Rabbit Filé Gumbo

rabbit filé gumbo

Just over a year ago, I set out to make a rabbit gumbo, but got distracted and made a pheasant gumbo instead! Having come across some andouille and a rabbit, at the bottom of the freezer this week, it seemed right to set things straight.

Gumbo is a type of stew which originated in Louisiana around the early part of the eighteenth century and comes from a mixture of cultures. The name itself comes from the African word for okrangombo or quingombo (used to thicken the stew), but a filé gumbo contains ground sassafras leaves instead, also a thickener and flavouring (originally used by the indigenous Choctaw Indians).

Gumbos can be made with most meats, (especially wild ones) including alligator, chicken, duck, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, veal, or, seafood like crab, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, etc. Meat combinations and seafood combinations are common, but it’s unusual to have meat and seafood mixed together. However, both should contain andouille, originally a French smoked pork sausage, that was adapted and remade by German settlers to Louisiana. If you can’t find an American andouille in the UK, smoked Polish sausage (from most supermarkets) would be the best alternative.

Gumbo should start with a roux – normally fat and or oil cooked with flour to create a thickener in traditional French cuisine, but in Louisiana this is cooked further until it takes a toasted chocolate colour. Okra and filé can be added later – some combine the two but most use either or. There’s also some debate over which oil or fat to use, any of the following are acceptable: butter, lard, chicken fat, goose fat, olive oil, groundnut oil, etc. In New Orleans, one can buy buckets of pre-made roux in shops and supermarkets.

To complicate things, there are two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers, when garlic is used, it becomes a  holy trinity. It seems to me that a trinity made with sweet peppers comes from Spanish cuisine, because a French mirepoix normally contains carrots instead.

jointed rabbit

Rabbit Filé Gumbo recipe (serves 4):

1 rabbit (jointed)
1 lb andouille sausage (sliced)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 lb okra (sliced)
1 heaped teaspoon goose fat
1 cup of olive oil (or other oil/fat)
1 cup of plain flour
3/4 pint of rabbit or chicken stock
2 dessertspoonfuls Cajun seasoning: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) mixed together
2 bay leaves
1 dessertspoon fresh coriander (finely chopped)
2 teaspoonfuls of cayenne pepper
2 dessertspoonfuls of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
2 or 3 teaspoonfuls of Tabasco Sauce
a squirt of anchovy paste (to taste)
a splash of red wine vinegar

to serve:

1 cup brown basmati rice per person (or your preferred rice)
1 teaspoon gumbo filé powder per person
a sprinkle fresh coriander (finely chopped)

First of all, rub the jointed rabbit with Cajun Seasoning and 2 additional teaspoons of cayenne pepper. Cover the meat and leave in the fridge overnight so the spices permeate.

rabbit browning

Take the rabbit out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking, so that it comes to room temperature. Using a large cast iron casserole, brown the rabbit pieces in some of the olive oil. Do this in stages rather than crowding the meat. Remove the browned rabbit to a plate.


Next brown the sliced andouille and reserve.

goose fat

Once the meat is done, add the remaining oil and a teaspoon of goose fat to the pan.


Stir the flour into the hot oil – to make a good Cajun style roux, you will need to keep stirring or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! I do this on a hot flame and stir furiously for about 20 minutes. Initially, there’s very little change in colour, but when it does go, it can be quite quick – I am inclined to turn the heat down a little when this happens, to slow things down a bit. After a minute or two the flame goes back up again. This stage is hard work and requires a good arm and lots of concentration. A chocolate brown roux tastes biscuity, a bit like well cooked pastry.

holy trinity

Once you have a decent looking roux of the desired colour, turn off the heat for a few minutes before stirring in a holy trinity of onion, celery, pepper and garlic – with the gas back on low, cook for a few minutes.


I went Creole as opposed to Cajun, by grating in 5 tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate the wet side until you are left with a disk of tomato skin in your hand. Dispose of the skin or save it for stock.


Turn the heat up, pour in the cold rabbit stock and when it starts to bubble add the Worcestershire Sauce, red wine vinegar and bay leaves.

submerged rabbit

Submerge the browned rabbit pieces into the gumbo, like nutria swimming in a swamp. Put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 150º C for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally.


After an hour and a half, remove the rabbit and allow it to cool before removing the skin and bones. Slice it into chunks before returning it to the pot with the okra, browned andouille sausage and a couple of splashes of Tabasco sauce. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the casserole back into the oven for another couple of hours at 120º C.

rabbit gumbo

Ordinarily a gumbo made with okra (which has thickening properties when cooked) doesn’t need the addition of filé powder (which comes from grinding the leaves of the sassafras tree). However, okra is seasonal, so expect to find it used more often during summer and autumn (fall). Ground sassafras leaves also have thickening properties plus a subtle flavour, but should be added at the end of cooking, because over time (with heat), the texture becomes stringy. The French word filé actually means yarn or thready.  So, if you expect to have gumbo leftovers, sprinkle a teaspoon into the bottom of your serving bowls (not the cooking vessel) and let the gumbo stand for a minute or two before eating. This way you achieve flavour and thickness without string. For the uninitiated, filé imparts a subtle sweetness reminiscent of flowers and it does taste very good with okra.

The traditional accompaniment to gumbo is rice, which can make the dish go further if unexpected guests arrive, as can more stock – gumbo can be severed thick like stew or thinner like soup. Sprinkle a little chopped coriander (or parsley) on top for presentation. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Los Conejos Malditos (The Cursed Rabbits), a Tempranillo from Castilla-La Mancha, with the gumbo.

Other Rabbit posts

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Steak and Oyster Pie

steak and oyster pie

In Victorian times, Britain produced about 500 million oysters a year! These molluscs were abundant and one could buy 3 for a penny on the streets of London. Sadly, popularity led to overfishing in both England and France – the French took action and allowed oyster stocks to recover, while a Royal Commission (here) thought the population would recuperate naturally and did nothing. Today, oysters are still relatively cheap in France, while in the UK they have become a luxury commodity, selling in excess of £1 each!


In Dickensian London, pie shops were immensely popular and Piemen hawked their wares around the public houses – pies were the fast food of the day. Oysters were often used as pie filling, dating back to Medieval times, when eating meat was prohibited by the church for one-third of the year. Steak and oyster pie (and suet pudding) had become common by the early to mid 19th Century as per the recipe in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families (1846). By the time Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was published (in 1861), it would appear that oysters were in decline and that kidneys were replacing these bivalves. Jane Grigson mentions the inclusion of mushrooms for a traditional steak, kidney and oyster pudding, in her book on English Food – interestingly mushrooms were not commercially cultivated until after World War II in the UK and would have been a luxury ingredient during the mid 19th Century, whereas oysters were incredibly cheap and considered to be the food of the poor.

I decided to skip kidneys, since steak and kidney pie is still popular today and I’m quite sure that the strong kidney flavour would overwhelm that of the delicate oysters.

shin of beef

Steak and Oyster Pie:

2 lb (1kg) diced shin of beef
6 oysters
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
8 closed cap mushrooms (chopped)
a dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
a level teaspoon thyme
1 glass red wine
3/4 pint beef stock
3 dessertspoons seasoned plain flour
2 bay leaves
2 large squirts anchovy paste (or to taste)
a dessertspoon tomato purée
2 teaspoons Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup
a splash red wine vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
a few large slugs of olive oil

Season 3 dessertspoons plain flour with salt and pepper. Dice the beef shin, dust it with flour, brown it in extra virgin olive oil in 2 or 3 batches, then remove to a plate.


Fry the onion in the same olive oil and pan as the beef – ideally use a cast iron casserole, which can be used throughout the cooking. There will be flour stuck to the bottom of the casserole, this will loosen during the cooking process and with a bit of stirring – it will help thicken and flavour the dish.

garlic, mushrooms and parsley

Once the onions are soft, add the mushrooms, garlic and parsley – cook until the mushrooms become moist.


Return the beef to the casserole and mix in the anchovy paste, tomato purée, thyme, mushroom ketchup (a very popular Victorian condiment) and bay leaves.


Pour on the liquid – red wine, red wine vinegar and beef stock. This should be quite thick – do hang on to any remaining seasoned flour – it can be added to the pie filling during cooking, if it’s a bit too wet.


Bring to a simmer then cook the filling in a preheated oven at about 160º C for 2 -3 hours, or until the beef is tender. Beef shin is a lovely, relatively cheap, flavoursome cut which breaks down well with slow cooking. Allow to cool before putting the filling in the pastry – if it’s hot the pastry will melt!


Shortcrust Pastry:

For a traditional pie, one needs traditional pastry made with lard. Lard will produce beautifully flakey pastry (that’s more elastic than all butter) with a strong pie crust. It’s common to use a 50/50 mixture of lard to butter for the flakey properties mentioned above combined with the sweeter flavour of butter.

15 oz (425g) plain flour
3.7 oz (104g) salted butter
3.7 oz (104g) lard
a pinch of salt
cold water
1 egg to brush the pastry

In 1900 lard was just as popular in the UK as butter. People used it for frying, baking and as a spread for bread and toast. After World War II butter became more fashionable and then in the 70s, when people became health conscious, lard lost further ground to margarine and cooking oils. The tables have turned somewhat now – margarine is out of fashion, as hydrogenated fats have proved to be unhealthy, while sunflower and vegetable oils break down to become carcinogenic when cooked to high temperatures. Interestingly lard contains less fat and cholesterol than butter – really!

Make the pastry while the pie filling is cooking. I usually do this in a food processor – it’s incredibly quick and easy, though it can be neaded by hand. Allow the pastry to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before rolling it out.

baking beans

Cut off 1/3 of the pastry and save it (in the fridge, for the pastry lid). Roll out the base on a lightly floured piece of marble or work surface. Grease the dish with butter – I save old butter wrappers in the fridge specifically for this. Roll the pastry out to be slightly larger than the baking dish, roll it around the rolling pin (loosely), roll it back over the top of the dish and gently work it in to fit the corners.  Prick the base all over with the tines of a fork. Bake blind with a sheet of baking paper and baking beans on top for 10 – 25 minutes until it takes a little colour and feels firm to the touch. I took the beans out after 10 minutes because the sides were getting crisp, while the base was still soggy.  I put the pastry back in the oven, knocking back any bubbles on the base with the back of my hand every 5 minutes or so.

baked blind

Note the slight biscuity colour. Expect a little shrinkage – this is a deep dish and even with a slight collapse to the right, there’s ample pastry for the filling. Allow the pastry to cool for about 5 minutes and spread the beef out evenly.


Hold an oyster in your least dominant hand with a cloth, flat side up and pointed end towards the knife hand. An oyster knife is ideal, but a small pointed knife will do. Press down on the flat side and wiggle the knife into the pointed end until the oyster’s hinge gives. The lid should come off cleanly. Cut around the oyster to release it and try not to spill any of it’s juice.

pie filling

Pour the oyster juices evenly over the pie filling and arrange the liberated oysters on top. If you live in France, or on the Gulf of Mexico (where oysters can be cheap), use a dozen or so oysters!

pastry lid

Trim any excess pastry around the edge with a sharp knife. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid. Beat the white of an egg and brush around the pie edge. Roll the pie lid on top and work around the seal with you fingers to make sure it’s closed. Poke a few holes in the lid to allow any heat to escape. Brush the lid with egg white – this will aid in browning. Add a decoration made with leftover pastry if you wish. Brush with egg white.


Bake the pie for 30 – 45 minutes or until nicely browned on top, in a preheated oven, at 200º C. Let the pie rest for 10 minutes before serving.


As expected, this was a delicious crumbly shortcrust pastry with no leaks and it acted as a perfect container – as per a Victorian pie. The flavour of oyster was subtly all pervasive adding to an already delicious beef and mushroom filling. This could be the best pie I’ve ever eaten! Perhaps the Dickensian poor lived like kings …though only in a manner of speaking, relative to the price of oysters back in 1850!

Serve with celeriac mash, seasonal vegetables and a glass of Ostras Pedrín! a modest Cabernet Sauvignon from Valencia.

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Sopa de Cebolla

onion soup

Most people associate onion soup with France, but in reality it has been around since the time of the Romans. Because of it’s cheap ingredients, onion soup has always been the food of the poor. The modern French version is said to come from les Halles in Paris, which was once a huge market at the heart of the city, this was sadly demolished in 1971, when it moved to Rungis dans le Banlieue near Orly Airport.


But enough of French onion soup, this is a recipe for the Spanish version, made with pimentón de la Vera, to keep the cold out and grow hairs on your chest!

Receta de Sopa de Cebolla (serves 3)

2 large onions (sliced in rings)
1 head of garlic (finely chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 pimiento rojo (chopped)
1 pint of home made chicken stock
1 glass of red wine
a splash sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
a level dessertspoon of flour
a large squirt of anchovy paste
olive oil as required (if the onions start to look dry)
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
grated Manchego cheese (to cover the croutons)

sliced onion

Slice two large onions (Spanish if you can get them) and cook them slowly in lots of olive oil.

onion caramelising

Start with half a cup of oil and add more if the pan starts to look dry. Stir often or they will burn!

caramelised onion

The idea is not so much to brown the onions, but to sofregir (underfry or poach) them. This is a particular Catalan and Spanish cooking method to bring out the sweetness and produce soft sticky onions that are almost falling apart. With two sliced onions, this took about an hour, but there is a heat diffuser under my terracotta pot, which slows the cooking down and heats the pan evenly – it’s not necessary to stir constantly with this and all the other food prep can be done just so long as the onions get stirred every 5 minutes or so.


While the onions are cooking, burn the outside of a red pepper – on the hob, under the grill (broiler) or on a barbecue. When black all over, put the pepper into a paper bag or plastic container, so that it sweats.

pimiento rojo

After 10 minutes or so, the blackened skin will peel off easily to reveal a sweet and smokey pimiento rojo beneath. Remove the stalk and seeds, then chop.


When the onions are soft and sticky add the celery, carrot and garlic.

roasted red pepper

Next add the roasted red pepper,


followed by a dessertspoon of chopped parsley.


Sprinkle on the pimentón, thyme and flour – mix to create a roux.


Stir in the red wine, sherry vinegar, stock, anchovy paste and bay leaves. Check the seasoning, cover with a lid or foil and remove to a preheated oven at 180º C for 90 – 120 minutes.


In the meantime, slice some stale bread, rub it with olive oil on both side and bake it in the oven until golden brown. When the soup ready is put it into individual oven proof bowls grate some Manchego cheese onto the croutons and place one in each bowl. Put the soup and croutons under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately (though one of the fantastic things about croutons, is that they maintain their crunch for quite some time in a bowl of soup) with a touch more parsley for decoration.

sopa de cebolla

The flavour is predominantly of onion (as you would expect) with sweet pimiento rojo and a reassuring warm smokey kick from the pimentón. The grated Manchego on top of the croutons adds a perfect umami (savoury) finish. I recommend that you drink a fino sherry with the sopa de cebolla and in particular, Fino Cebolla from Bodegas El Monte.

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Pheasant with Cauliflower and Harissa

pheasant, cauliflower and harissa

Pheasant is back in season and there’s much to be said for it’s flavoursome meat. These birds can take just about any type of seasoning that you’d care throw at them, without losing their own identity …and having lived outdoors, they contain less fat than a chicken! Here, I’ve marinated and baked a pheasant with North African harissa and lemon, along with cauliflower, onions and potatoes to great effect.


Pheasant were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans and were definitely well established by the time of the Normans. It should be relatively easy to buy pheasant from a decent butcher during the shooting season, October 1st to February 1st and from December onwards they should be the size of a small to medium chicken.


1 large pheasant (jointed)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 dessertspoons harissa paste
3 dessertspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 dessertspoon fresh coriander, also known as cilantro (chopped)
the juice of half a lemon

jointed pheasant

Joint the pheasant and remove any small pieces of meat from underneath the carcass – do use the bones for stock.


Chop, squeeze and mix up the marinade.


Marinate the pheasant in a suitable container for 24 hours in the fridge – don’t use metal, it may react badly with the acid in the lemon juice.

Pheasant with Cauliflower and Harissa recipe (serves 2):

1 marinated pheasant
3 or 4 medium potatoes (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
6 cloves garlic (sliced down the middle)
1/4 cauliflower (florets)
1/2 lemon (sliced)
a few sprigs of thyme
1/4 pint game stock
the marinade
a small squirt of anchovy paste
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
olive oil

Take the marinated pheasant out of the fridge for an hour before cooking, so that it comes to room temperature.


Preheat the oven to 200º C and poach the sliced potatoes in plenty of olive oil for 20 minutes.


Next, place the the slices of onion and the garlic on top of the potatoes, drizzle with a little more olive oil and a sprinkling of black pepper. Return to the oven for for 10 minutes.

marinated pheasant with cauliflower

Spread the pheasant pieces out on top of the baking dish, along with the sliced lemon thyme sprigs and cauliflower florets. Dip the cauliflower in the marinade first to flavour it. Mix and warm the marinade, game stock and anchovy paste, before pouring evenly over the pheasant. Cook for an hour in the oven at 200º C.

baked pheasant, cauliflower and harissa

Pour off the liquid at the end and let the meat and vegetables rest under a canopy of foil. Remove most of the oil (cool and refrigerate – use it to make roast potatoes or similar on another day) and make a roux, then gravy, with half a dessertspoon of flour and the juices. If necessary, add a little more game stock and harissa, if it needs an extra kick.

harissa gravy

The gravy makes for a fantastic explosion of harissa heat and citrus in the mouth, which goes perfectly with pheasant and cauliflower. If you can’t access pheasant this will be brilliant with chicken! I recommend drinking a glass or two of Pheasant Gully Shiraz Cabernet, from South Australia, with the dish.

Other Pheasant posts

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Bull Negre

bull negre

Bull Negre is a Catalan blood sausage made entirely with pork. The name may look like it’s made with male cow parts, but in Catalan bull is pronounced buwee. The sausage contains minced pork, blood and other meat, such as: bacon fat, pork cheeks, innards, pork face, kidney, face and neck fat cubes. It is seasoned with salt and pepper, then flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and sometimes saffron. Some specialty bull contains, mushrooms, peppers or pistachios. This is an artisanal sausage stuffed into natural pig intestines before boiling. Like other black puddings, there’s also a white version, without blood, called bull blanc.

sliced bull

Unlike most common European black puddings, bull is a cured sausage and is normally sliced and served at room temperature – it has a wonderful savoury taste with a slightly crumbly texture.

pa amb tomàquet

It’s particularly good with pan con tomate – bread or toast rubbed with raw garlic, followed by half a tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

formatge d’ovella

One might also enjoy it served with a slice of queso de oveja – sheep’s cheese.


Whenever possible, I like to buy my bull from La Moianesa in the Boqueria, Barcelona. This is a busy, family run business where the ladies have fabulous infectious smiles – it always makes me happy shopping there.

Having eaten half my blood sausage cold, I looked up recipes for bull in cooking. There weren’t many, but I did see a suggestion for chopping up the pudding and adding it to a stew. There was some leftover lamb shoulder in the fridge and dry white beans to hand, so I knew just what to make – white beans with lamb and bull negre.

Receta de Alubias Blancas, Bull Negre y Cordero (serves 4):

1lb (500g) leftover lamb shoulder (diced)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 inch (2.5cm) bull negre
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 large stick of celery (chopped)
2 small peppers (chopped) – red and green, but a single large one would be just as good
4 medium tomatoes (grated)
1/2 lb (250g) navy/haricot beans (dry weight, double this if using canned)
2 squirts anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a splash or two of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
cracked black pepper to taste
1 pint (1/2 litre) homemade lamb stock
extra virgin olive oil

alubias blancas con cordero

Chop the bacon and brown it in hot olive oil. Remove to a plate when done. Turn the heat down and gently poach (sofreír) the chopped onion, until it is soft. When the onion becomes sticky, grate in 4 tomatoes – cut them in half, shred the wet side and discard the skin. Stir the tomato in, along with the chopped garlic. Return the bacon to the dish along with the cumin and pimentón. Mix in the red and green peppers along with the celery, followed by the bay leaves, sherry vinegar and anchovy paste. Sprinkle on cracked black pepper to taste. Add the precooked beans, lamb and stock. I normally soak dried beans and pulses for 1 hour in boiling water, followed by the recommended cooking time (around 10 minutes) in a pressure cooker.

estofdo con bull

Chop the bull negre and sprinkle on top – stir in to add flavour.


Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 1/2 hours on low, then allow to thicken uncovered for a further 30 minutes.

alubias blancas, bull negre y cordero

The stock made with the lamb shoulder bone and the fatty off cuts made my lips stick together. It tasted pretty good before I added the bull negre, but the blood sausage subtly turned the flavour up to 11!

Serve with toasted sourdough bread. I recommend you wash this down with a glass of El Cordero y las Virgenes (The Lamb and the Virgins) by Fil.loxera & Cía from Clariano in Valencia.

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Alubias Rojas con Garbanzos y Chorizo

red beans with chickpeas and chorizo

Red beans with chickpeas and chorizo is the kind of hearty stew that a Galician or Andalucian farmer might eat before setting out to plough a field with oxen, in a time before tractors. Being made with beans, chickpeas and potatoes the stew provides carbohydrate energy for extremely hard work on a low budget. Dried beans and chickpeas make up the bulk of the stew, other vegetables are seasonal and chorizo contains the flavour and protein. Cured chorizo is a fantastic ingredient which keeps for long periods of time – I sliced up a whole sarta chorizo picante (horseshoe shaped – both ends tied together with string) for an indulgent meal, but when times were hard a farmer or shepherd might only have used an inch.


Chickpeas were domesticated many millennia ago between Turkey and Jericho. They are a staple food throughout the Mediterranean and India.

alubias rojas

Beans of all types are incredibly popular in Spain, most of which arrived after the discovery of the New World – the common Mediterranean bean before that time was the fava or broad bean, first domesticated in Israel 10,000 years ago. Spanish alubias rojas are a small red bean (similar to red kidney beans, but rounder) grown in the north of Spain. Use red kidney beans if the Spanish variety is unavailable.

I particularly like the texture of beans and pulses cooked from dried – they have more bite, whereas tinned are softer. Using a pressure cooker means that dried legumes can be reconstituted without a long overnight soak. Immerse in water overnight, if you wish, or cook as per your pressure cooker instructions and do feel free to substitute canned pulses.

Alubias Rojas con Garbanzos y Chorizo receta (serves 4):

1 hot chorizo ring (sliced)
2 slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 large ripe tomatoes (grated)
1 carrot (chopped)
1 medium to large potato (cubed)
1 green pepper (chopped)
250g dried chickpeas (double the weight for tinned)
250g dried red beans (double the weight for tinned)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
2 dessertspoons sherry vinegar
1 pint chicken stock
2 large squirts anchovy paste
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoon chopped parsley
cracked black pepper (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil


Slice the chorizo about 1/2 an inch thick (0.5 cm) and brown in hot olive oil. Remove to a plate when done.


Do the same with the chopped bacon.


Turn the heat down and gently poach (sofreír) the chopped onion, until it is soft. This will take 20 minutes or so.


When the onion becomes sticky, grate in 4 tomatoes – cut them in half, shred the wet side and discard the skin.


Stir the tomato in, along with the chopped garlic.

chorizo and bacon

Return the chorizo and bacon to the dish along with the pimentón.

pimiento verde y zanahoria

Mix in the green pepper and carrot,

patata y perejil

followed by the cubed potato, parsley, bay leaves, sherry vinegar and anchovy paste. Sprinkle on cracked black pepper to taste.


Add the beans, chickpeas and stock – cover and allow to simmer for a couple of hours, until the stew becomes thick and unctuous.

alubias rojas con garbanzos y chorizo

Check the seasoning and sprinkle some parsley on top before serving with crusty sourdough bread. I recommend that you wash this down with a glass of the funky red Pim Pam Poom from Saó del Coster in the Priorat wine region of Cataluña.

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Sardinas con Verduras

sardinas con verduras

Sardines and pilchards are part of the herring fish family Clupeidae (the UK classifies sardines as being young pilchards). These are an inexpensive and sustainable oily fish often served fresh and fried, or preserved in salt, olive oil, escabeche, etc. Sardine comes from the Latin sardina and Ancient Greek sardínē or sardínos, of Sardò, Greek for Sardinia, which had an abundance of the fish. “Athenaios quotes a fragmentary passage from Aristotle mentioning the fish sardinos, referring to the sardine or pilchard.” Some doubts have been raised about Ancient Greeks sourcing fish from an island 800 miles away from Athens, but they definitely had fish factories just across the Mediterranean, in Empúries (Cataluña) from the 6th Century B.C., so I’m quite sure that sardines would have been preserved in jars with oil or salt for export, just like anchovies were back then.

sardines cleaned

Sardines are associated with festivals in Greece, Portugal and Spain. In Portugal grilled sardines are cooked on the street at the Feast of St. Anthony and in Spain there’s a Burial of the Sardine fiesta, on Ash Wednesday, to mark the end of Mardi Gras. A large brightly coloured paper maché sardine is marched in a funeral procession, which culminates in it’s burning on a funeral pyre. Originally, back in the 18th Century, King Carlos III ordered barrels full of sardines, as a feast for his loyal servants, before the onset of Lent. Unfortunately the weather was extremely hot and the fish arrived spoiled. The smell was so bad that the sardines were ordered to be buried. In the 19th Century some students in Madrid started an annual satirical sardina funeral procession, symbolising abstinence and fasting. In Barcelona, the fiesta ends on the beach, with a communal sardine barbecue (la sardinada).

Cataluña has a national dance called the Sardana – this is danced quite slowly , in a circle to music played by a cobla of 11 musicians, 4 of the instruments played are double-reed woodwinds, which make the music sound quite Medieval. The dancers typically wear flat espadrilles (tied at the ankle) – they dance in a circle holding hands, moving left and right, with arms and hands raised. The Sardana comes from the Empordà region in northern Catauña, named after and containing the Ancient Greek colony of Empúries. There are unproven theories relative to the origins of the Sardana, which link it to the Greeks. Visually, it does look like dancers on some Ancient Greek pottery. I was struck by how similar the Sardana is to the Turkish Horon, danced by the Laz people in celebration of fishermen catching anchovies (hamsi) – see here at 55.35 minutes. The Horon is nearly identical to old Greek dances, symbolises fishermen catching fish in nets and the movements (albeit faster) resemble those of the Sardana. Sadly, the word Sardana comes from cerdana, as in coming from Cerdanya and not Sardinia or sardines, but I have just come across La Sardana de la Sardina – The Sardana of the Sardine!

Sardinas con Verduras receta:

5 Sardines
4 medium potatoes (sliced)
1 medium onion (sliced)
6 cloves of garlic (squashed and halved)
1 sweet pepper, any colour will do, (chopped)
1 small courgette (sliced)
1 medium tomato (sliced)
12 Kalamata olives
1/2 lemon thinly sliced
a splash of dry white wine or extra dry vermouth
a few torn basil leaves
a couple of sprigs of thyme
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

This is a simple Mediterranean method for cooking fish with vegetables. I often cook, bream, hake, mackerel and sea bass this way. Everything cooks in the same oven dish which can be scaled up for a dinner party, with all the prep done beforehand.


Preheat the oven to 200ºC, slice the potatoes and put them in an oven dish with about 1cm (1/4 inch) extra virgin olive oil. Coat the potato slices in oil and sprinkle on some salt, before putting them in the oven.

onion, garlic and olives

Allow the potatoes to poach in the oil for 20 minutes before adding the garlic cloves, olives and slices of onion. Put some olive oil on a plate to coat the onion slices beforehand.

orange pepper

After 10 minutes scatter a pre-oiled, chopped pepper on top – any colour sweet pepper will work – I had an orange one in the fridge.

courgettes with lemon and thyme

10 minutes later spread half a sliced lemon, a sliced courgette and a sprinkle of thyme on top. A little more salt wouldn’t go amiss.

tomato and basil

Again, 10 minutes later, arrange the sliced tomato with some torn basil leaves above the courgettes, with a little more salt and cracked black pepper.


…yet another 10 minutes later, it’s time for the final ingredient – the fish. Clean and oil the sardines first and splash them with a little dry white wine or extra dry vermouth. Season with salt and pepper.


Cook for about 10 – 12 minutes – perhaps one might pop it’s heads up to tell you that it’s ready! A larger fish will need about 20 minutes. It may seem like there’s a lot of olive oil in this dish, but in Mediterranean countries, olive oil is an ingredient and not just a cooking medium. Any leftover oil can be added to another dish as a flavouring or you can mop it up with some sourdough bread.


Serve with home made allioli and a glass or two of Blanc Mariner, from the Penèdes region in Cataluña.

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King’s Cross Barbecue

flaming coals

The end of August normally marks the last days of an English summer, celebrated annually with a Bank Holiday. This year the Sunday coincided with a friend’s birthday so five of us got together for a barbecue.

adobo skewers

I previously posted a slow cooked pork shoulder adobo back in May – here I cut a 5lb shoulder into chunks and marinated it for 48 hours in the Adobo – do this in the fridge and agitate or stir twice a day to see that all the pork gets attention.

Carne de Cerdo en Adobo recipe:

1 boned pork shoulder (butt) about 5lbs (cubed)
3 Ancho chillis
3 Chipotle chillis
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 medium onion (chopped)
12 black peppercorns
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 heaped teaspoon sea salt
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups cider (or other fruit) vinegar
1/4 cup of chilli soaking water
the juice of half a lime

Follow my instructions in the previous post, for warming and soaking the chillis before making the adobo in a blender. The recipe makes 4 portions of marinade, which can be frozen individually for future use. In the UK pork shoulder comes with the skin on – this should be removed before marination. I saved my skin to make crackling in the oven (the next day), though now I wish I’d cooked it on the barbecue when I had the chance.

pork adobo

Soak the skewers for 30 minutes in water before use – this stops them burning. Cook the pork until nicely browned – squeeze lime juice onto it just before removing from the fire. I believe the adobo skewers tasted even better than the original slow cooked shoulder. The pork had a fabulous smokey apple, chilli, lime flavour.

potato patch

Spider dug up some new potatoes,

potato salad

which I boiled lightly and mixed with mayonnaise. There were no chives, so I added a couple of teaspoons of capers instead.

rump steak

We enjoyed some beautifully tender rump steak from Theobalds,

merguez sausages

followed by spicy merguez, chicken drumsticks

leek and herb sausages

and leek with herb sausages.

I noticed large quantities of beer being drunk, though I stuck to my bottle of Carta Roja Gran Reserva and a celebratory glass of brandy. A good time was had by all!

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Elderflower Champagne

elderflower champagne

Back in June 1979 I hitched a ride with a theatre company to the Hood Faire on the banks of the River Dart (just outside of Totnes). This was a small faire with a Mediaeval theme, comprised of local craftsmen, artisanal food and drink makers, theatre companies and even a sweat lodge made out of mud and stones straight from the river. I distinctly remember sitting in the branches of a tree at dusk, dangling over the Dart, watching Forkbeard Fantasy perform a play, knee deep in water (by candlelight) while I drank a delicious sparkling alcoholic drink, made from elderflowers.


Elderflowers come from the Elder tree (known as the Common Elder, Black Elder or Sambucus nigra in Latin) and they are the precursor to Elderberries. They can be found all across Europe and North America and are quite common in Britain. Elderflowers have been used in medicine for thousands of years and are thought to have antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Wood pigeons gorge themselves on the leaves and berries, while domestic racing pigeons are fed an elderberry tincture for their health.

The elder tree can be found in hedgerows, parks, back gardens and cemeteries – it is said to ward off the devil! The tree can live for 60 years and grow to about 50 ft (15m), though they are commonly around 33ft (10m) tall. Elderflowers appear from late May to early June. Both the flowers and berries of the elder can be turned into wine, but the berries should not be eaten raw as they are mildly toxic and can cause stomach upsets. Once cooked, the berries are harmless and can be made into a delicious elderberry jam. The berries grow from the stems of the flowers and can be harvested in the late summer and autumn.

Elderflower Wine recipe:

22 Elderflowers
8 pints water
1 1/2 lb Demerara sugar
2 lemons
2 dessertspoons cider vinegar

picked elderflowers

In order to make Elderflower Champagne, one must first make the wine, which is decanted and fed more sugar to start a second fermentation – this increases the alcohol content and makes carbon dioxide bubbles.

Pick the flowers in the early morning, ideally when they have just opened. When fresh, elderflowers smell delightful, but as they age, they produce an odour like cat pee (which will taint the wine). If you smell the flower before you pick it, you’ll know whether it’s good or bad. Try to pick the flowers from different trees, leave some to produce berries and some for the birds. This year there was a bumper crop of flowers, which is what prompted me to go foraging.

ready to ferment

Don’t be tempted to wash the flowers, it will remove the natural yeast, which is needed for fermentation. Check to exclude any insects that may be living on the blossoms.

Dissolve the sugar in 2 pints of boiling water (1lb of honey would be a perfect substitute for the sugar). Allow the sugar water to cool before mixing with the other ingredients.

flowers, lemon, sugar and water

Combine all the ingredients in a clean bucket, squeeze and slice the lemons. I sterilised the bucket beforehand. Cover with a damp towel and allow to sit for 2 – 5 days at room temperature, stirring once a day.


You will know that you have anaerobic respiration going on, when you get cloudy bubbles in your mixture. When this happens, the potion is ready to proceed to the next stage.


The cloudy bubbles show that there’s alcohol being produced, so it’s time to strain solids from the liquid and begin the fermentation in earnest. Put the filtered liquid into a demijohn and cap with an airlock, to allow the carbon dioxide to escape and keep foreign bodies out – particularly the fruit fly. Store the fermenting wine in a cool dark place.

pond life

When I looked at the elderflower wine before going to bed on the first night, the airlock was popping every 5 seconds or so and an alien life form was growing on the surface. When I checked the next morning the airlock was still busy, but the aliens had returned to Mars.


When the fermentation has finished – between 2 to 3 months, the airlock will stop expelling gas and sediment will drop down to the bottom of the demijohn. Decant, using a syphon (a clear plastic tube), being careful to leave the sediment behind.

sugar solution

Elderflower Champagne:

The elderflower wine will probably be a little sharp and therefore, it’s necessary to add sugar, especially if you wish to make elderflower champagne – this requires sugar for a second fermentation. It’s best to add sugar to taste. In spite of the sharpness, if you run the wine around your mouth a couple of times to acclimatise your palate, it is quite refreshing. It smells distinctly of elderflowers. Half an hour after decanting, some oxidation will have taken place and the wine tastes mellower and fruitier with a hint of lemon (used in the original fermentation).

Mix 4 level dessertspoons of demerara sugar with 80ml warm water – let the sugar dissolve. Add the sugar water to a gallon of elderflower wine. Pour the wine into 500 ml bottles – use Grolsch type or PET for elderflower champagne. Normal wine bottles can explode or the cork will blow out (I’ve seen both happen!). Refrigerate or keep in a cool dark room. A second fermentation will take a couple of weeks – you will know it’s happened when sediment drops down to the bottom of the bottle.

The wine and champagne will keep for several months in a cool dark place.

Elderflowers can also be turned into a delicious non alcoholic cordial (great with gin!) or dipped in batter to make fritters. Elderberries can be used to infuse gin, in the same manner as sloes. Elderberries and sloes should be ready to pick right now.

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Empanada de Beicon y Chorizo

bacon and chorizo empanada

Empanadas are pies that come from Galicia in the North West of Spain. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, which means to wrap in bread. These pies can be quite large, cooked in a rectangular tray, round on a flat sheet or small and half moon shaped, sometimes baked and sometimes fried. Empanadas have become so popular that they can be found throughout the Spanish speaking world and Portugal (which is just below Galicia). Large baked fish empanadas are very popular in Galicia, but there are many variations, such as; cheese, clams, spicy beef or chicken with chilli, chorizo, eel, ham, lamprey, sardines, tuna and many types with fruit or other sweet fillings for dessert.

Many years ago, I saw a Galician Abuela (Grandma) making a bacon and chorizo empanada. I didn’t get to try it or even see it finished, but I had an idea that the empanada would taste fantastic, and have been meaning to recreate it for some time, so here it is!

Galician Empanada Pastry recipe:

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder (fresh yeast is also common)
125ml olive oil
125ml crisp dry white wine or dry cider (I used Albariño, Galician white wine)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
375g plain flour

In a large bowl, beat 1 egg and the baking powder with a fork. When this is mixed together add the olive oil, wine and salt, before slowly working in the flour to make a dough. Knead the dough with both hands in/over the bowl. Sprinkle on a little more flour if it is too wet (it should be slightly tacky from the olive oil). Let the dough rest at room temperature in the bowl (covered) for one hour. This pastry is easy to make and stays elastic. Save the second egg for brushing the pastry when baking.


Empanada filling:

10 slices of chorizo picante
4 slices smoked streaky bacon (cut in half)
1 pimiento rojo (blackened and skinned red pepper)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 tomatoes (grated)
10 Kalamata olives (sliced)
a shot glass of dry white wine (I used Albariño, Galician white wine)
2 splashes sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 squirts anchovy paste (to taste)
cracked black pepper (to taste)

flaming pepper

You can buy blackened and pre-skinned pimientos in most large UK supermarkets and Spanish delicatessens (and of course, most grocery stores in Spain), but they taste best when you cook them fresh, at home. Blacken the pepper (burn the skin) all over, using a barbecue,  grill (broiler), blowtorch or just on top of a gas hob. When it looks burnt all over, place it in an airtight container or paper bag for half an hour or so. The residual heat will steam the pepper and make the black skin easy to peel. This can be done the day before and refrigerated until needed. More on peeling, further down the page.


While waiting for the pepper and the pastry, cook the sofregit filling. Gently fry a chopped onion in plenty of extra virgin olive oil until it becomes soft and sticky.


Grate in 4 ripe medium tomatoes.


Stir in the garlic, sliced olives, pimentón, anchovy paste, dry white wine, sherry vinegar, black pepper, bay leaves and thyme. Cook gently for an hour, until the sauce is thick and savoury. Allow to cool.

dough base

Divide the pastry in two and roll out the base. With pastry made from olive oil you don’t need to flour the the work surface. Cut out a circle – roughly the size of a large inverted mixing bowl. Place it on a baking sheet and prick it all over with a fork. Brush with the beaten white of the second egg, saving the yolk for the top.

baked blind

Bake the base blind for about 15 minutes at 200ºC (until it looks biscuity in colour) – this ensures that the base is crispy when the whole empanada is cooked. I did consider baking the pie on a baking stone (in the oven) without cooking the base blind, but could see a disaster waiting to happen, with the empanada falling apart as I tried to flick it off a baking tray and onto the hot stone. This kind of thing is best done in a real bread oven using a paddle with a long handle.


Allow the pastry to cool for five minutes, then arrange the chorizo slices on top. Allow a 1cm lip of bare pastry (all round), for the top layer to adhere to.


Spread a layer of sofrito on top of the chorizo (there’s a second sofrito layer with picture coming up), then place the slices of bacon on top.

blackened pepper

Next, revive the blackened pepper by gently peeling off the charred skin. It should come off easily, but any stubborn pieces will flake off under the cold tap or with the blunt edge of a small knife. When peeling the pepper, it gives off a wonderful caramel aroma, similar to making toffee.

peeled pepper

The finished peeled pepper should look like the above. Remove the stalk and seeds inside, then slice into strips. Burning the skin imparts the most delicious sweet and smokey flavour to red peppers.


Spread out the strips of pimiento on top of the bacon.


Add a second layer of sofrito above the pimiento.


Roll out the second piece of pastry, slightly larger than the base. Beat the egg yolk with a little cold water, Brush the lower, outer pastry lip with beaten egg before covering the empanada with the pastry tapa (lid). Push the pastry firmly together round the edges to seal the pie. Make a hole and chimney in the middle for heat to escape. Decorate with strips of leftover pastry. Brush the pie with beaten egg yolk – this will give it  golden colour when cooked.


Bake the empanada for 40 – 45 minutes (until nicely browned) at 200ºC.

empanada de beicon y chorizo

Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes. Cut the pie into 5 or 6 portions and serve with salad and a glass or two of Albariño. This turned out to be an outstanding empanada – all the layers fused together and complemented each other, to make a deliciously savoury pie.

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