense, fragrant and rich.
I want to take a moment of your time to linger on that star of the Spanish sausage world, chorizo. Chorizo is made from coarsely chopped pork and pork fat, seasoned with smoked pimentón (paprika) and salt. It is generally classed as either picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet), depending upon the type of smoked paprika used. There are hundreds of regional varieties of Spanish chorizo, both smoked and unsmoked, which may contain garlic, herbs or other assorted ingredients. Just try them all!
(above) Quick tapas of chorizo grilling on our friend Maria’s balcony in Zaragoza….
Chorizo can be bought as a whole sausage of either soft cooking chorizo, which must be cooked before eating, or a firmer, drier cured sausage which can be sliced and eaten without cooking. It is also sold thinly sliced, like salami, to be enjoyed raw as tapas. Uncooked chorizo is softer to the touch and, when cooked, releases a delicious, succulent, sexy and spicy red oil. As a result recipes using chorizo often do not call for additional oil to be added to the pan since it provides its own. Clever! I mostly use the cured version in my chilli and I love adding it sliced to a tray of roast potatoes for the last twenty minutes. And of course it appears in many paella recipes. I adore cooking paella – it is one of the most relaxing dishes to construct. If you can get hold of a paella pan it is well worth it. I bought mine on line direct from a firm in Valencia. It is 48 cm diameter and you can cook a paella for at least 8 people in it. They do need looking after and a good rub down with olive oil after you have used them. Such TLC will keep the pan in your household for a long time. I also have a 36 cm non stick that is fine for 4 – and also good for frying lots of eggs at the same time!
My first visit to Spain many blue moons ago, was not to the main land but to Majorca. I spent a week there on my own, and the hospitality was quite something. I had some wonderfully bizarre experiences, sitting in a bar, eating slices of manchego cheese watching a really badly dubbed episode of Columbo, with a group of locals. Fortunately, they switched over to a local football match and everyone woke up. We have since enjoyed holidays to Galicia, Menorca, Zaragoza and all along the southern coast of Spain as a family. We are luck to be able to count several Spanish people amongst our best friends, both here and in Spain. They are wonderfully warm and passionate people, who love life and care about food. Galicia brings back happy memories of our time staying in Muros with our good friends Fernando and Carnita. It was just so earthy and fresh. The people were welcoming and some were still marvellously locked in the past. There was a woman, she must have been 70 if she was a day, who could be seen late morning coming back from the market with her shopping bags in each hand, and, wait for it….. a bag on her head, full of potatoes! That was some balancing act! What neck muscles! She would not have been out of place in a wrestling ring. The people next door lived on three floors, the ground floor being given over to live stock – chickens, goats and a pig. My kids loved the pig. Hannah asked what the pig’s name was to which the woman replied, in Spanish fortunately for Hannah (so she didn’t hear the painful truth!) that they did not give names to animals they were going to eat ! The food in Galicia was fantastic and, like the French, they have a festival for everything from sardines to wood carving, to geese or to their local saint. Each one comes with its own food but usually there are the tapas type spreads accompanied by beer and wine tents. Empanadas are everywhere and they are delicious either hot or cold. They are a stuffed pastry fried or more usually in my experience, baked. They are stuffed usually with tuna or sardine or chorizo. It can be other meats too including pork loin or even cheese. The meat or fish is commonly in a tomato, garlic, and onion sauce inside the bread or pastry casing. Due to the large number of Galician immigrants in Latin America, the empanada gallega has also become popular in that region. They are akin I guess to our pasties. Their history is interesting. Empanadas trace their origins to Galicia and Portugal. They first appeared in medieval Iberia during the time of the Moorish invasions. A cookbook published in Catalan in 1520, the ‘Libre del Coch’ by Ruperto de Nola, mentions empanadas filled with seafood among its recipes of Catalan, French, Italian and Arabian food. In turn, it is believed that empanadas and the similar calzones of Italy are both derived from the Arabic meat-filled pies, samosas.
Another ever present at such festivals or tapas bars are croquetas. The Spanish are very fond of their oval or cylindrical croquettes, characterized by a crunchy, golden batter of egg and breadcrumbs around a soft creamy filling speckled with small pieces of chicken, ham, fish or shellfish.
My son, Jack, also adores a large plate of chipirones (below) – baby squid – deep fried. In fact our whole family are squid fans – and possibly our favourite way of devouring them is a la plancha.
The squid is simply fried on a hot plate whole and delivered to your table with drizzled oil, lemon juice and parsley. My daughter adores mayo so has to have a small dipping dish of garlic mayonnaise on the side. Fair enough! One of my favourite beach side bars in Spain is called Bar Rustic in Cala en Porter in Menorca. Hard to beat a plate of their chiperones served as above. It’s a great spot to watch the sun go down over the sea….I can just sit back with some tapas and a glass of wine to hand….and dream!