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.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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!

Posted in Drink, Food, Meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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.

Posted in Drink, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Salmorejo Cordobés

salmorejo cordobés

Salmorejo is a cold tomato soup from Córdoba in Spain. The soup is thought to date back to the time of the Romans. Roman soldiers drank a mixture of water and wine vinegar flavoured with herbs (and sometimes salt or honey), called posca. Stale bread and garlic were often added to posca to produce a porridge like soup. This porridge is probably the origin of ajoblanco, gazpacho and salmorejo. After the Romans, the Moors in Adalucía definitely ate a bread soup of vinegar, water, garlic, oil and salt, ground to a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Obviously salmorejo started off as a white soup, since tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until after Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.


Salmorejo is a perfect cold soup for a hot and humid day. No cooking is required and the dish contains a minimum of ingredients. In Spain tomatoes practically grow like weeds and in the hot weather bread goes stale in a couple of hours. It’s normal to buy a barra de pan (baguette) in the morning and another in the evening – the first one turns to stone by about 5pm, hence there’s always stale bread needing to be used up. I’ve looked through lots of recipes and almost all of them seem to be identical, so there can be no doubts about how to make it.

Salmorejo recipe (makes 1 litre):

1kg soft ripe tomatoes
200g stale bread
1 clove garlic (finely chopped and crushed with the back of the knife)
200ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
sea salt


virutas de jamón (shavings of Spanish air dried ham)
hard boiled egg (chopped)
basil leaves
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

stale bread

The bread to use for salmorejo is pan de telera, but since this comes from Córdoba, a stale white baguette would be the next best thing. As you can see, I used stale wholemeal sourdough – which might perhaps be more like the bread of the Romans, but regardless it worked well.

stale bread cubed

Remove the crusts, break up or cube the bread.

bread soaking

Soak in water, with a pinch of salt, for half an hour.

blended tomatoes

Salmorejo is a smooth and creamy soup in texture,

tomato seeds

so there should be no tomato seeds or skin. I’ve tried blanching, peeling and de-seeding, but it’s actually far easier to liquidise the tomatoes and then put the liquid through a sieve.

sieved tomatoes

Push the juice through a strainer or chinois with the back of a wooden spoon.


Within a minute or two you’ll have all the pulp separated out. Do use it for stock.


Return the tomato to the liquidiser with the bread (water squeezed out), a pinch of salt (to taste), garlic and sherry vinegar. Blend and when the liquid looks smooth, drizzle in the olive oil. Chill before serving.

salmorejo con virutas de jamón

Decorate the salmorejo with chopped, hard boiled egg, virutas de jamón, croutons, a trickle of olive oil and a few basil leaves (optional). Virutas de jamón are shavings of air dried ham – it’s normal to have a leg of ham in a Spanish family kitchen. The finest cuts are served as a starter in their own right and the end pieces can be chopped up for cooking or shaved for soups. A chopped slice of jamón serrano or Prosciutto is equally good.  The silky smooth soup cools you down on a hot day, while the salty ham melts in your mouth.

Serve with a glass of chilled Fino sherry.

I had an excellent salmorejo in Ibèrik’s last year, seasoned with a little cumin – it was so good that I went back for more a couple of weeks later!

Posted in Drink, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Calamares Rellenos

stuffed squid

The squid is a cephalopod, from the Greek word κεφαλόποδες, kephalópodes, meaning head-feet. Cephalopods are closely related to the snail (gastropods). Like octopuses, the squid has an elongated head like body with tentacles. They produce a black ink which can be squirted at predators, in order to confuse and escape from them. The ink is made up almost entirely of melanin, which is edible and often used in seafood dishes like paella, fideuà and risotto. Squid ink is a blue black colour and was probably used for writing, drawing and painting in Greek and Roman times (though sepia from cuttlefish was more popular). Squid are often referred to as “the scribes of the sea”, due to their ink and a translucent quill inside them. The quill or gladius is an evolutionary remnant of a once external shell. Cephalopods catch their prey with tentacles and take bites out of it with a two part beak, located in-between the eyes, at the body end of the tentacles. Squid can change colour in order to camouflage themselves and to attract a mate. As food, squid are also known as calamari, from the Latin calamarius and Greek κάλαμος, kalamos (meaning reed or pen). Calamari are fished throughout the world and eaten by most peoples.

This week I had a yearning to cook stuffed squid and for some reason the stuffing had to be pork with cumin. I’m not sure why my taste buds wanted this combination, but it proved to be a winner and far more satisfying than the usual rice or breadcrumbs. I have a suspicion that Claudia Roden’s, the Moors taught the Spanish how to cook pork, had something to do with it…

salsa de tomate

Tomato Sauce recipe:

1 onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
6 large tomatoes (grated)
8 anchovy fillets in olive oil (chopped)
10 Kalamata olives (sliced), or other good black olives
a splash of red wine vinegar
a few torn basil leaves
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil

I made a tomato sauce for the stuffed squid to cook in, doing a variation on my usual Marinara.


I used anchovies in olive oil for the tomato sauce and stuffing – the oil from the anchovies is infused with fish flavour and can be used to fry the onions and garlic.

Fry the onions gently and when they have softened, stir in the garlic. Give the garlic a couple of minutes and then grate in 6 large tomatoes. I asked the farmer if he had any soft tomatoes for cooking and ended up getting a load half price! Mix all the remaining ingredients into the sauce and cook gently for half an hour. Don’t add any salt until you have tasted the combined ingredients – the anchovies may provide enough for you. Allow the sauce to cool a little.

Stuffed Squid recipe:

8 small squid (about half a kilo or 1lb)
500g pork belly
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil
1 raw egg
2 teaspoon capers
2 teaspoons fish sauce
3 teaspoons chopped parsley
a level teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
a pinch of crushed chilli
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

While the sauce cooks, clean the squid – if that’s not your thing, all good fishmongers will do it for you, if you ask.

cumin seeds

Warm a level teaspoon of cumin in a frying pan and then grind it with a mortar and pestle. I used pork belly and put it, with all the other ingredients, through a mincer. You could, however, use pork mince and put everything into a food processor for the same results.

squid brand

The magic ingredient today is not the usual anchovy paste, it’s Squid Brand fish sauce from Thailand. This is a stinky, but delicious, fermented fish sauce and I believe the main ingredient is, once again, anchovies. It is said that this is the closest modern sauce equivalent  to the Roman condiment garum, which was served with everything in the ancient Mediterranean world.


As there were anchovies and the salty fish sauce in the stuffing, I initially left salt out, however, when I fried a teaspoon of stuffing to check, I discovered that quite a lot of salt was still necessary. In fact I doubled my initial experimental dose of fish sauce and used about 12 turns of the salt grinder. I urge you to add salt sparingly and fry some stuffing for a taste test before throwing in loads of salt – everyone has a different threshold.

ten tickles

I kept the testicles separate – some recipes add them to the stuffing. Make sure the eyes and beak (included above) are removed.


The stuffing should be sufficient for 10 – 12 squid depending on size. The squid body is quite flexible, so you can squeeze lots in. Seal the squid with a toothpick, but you can sew them shut with a needle and thread, like some Italian nonnas do.


Pour the, now cool, tomato sauce into a baking dish.

calamares y salsa

Spread the squid and tentacles out on top of the sauce.

calamares al horno

Cook for 30 minutes in the oven at 200º C. While the squid is baking, prepare the garnish.


I make croutons every couple of weeks from the ends of sourdough loaves – store the stale bread in a bag in the fridge (or freezer) until needed. It stops the bread drying out completely.


breadcrumbs (crushed up croutons)
a teaspoon chopped parsley
a squeeze of lemon juice

pan rallado

When baked, the croutons last for a month in the fridge, or a year in the freezer. They can be ground up with a mortar and pestle to make breadcrumbs as required.

calamares, pan rallado y perejil

When the squid is baked, sprinkle the crunchy breadcrumbs on top, along with chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon. Serve with crusty bread, rice or pasta.

I recommend a glass or two of Calamar, Vino Blanco, Rueda Verdejo with the stuffed squid.


Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Chicken Sofrito

chicken sofrito

The cooking method for sofrito or sofregit (in Catalan), was first recorded in the Libre de Sent Soví, a Catalan recipe book from about 1324. Sofregit comes from the verb sofregir, which means to under fry. Most people think of under fry as fry lightly, but poach might be a better word to describe the process (similar to cooking duck legs in fat, at a low temperature to make duck confit). These days we think of a sofrito as containing onions, garlic, peppers (sometimes) and tomatoes, but the peppers and tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until after 1492.

Last week I came across a Sephardic Jewish recipe for a chicken sofrito by Claudia Roden. When I studied the ingredients, I realised that the recipe was more like the sofregit detailed in the Libre de Sent Sovi, than the modern Spanish sofrito. The Sephardic Jews came to Spain probably when the Romans conquered Iberia, though possibly beforehand, with the Phoenicians. It could be said that the Jews have influenced Spanish cuisine and culture just as much as the Romans and Moors. Most of the great Spanish stews are based on the Jewish Adafina and the Christian, Torta de Santiago (St. James’ Cake) is a derivative of Jewish Passover cake. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Spanish recipe adopted and adapted by the Jews when they were expelled from Spain in 1492.

jointed chicken

Once I’d found the chicken sofrito recipe, I came across a lot more. This is a very popular dish in Egypt and Israel and can also used to cook beef, lamb and fish. I was interested to see Tori Avey and Yotam Ottolenghi include pimentón in their sofritos, since it arrived in Spain after the discovery of the New World, but then so did potatoes, which are a common ingredient in sofrito stew! Needless to say, I was influenced by all the recipes, but tried to keep things simple, in the manner of Claudia Roden and the Libre de Sent Sovi.

Sofrito Chicken recipe:

3lb free range chicken (jointed)
2 medium potatoes per person (cubed)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 head of garlic (peeled)
a level teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cardamom pods (cracked)
4 bay leaves
1 cup chicken stock
the juice of half a lemon
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

This is quite easy, but it cooks slowly and will take about 3 hours.

browned chicken

Joint the chicken, sprinkle with salt and pepper, brown it in olive oil, then reserve.

fried potato

Poach the potatoes in the same oil until tender (they don’t need to brown) and remove to a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Caramelise the onions on a low heat – add more olive oil if necessary.

cardamom and garlic

Mix in a whole head of garlic (bruised and peeled) plus two cardamom pods, which have been cracked open.


Put the chicken, skin side up, on top of the onions, along with the bay leaves. Sprinkle a level teaspoon of turmeric over the chicken and pour the stock and lemon juice on top.

flipped chicken

Most recipes have this cooked covered, on top of the stove, but I put mine in the oven, on a gentle heat at 180ºC. Cook for an hour, turning the chicken at 15 minute intervals.


After 60 minutes, the chicken should be quite tender. Lift it gently out of the pot


and return the potatoes. Check the seasoning and put the chicken back on top.

sofregit de pollastre

Cook in the oven for a further 30 minutes, take the lid off for the last 15.

sofrito de pollo

Serve with broad beans (cooked separately). Broad beans are the original Mediterranean bean – they were first domesticated in Israel 10,000 years ago! Most other beans were discovered in the Americas, but beans are so synonymous with the Jews in Spain, that the words judías and alubias (beans) are interchangeable (should you be in any doubt about this, just look up judías blancas with Google and you’ll find white beans). Apparently the Moors prefixed all food words with the people or country of origin. See here for more info.

Don’t be put off by the simplicity of this dish, the cardamom, garlic and turmeric really enhance and elevate the flavour of chicken – less is definitely more! I’m so glad I didn’t add pimentón, it would have been quite overwhelming. I recommend drinking a glass Grand Marquis Carignan/Cabernet Sauvignon (an award winning Egyptian wine) with the chicken sofrito.

Posted in Drink, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Arroz con Calamares

rice with squid

Arroz con Calamares (rice with squid) is a simple paella like dish which is very common in Cataluña, Valencia and other parts of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. This is economical fare, the bulk being made up of rice, flavoured with fish stock, wine and saffron.

heads and bones

Do cook your own fish stock if you have access to heads and bones, otherwise a good fishmonger will normally sell it in jars.

Fish Stock:

3 fish heads and bones
1 onion (roughly chopped)
6 cloves garlic
2 carrots (quartered)
2 sticks celery (quartered)
a large tomato (quartered)
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of fennel seeds
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of fresh parsley
a level teaspoon black peppercorns
sea salt (to taste)
a glass of white wine
2 pints water
extra virgin olive oil

Brown the fish, pour on the wine, add the vegetables, herbs and water. Bring to a simmer skim off any foam and cook gently for 45 minutes. Allow to cool and strain.

Arroz con Calamares receta:

800g Squid (cleaned and diced)
500g Spanish Bomba or Senia rice
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
4 tomatoes (grated)
250g fresh peas
2 pints fish stock
a glass of dry white wine
a pinch of saffron
4 teaspoons parsley
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper


Using a paella pan on the largest gas ring turned up half way, fry a chopped onion in the center of the pan (the hottest part) with extra virgin olive oil. Use a spatula to keep the onion moving and add more oil if the pan looks dry. A small Spanish style pouring spout in the top of the bottle is good for this (and making allioli). Fairly constant stirring is required until the fish stock goes in.


When the onion has caramelised a little, move it to the outside of the pan (which is cooler) and add the chopped sweet peppers, with more oil.


Cook the peppers for a few minutes and move them outwards to make way for the squid. If you are squeamish or lack the time, you can ask your fishmonger to clean the squid for you. I left the tentacles whole and diced the bodies, but if they are small squid they can be cut into rings (if you wish). Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper.


When the squid begins to take on a slight pink tinge, it too is moved out to the edge (with the onion and peppers), to make way for 4 grated tomatoes. In most dishes I grate the tomatoes straight in, but here it’s easier to prepare them in advance.

garlic and parsley

Add the garlic and 3 teaspoons of parsley (save the fourth one for garnish) to the tomato, plus another sprinkling of salt and pepper.


Mix the tomatoes, garlic and parsley and allow it to thicken. Keep stirring!


When the tomatoes have visibly concentrated, combine everything in the paellera.


The peas go in just before the rice, when using fresh ones.

peas in a pod

Many people use frozen peas, but I prefer them straight from the farm – they are in season now.


Pour 500g Spanish Bomba or Senia rice into the paella pan and coat the rice with the cooking liquid. This flavours and slightly toasts it in the hot pan.

fish stock

Heat up the stock ahead of time – don’t use it cold.


Add the stock and wine, followed by a large pinch of saffron (ground in a mortar and pestle and then mixed with a splash of boiling water). Give the squid and rice a final stir and turn the gas ring to full. Check the seasoning now – it’s the last chance!


Cook for 8 – 10 minutes on high, and when the stock has noticeably reduced (and you can see little hermit crab like holes appearing in the surface), turn the gas down to it’s lowest setting.


When most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice, turn the heat off (probably 5 – 8 minutes). The rice makes a slight crackling sound and there should be a slight caramelisation smell relative to it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Don’t allow it to turn into a burning smell! If in doubt, poke a hole into the rice with the wrong end of a fork and look to see if the bottom of the pan is wet or dry. Be cautious – slightly wet rice is better than burnt rice.


Allow the arroz con calamares to descansar (rest) for 5 minutes, under some newspaper or kitchen roll. The paper keeps the dish warm and absorbs the steam, so that it doesn’t condense and drip back down onto the rice.

arroz con calamares

Finally, sprinkle on a little parsley for decoration.


The rice should stick slightly to the bottom of the paellera to create a socarrat – this is a savoury brown crust, much sought after when making a paella. Socarrat comes from the verb socarrar to singe or sear.


Serve with lemon wedges and plenty of home made allioli. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Calamar, Vino Blanco, Rueda Verdejo (oddly made inland, but perfect with seafood).

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Suquet de Peix

suquet de peix

Suquet de Peix is a Catalan fish soup or stew, popular in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as Cataluña. The word suquet comes from the verb suquejar to release or secrete juices and peix is Catalan for fish – so this can be interpreted as the fish releasing flavour into the soup. The recipe is comprised of a sofregit (slow cooked onions, tomato and garlic), potatoes, fish and a picada (a thickener). It may sound complicated, but in reality it’s quite simple.

Some say the dish was created in Empordà and others Tarragona, but since there’s no fixed recipe (that I can find) and as it’s a fisherman’s dish, it probably belongs to all those regions (which were once part of the Kingdom of Aragon). As with all these types of recipe, the fishermen would cook on the boat, in some kind of cauldron, using the unpopular fish or fish parts that they couldn’t sell. A typical recipe might contain escórpora (rascasse or scorpionfish), escarcho (gurnard), lubina (sea bass), dorada (sea bream) or rape (monkfish) – so the fish part could change from day to day.

I have no doubt that suquet de peix is a direct descendant of an Ancient Greek fisherman’s dish, which consisted of fish and saffron, cooked in a large metal pot over a fire. The Greeks colonised Empordà in the 6th Century BC and the Phoenicians probably founded Tarragona at around the same time. The Greeks and Phoenicians were trade partners during the Golden Age of Athens. Obviously the addition of potatoes, tomatoes and pimentón came much later, after Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.

The price of fish has risen considerably over the last 20 years and monkfish (in particular) has become quite expensive – a far cry from the days when it’s ugly face put customers off. In the Boqueria, monkfish is still displayed head on, but in the UK one generally just sees the tail. So going with the spirit of fishermen from another age, I’ve used hake, also very popular in Spain. It’s still reasonably priced and has the firm white flesh required for a soup or stew – it won’t fall apart when cooked.


Rascasse and other Mediterranean rock fish can be hard to source here and expensive relative to availability, so I recommend making a good fish stock to beef up the fish flavour. This week the fishmonger gave me the head and bones of a large sea bass and I augmented that with the bones of a cooked sea bream from the night before. In general I make my stock based on the following recipe. Do use the heads and shells of prawns or similar crustaceans if they are available.

Fish Stock:

3 fish heads and bones
1 onion (roughly chopped)
6 cloves garlic
2 carrots (quartered)
2 sticks celery (quartered)
a large tomato (quartered)
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of fennel seeds
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of fresh parsley
a level teaspoon black peppercorns
sea salt (to taste)
a glass of white wine
2 pints water
extra virgin olive oil

brou de peix

Brown the fish, pour on the wine, add the vegetables, herbs and water. Bring to a simmer skim off any foam and cook gently for 45 minutes. Allow to cool and strain.

Suquet de Peix:

3 hake steaks
6 large raw prawns
1 large onion (chopped)
500g potatoes, (peeled and sliced thick)
3 large tomatoes (grated)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 1/2 – 2 pints home made fish stock
a glass of dry white wine
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a pinch of saffron
a dessertspoon plain flour
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
a teaspoon of fresh parsley (chopped) for decoration

Salt the hake 30 minutes to an hour before cooking – this firms up the flesh.


Start by cooking the sofregit – slowly cook the onions until they become soft and sticky.


Grate 3 tomatoes (cut them in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin) into the onions.


Stir in the garlic,

pebre vermell de la vera dolça

followed by a teaspoon of pimentón de la Vera dulce (the mild one).

patates a rodanxes

Arrange the potatoes on top of the sofregit.

patates i brou de peix

Pour on the wine and 1 1/2 pints of fish stock (to cover), then cook the potatoes for 15 – 20 minutes, until tender.


Dust the hake with seasoned flour and add it to the suquet – cook for 8 – 10 minutes – the beauty of using a firm fleshed fish is that timing is not too critical.

lluç amb gambes crues

Turn the hake steaks over to cook all the way through.


At this point add the raw prawns and saffron (grind a large pinch of saffron with a mortar and pestle and pour on a small amount of boiling water – this helps in diffusing the saffron throughout the suquet).

lluç amb gambes

When the prawns change colour, the suquet is ready for the picada.


10 toasted almonds
2 large cloves garlic (chopped)
a dessertspoon parsley (chopped)
a slice of fried sourdough bread
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (if necessary, substitute balsamic or red wine vinegar)
3 dessertspoons cooking liquid


Prepare the picada in advance. Toast some almonds in a frying pan. Follow this by frying a slice of stale sourdough bread – toasting it is also acceptable.


Grind the almonds, garlic, fried bread, and parsley with a mortar and pestle and then add the sherry vinegar. When the fish is ready, mix in 3 dessertspoons of the cooking liquid.


Stir the picada into the suquet to thicken and enhance the flavour.


Sprinkle on chopped parsley to garnish.


Serve with home made allioli and pan con tomate. The hake was delicate and the broth tasted sublime. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Benufet Garnatxa Blanca (from Herència Altes) with the suquet de peix.

Posted in Barcelona, Drink, Fish, Food, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Chicken with ‘Nduja and White Beans

chicken with ‘nduja and white beans

‘Nduja is a soft, spreadable salumi from Calabria and looks a lot like sobrasada from the Balearic Islands, however, the taste is completely different. ‘Nuduja  is made with pork, salt, roasted red chilli peppers and spices, tied up in a pig’s intestine, which is then smoked and left to cure.

sliced ‘nduja

This salumi takes it’s name from Andouille sausage (relative to previous French rulers of Calabria), but the peppers it contains relate to the Aragonese (sponsors of Columbus’ voyage to the New World) rule over two thirds Italy, from 1442 onwards (and later Spain, when the Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile became joined by marriage). ‘Nduja has an umami smokey hot chilli taste that builds up slowly in the mouth – it gets pleasantly fiery without quite blowing your head off. A fairly small piece of ‘nduja will cheer up most meat and fish dishes, along with making pizza taste spectacular!

corn fed chicken

I used dried Spanish white beans (alubias blancas) – these are the same as navy or haricot beans. If using dry beans, soak them overnight in cold water or for one hour in boiling water if using a pressure cooker. They will double in size, so the equivalent would be about 500g canned beans.

Chicken with Nduja and White Beans recipe:

1 free range corn fed chicken (jointed)
a 2.5 cm slice of ’nduja
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 romano pepper (chopped)
1 medium courgette (chopped)
4 tomatoes (grated)
250g dried alubias blancas (navy/haricot beans)
a glass of red wine
2 large squirts of anchovy paste
1/2 pint chicken stock
a splash sherry vinegar
2 bay leaves
a pinch of chopped chipotle chillis
3 teaspoons parsley (finely chopped) – save one for garnish
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black peeper (to taste)

chopped chicken

Joint the chicken and remove the back bone – you can save this for stock. Keep the other bones in, as they add flavour to the sauce.

browned chicken

Brown the chicken in hot olive oil. Do this in two batches or you will crowd the pan and the chicken will poach instead of browning. Remove the bird to a plate when browned.


Gently fry the onion in the same oil – stir regularly until it caramelises and becomes soft.


When the onion is soft and sticky, grate in the tomatoes (cut them in half and grate the wet side, discard the skin).

courgette and pepper

Mix in the courgette, romano pepper and garlic.

romano pepper

Romano peppers are the long pointed ones – they contain less water than a bell pepper and have a bit more taste.


Stir in the parsley, but save a little to garnish the finished dish.


Break the slice of ‘nduja up (throw away the skin) and sprinkle it over the vegetables. It will dissolve in a few minutes.

alubias blancas

The white beans go in now, along with the anchovy paste, stock, wine, sherry vinegar, bay leaves and a pinch of chipotle chillis (you can buy whole ones and chop them up or they are available pre-chopped in small jars). Add a little sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.


Submerge the chicken in the stock. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, then cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered. Taste and add a little more anchovy paste and sherry vinegar if necessary, before serving.

chicken with ‘nduja

Decorate the dish with the remaining parsley and serve with boiled potatoes and seasonal vegetables, such as peas and cauliflower. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Raimat El Silenci del Molí, Cabernet Sauvignon with the chicken. El Silenci del Molí is Catalan for the silence of the mill and refers to a windmill, which once stood on the land where the grapes are grown.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments