Venison and Kidney Pudding

suet pudding

I bought some venison at the farmer’s market on Sunday and mentioned to the game man, that I was thinking of making a venison and kidney pudding. Quick as a flash, he handed me a pair of venison kidneys and said, “Put these in your bag, they’ll be lovely.” After that I had to make a suet pudding!

Suet is a protective hard fat that forms around the kidneys of most large animals. When rendered (purified), suet has a high melting point with a mild smell and taste, which makes it perfect for making a light fluffy pastry or dumplings. Dishes such as steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick, jam roly poly, plum pudding (which has become known as Christmas pudding), etc. were traditionally wrapped and steamed in a cloth, in the days before people had ovens. Steaming took place above the cooking pot, where the daily soup, stew or gruel was being made. All the above dishes were particularly popular in the Victorian era and can be found in the recipe books of Mrs. Beeton and Eliza Acton.

Moving on to slightly more modern times, once cookers became normal in every kitchen, people adapted steamed puddings, so that they could be cooked in a glass or ceramic bowl, in a saucepan of boiling water. Many people in Britain still steam Christmas Pudding this way annually, on 25th December. Some commercial suet puddings are produced in cans – these were an absolute staple of post war Britain. The use of animal fats got a bad reputation for being unhealthy during the latter half of the 20th Century, but this has largely been disproved and over the last 20 years, butter, lard and suet have made a big comeback.

Steak and Kidney has become synonymous with British pies and puddings, but any unctuous stew could be used as a filling – kidneys are not obligatory. A steamed suet pudding is a sight to behold as well as being incredibly delicious – it could be described as the ultimate comfort food! But don’t just take my word for it, Calum Franklin has people queuing up for his delightful puddings and pies at the Holborn Dining Room – I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten three of his meat puddings (not in one sitting) and they are outstanding!

venison kidneys

Venison and Kidney Pudding recipe (serves 3):

350g wild venison (cut into bite sized pieces)
2 or 3 kidneys (venison or lamb) (cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 medium onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 small carrot (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 mushrooms (chopped)
1 dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoon tomato purée
a large squeeze anchovy paste
1 large glass red wine
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
a splash of sherry (fino)
1/4 pint chicken or game stock
2 dessertspoons plain flour
a level teaspoon English mustard powder
a few turns sea salt cracked black pepper

butterflied kidney

Remove the thin membrane on the outside of the kidneys – it should peel off easily. Slice in half lengthways and remove the white fat and membrane core. Chop the venison and kidneys into bite sized pieces.

seasoned flour

Dredge both meats in 2 dessertspoons plain flour, mixed with a level teaspoon English mustard powder, sea salt and cracked black pepper.

kidneys browning

Lightly brown the kidneys

venison browning

followed by the venison, in some hot extra virgin olive oil. Do this in batches or the meat will poach and go sticky. Remove to a plate when done.

onion and bacon

Fry the onion in the same pan and oil. Any flour stuck to the bottom will eventually come free and add flavour to the dish. When the onions have taken some colour, add the chopped bacon.


After a few minutes stir in the carrot, celery and garlic.


Next the mushrooms go in, along with the anchovy paste and tomato purée.


Return the meat with the parsley, pour on a glass of wine, allowing the alcohol to burn off for a few minutes.


Stir in the stock, 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, taste and add more vinegar or seasoning if necessary. Cover the casserole and braise for 2 hours in a preheated oven at 160º C.

pie filling

On tasting after 2 hours, I thought it needed a little sweetener and added a splash of Fino Sherry, which was perfect! Allow to cool completely before making the pudding.

Suet Pastry:

350g plain four (sifted)
175g fresh suet
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 sprigs thyme (just the leaves)
a pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
100 – 150 ml cold water

Do use fresh suet if you can find it – it’s available from some butchers and definitely online. If not, there is a cheap commercial suet product called Atora (since 1893) which can be found in most UK supermarkets. Atora is remarkably natural, being made up of 85% pre-shredded beef suet and 15% wheat flour. While being a British product, the name Atora is derived from toro, the Spanish word for bull. Suet has a high meting point, so as the pudding steams, the pieces of suet melt  at 45º – 50º C which produces fluffy holes in the pastry.

suet pastry

Sift the flour, baking powder, mustard and salt into a large basin and mix in the thyme and suet. Pour in a little water at a time and work the dough with a table knife. When the dough comes together start to use your hands and knead. Keep working the dough until it is smooth but not sticky – the bowl should be fairly clean.


Pinch off a quarter of the dough and save to make a lid. Push out a circle of dough (on a floured surface) with your fingers and knuckles – about 12 cm in diameter, a bit like a pizza (do use a rolling pin if you wish). Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and fold in half.

pastry in pudding basin

Round the folded edge with your hands, unfold and gently lower into a well buttered 1 litre pudding basin.

fitted pastry

Mould the pastry into the shape of the bowl and trim off the overhang. This is much easier with suet pasty than pastry made with butter, which is brittle.


Fill the pastry with the cold venison and kidney mixture (hot filling melts the fat in pastry), leaving about a 2 cm gap at the top.


Fold down the edges onto the filling and moisten with water.

pastry lid

Use your fingers to make a circle of dough from the remaining pastry, which will form a lid.


Push the lid onto the wet pastry to seal.


Butter a piece of greaseproof paper to go on top (butter side down) and give it a small pleat – the pudding will expand while cooking. Fold a large piece of aluminium foil in two (about 12 cm square) and give that a pleat too! Cover the greaseproof paper with the foil, on top of the pudding basin. Using a 1 metre long piece of string, tie the paper and foil lid around the lip of the basin. A tight butchers knot on two sides is good. Make a handle out of the leftover string, to lift the basin in and out of the steam. Step by step pictures here, at Prue Leith’s Cookery School.


Place the pudding basin into a steamer, or a deep saucepan (ideally stand the bowl on a trivet or a piece of crumpled foil, so it’s not in contact with the saucepan, which can cause it to crack) of boiling water. It is usual to immerse the basin about halfway deep in the boiling water – it will take longer if it sits above. Steam for about 2 hours (it’s not critical) – do check from time to time to see that the saucepan doesn’t boil dry.

steamed pudding

When done, loosen the edge of the pastry with a knife.

cut open

Turn out onto a warm plate. Cut and serve with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. You may require additional gravy. I recommend drinking a glass of Los Arráez Arcos vino tinto (a crianza from Valencia) with the venison pudding.

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Corazones de Pollo

chicken hearts

I bought a kilo of chicken hearts this week for a silly price.

chicken heart kebabs

Half the hearts were marinated and scorched on the grill,

corazones de pollo

while the other half became a delicious Spanish stew.

I appreciate that many people are turned off by offal, but hearts are low in calories, contain lots of iron, selenium and zinc, along with several types of vitamin B. These B vitamins protect against high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. On top of this, hearts have a mild flavour and a yielding rubbery texture like squid or octopus. lending themselves to spicy stews and slow cooking.

Corazones de Pollo Guisados (serves 2):

500g chicken hearts
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
8 medium mushrooms (chopped)
1 medium tomato (grated)
a level teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon pimetón de la Vera picante
1 teaspoon pimetón de la Vera dulce
a pinch of crushed chipotle chilli
2 bay leaves
a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a little extra for garnish
a squirt of anchovy paste
a teaspoon of cornflour (called cornstarch in America)
1 glass dry white wine
a cup of chicken stock
a splash of sherry vinegar
lashings of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)


Clean the chicken hearts, chop the tops off and brown them in olive oil – while doing so sprinkle with ground cumin and a little salt. When the hearts have taken some colour, remove them to a plate.


Gently poach the onion in the same olive oil – add more if necessary.


When the onion is soft, add the garlic and grate the tomato on top.


Stir in the green pepper and mushrooms.

mi corazón

Return the chicken hearts to the dish.


Mix in the pimentón, a pinch of chipotle or other crushed chilli and a squirt of anchovy paste.


Pour on the stock, wine and sherry vinegar.


Add the bay leaves, sprinkle with parsley and cook for 30 – 40 minutes, until the hearts are tender. Don’t overcook the stew, the hearts won’t thank you for it! When ready, mix a teaspoon of cornflour with 3 or 4 teaspoons of the cooking liquid (in a small cup or bowl) and stir it back into the chicken livers to thicken the sauce.

hearts of darkness

Check the seasoning and serve with fried potatoes, pasta or rice and a glass of Corazón Loco Blanco, made with Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo grapes, from Manchuela DO.

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Judías Pintas con Cordero

lamb with pinto beans

While searching for a new Spanish recipe with white beans and leftover lamb, I came across recetas tradicionales using pinto beans instead.  I’m inclined to think that these are variations on an old recipe, dating back to before la Reconquista (reconquest of Spain). I suspect the origins are either Jewish or Moorish, because almost none of the recipes contain pork (which became almost obligatory relative to obedience to the Catholic church, in the eyes of the Inquisition ), but they do tend to contain cumin, which (Claudia Roden says) was an important spice used in Moorish lamb …and later Spanish pork.

alubias pintas

The pinto bean element to this recipe may be common now, but they definitely wouldn’t have been used prior to 1492, since they came from the Americas. The original bean ingredient would definitely have been fava beans (AKA broad beans), because that’s all we had in the old world. Interestingly, the word for beans in Spanish is alubias, but they are also known as judías. This puzzled me for 30 years, because judías means Jews. I asked lots of Spanish people over the years why they call beans judías, but nobody had the faintest idea. Last year I came across a Spanish text, on the etymology of judía. It states that there’s no written historical explanation, but there is a precedent relating to the Moorish occupation of Spain. It goes on to say that many of the foods specific to Jewish cuisine in the Levant, were prefixed Jewish in al-Andalus (Moorish Spain), such as Jewish thistle, Jewish vegetable, etc. This naming convention also applied to foods of other ethnic groups, such as Carthaginian, Kurdish, Persian, etc. It has been discovered that broad beans were originally domesticated in Israel, 10,000 years ago, which probably predates the farming of wheat and barley. So this particular naming convention would appear to have become ingrained in the Spanish language over time. However, this is not the case in South American Spanish where beans are called frijoles.

Pinto beans are a member of the common bean family, native to the Americas. The Spanish were much enamoured of the beans that they found in the New World and brought them back to farm. Many varieties of pinto beans now come from the North of Spain. I can’t say where these beans were grown, but I did buy them from Queviures Antolin in the Boqueria. Pinto comes from the verb pintar – to paint, which makes them painted beans!

pierna de cordero

The lamb ingredient in Judías Pintas con Cordero would normally be neck of lamb – here I’ve used leftover roast lamb. Any lamb with a bone would be ideal. If using fresh lamb, brown it first and add it to the stew with the potatoes.

Pinto Beans and Stock:

300g dry pinto beans
1 large onion (peeled)
6 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 stick celery
1 large carrot (peeled)
1 roast lamb leg bone
2 bay leaves
a couple of sprigs rosemary
a couple of sprigs thyme
12 cloves
1 1/2 pints water

alubias remojadas

Soak the pinto beans overnight for 12 hours.

caldo de alubias

Rinse the beans and put them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover by about 2.5 cm (1 inch) – I used 1 1/2 pints. Add all the other ingredients (stud the onion with the cloves) and cook on high for 13 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Discard the bones, the cloves, herbs and celery.  The beans get cooked while making the stock – this can be done at the same time as frying the onions (below).

Judías Pintas con Cordero:

500g leftover roast lamb (cut into bite sized pieces)
600g cooked pinto beans
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes (grated)
1 red or orange pepper (chopped)
1 leek (chopped)
3 medium potatoes (cubed)
1 pint lamb and bean stock
a glass dry white wine
a couple of splashes of white wine vinegar (to taste)
a large squirt of anchovy paste.
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a teaspoon ground cumin
a teaspoon chopped parsley (for garnish)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil


Gently poach the onion in plenty of olive oil.


When the onion is soft, add the garlic and grate in the tomatoes.


Stir in the leek and orange pepper (capsicum).


Warm a teaspoon of cumin seeds and grind them with a pinch of salt.

comino y pimentón

Sprinkle on the cumin and pimentón.


Mix in the chopped lamb.


Spoon on the cooked beans, using a slotted spoon.


Grind the carrot and onion from the bean stock with a mortar and pestle or just combine them (like I did) with the stock, using a stick blender.

caldo mezclado

Pour the stock into the cazuela, along with a glass of white wine, a splash of white wine vinegar, a large squirt of anchovy paste and some cracked black pepper. The white wine vinegar cuts through the fattiness of lamb, in the same way that mint sauce (which contains vinegar) does.


Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the dish.
Cover and cook on low for 40 minutes to an hour – until the potatoes are tender.

judías pintas con cordero

Check the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. The stew was fantastically thick and creamy from the starch in the beans and potatoes, not to mention gelatin from the lamb bone. The cubes of potato had a fabulous way of almost dissolving in my mouth. I recommend drinking a glass of El Cordero y las Virgenes (The Lamb and the Virgins, by Fil.loxera & Cía from Clariano in Valencia) with the lamb and beans.

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Beef Stew and Suet Dumplings

stew and dumplings

Most cultures that raise cattle for meat and dairy eat some kind of beef stew, however suet dumplings (and puddings) are particularly British. Suet is a protective hard fat that forms around the kidneys of most large animals. When rendered (purified), suet has a high melting point with a mild smell and taste, which makes it perfect for making a light fluffy pastry or dumplings. Dishes such as steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick, jam roly poly, plum pudding (which has become known as Christmas pudding), etc. were traditionally wrapped and steamed in a cloth, in the days before people had ovens. Steaming took place above the cooking pot, where the daily soup, stew or gruel was being made. All the above dishes were particularly popular in the Victorian era and can be found in the recipe books of Mrs. Beeton and Eliza Acton.

Suet can be obtained from some butchers, Smithfield Market and from online farm shops. My butcher has it frozen – he chopped  a bit off and stuck it in an industrial mincer. In it’s natural and rendered form it is not as common as it used to be, but there is a cheap commercial suet product called Atora (since 1893) which can be found in most UK supermarkets. Atora is remarkably natural, being made up of 85% pre-shredded beef suet and 15% wheat flour. While being a British product, the name Atora is derived from toro, the Spanish word for bull. There’s also a vegetarian “suet” available, but it’s made of palm oil, which will not melt at high temperatures like the animal fat and it’s bad for the planet.

Suet from cattle and sheep is also used to make tallow, which stays solid at room temperature and can keep without refrigeration. Tallow is used in manufacturing: candles, soap, bird, dog and pig food, biodiesel, printing, lubricants, medicines, etc. There’s a restaurant in London called Story, whose first course is the beef tallow candle burning at the centre of the table!


Beef Stew recipe (serves 4):

600g beef shin (chopped into bit sized pieces)
3 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 sticks celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
1 leek (chopped)
4 medium tomatoes (grated)
4 medium potatoes (cubed)
3 portobello mushrooms (chopped)
2 teaspoons parsley
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoonful of plain flour
a pinch of English mustard powder
a pint of beef stock
a splash of red wine vinegar
a glass of red wine
a squeeze of anchovy paste
a good slug of olive oil

Suet dumplings are delicious in any stew, but beef stew with dumplings is the one I remember from childhood.

Chop the beef shin into bite sized pieces and brown in olive oil – this is best done in two or three batches.


Reserve the meat and fry the onion in the same oil.


When the onion has softened, stir in the bacon.


When the bacon has taken some colour, mix in the carrot, celery, garlic, leek and mushrooms (mine were cooked previously, so I added them at the same time as the stock).

potato roux

Give the vegetables 5 minutes or so and add the potatoes, along with the flour and a pinch of English mustard powder. Stir to create a roux – this will thicken the stew, while it cooks.


Grate on the tomatoes (cut in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin).


Return the meat to the pan.

mushrooms, parsley and stock

Pour on the stock, red wine, red wine vinegar, sprinkle on the parsley and add the bay leaves. I came across a large amount of portobello mushrooms for pennies last week, so I cooked them and froze a few batches. My defrosted mushrooms went into the stew at this point.


Cook gently on the hob or in a preheated oven at 160º C for 2 hours.

suet flour mix

When the stew has been cooking for 2 hours, make the dumplings. Don’t mix them beforehand, the baking powder starts working immediately! Some recipes use self raising flour – this already contains baking powder as a raising agent.

Suet Dumplings:

125g plain flour – use a little more if necessary
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch salt
60g fresh suet
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large basin and mix in the thyme. Pour on a little water at a time and work the dough with a table knife. When the dough comes together start to use your hands and knead.

suet dough

Keep working the dough until it is smooth and not sticky – the bowl should be fairly clean. If you add a bit too much water, a little flour will save the day. It doesn’t need to be exact. Don’t overwork the dough – the little pieces of suet should melt during cooking, at 45º – 50º C which produces fluffy holes in the dumplings.

beef stew

Flour your hands and roll small dumplings (8 or 9) between your palms.


Put the dumplings on top of the stew, close the lid and return to the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. If you want a more biscuity finish to the dumplings and a thicker stew, remove the lid after 10 minutes.

beef stew and suet dumplings

Cook for a further 15 – 30 minutes uncovered, until the dumplings turn slightly golden – check every 10 minutes or so. Garnish with a little parsley and serve with a glass of Tussock Jumper Monastrell from the Jumilla wine region in Spain.

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Happy Easter

hot cross buns

Happy Easter!

I had something different planned for today, but when I went to Bread Ahead to buy my wholemeal sourdough bread this morning, the Hot Cross Buns literally jumped out and bit me! They looked so good (unlike the lackluster ones from supermarkets) having just come from the oven and today is Good Friday – the significant day for hot cross buns!

Hot Cross Buns date back to pagan times and the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of dawn and fertility, Eostre – the cross represented the four phases of the moon. It’s not hard to see why the Christians adapted hot cross buns and Eostre for Easter.

It is said that Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and for burials. Apparently, they were too good for other days. Good Friday stuck and until a couple of decades ago, when the supermarkets arrived, hot cross buns were only sold on that day. Personally, I believe that selling packets of inexpensive hot cross buns (from the week after Christmas) cheapens something special. I thoroughly approve of the fact that Bread Ahead only sell hot cross buns for the month before Easter …though a week would be better!

If you don’t live close enough to buy these special  hand made buns, here’s the Bread Ahead recipe:

To make 12 buns:

250g strong white bread flour
3g salt
40g caster sugar
6g mixed spice
3g nutmeg
30g unsalted butter
40g sultanas
25g mixed peel
30g peeled, cored and diced apple
8g fresh yeast (4 dried yeast)
140g full fat milk

The cross:

100g strong white flour
A pinch of caster sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt


100g caster sugar
50ml lemon juice
100g water

Put the dry ingredients into a bowl. Rub in the butter to make a dusty mass. Mix the yeast into lukewarm milk, add to the dry ingredients and combine. Turn out the dough and knead until it’s nice and smooth. Stretch out the dough into a circle and add the fruit to the centre, fold over. Roll and fold the dough until the fruit is evenly distributed. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for an hour or until it has doubled in size. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Place the mixture on a lightly floured surface and cut into 12 pieces. Roll them into a smooth balls and place on the tray, leave plenty of room – they will spread out. Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.

While the buns prove make the cross mixture and the glaze. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and 100g water until you have a smooth paste, pour into a piping bag with a 4mm plain nozzle.

Put the sugar, lemon juice and 100g water into a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the temperature reaches 105°C, about five minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

When the buns have proved, pipe a cross on the top of them and bake for 14-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack. After two minutes, brush with the bun glaze.

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Potaje de Vigilia

potaje de vigilia

Potaje de Vigilia is a very popular Spanish dish, containing chickpeas and bacalao (salt cod), served on the Fridays during Lent. The word potaje translates directly from the old French pottage, meaning cooked in a pot – the English translation is potage (unsurprisingly). Vigilia means vigil – a time of wakefulness, watching or ritual observance.  A potage can contain meat or fish and sometimes just vegetables. The consistency can be that of soup, stew or porridge. Originally potage came from Northern France, gaining in popularity throughout the Middle Ages. The English 14th Century cookbook – The Forme of Cury, contains several recipes for potage and the Catalan Llibre de Coch (probably written between 1458 and 1494) contains potatge recipes for all the religious feast days. A potager, from the French jardin potager, is a traditional kitchen garden – where the vegetable ingredients for potage would come from …and a potting shed, is a wooden structure in the kitchen garden, where a man goes to hide when he’s upset his wife!

Recipes for this fasting soup vary between families, towns and regions. I found one in Spanish Cooking by Elizabeth Cass, called Potage Madrileño (Madrid Potage, a Soup for Fast Days), containing chilli and saffron, and another from Asturias called a Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas (chickpea and spinach potage) which doesn’t contain cod. Claudia Roden similarly has one without cod, called Garbanzos de Vigilia where some of the ingredients are mashed to make a thick porridge. Other related chickpea stews can be found outside of Lent, typically Cocido Madrileño, which contains bacon, beef and chorizo.


Chickpea and stock recipe:

300g dry chickpeas
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (peeled)
2 carrots
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
a few black peppercorns

Soak the chickpeas overnight, for about 12 hours.

olla a presión

Cook the chickpeas in a pressure cooker for about 13 minutes, with 2 carrots, 2 bay leaves, a few black peppercorns and an onion studded with 2 cloves. The water should cover the chickpeas by about the same volume – i.e. if the chickpeas are 2 cm high, the water should be 2cm above that. Allow the pressure to release naturally.

If you wish to cheat, use 2 tins of cooked chickpeas and a carton (1 litre) of vegetable or chicken stock.

Potaje de Vigilia recipe (serves 4):

500g bacalao (or fresh cod)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 tomato (grated)
600g (cooked chickpeas)
200g spinach
chickpea stock
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
2 splashes sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
2 hard boiled eggs (to serve)
sea salt and cracked black (pepper to taste)

Desalinate the bacalao for 36 hours, or use fresh cod. If using fresh, sprinkle on some salt about 1 hour before cooking and allow to come to room temperature out of the fridge.


Gently poach the onions in olive oil until they become sticky.


Stir in the garlic and grate on the tomato (cut in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin).


Sprinkle with the pimentón.

garbanzos con caldo

Add the chickpeas and cooking liquid to the onions. Discard the cloves and black peppercorns, then squash the carrots and onion with a mortar and pestle – stir the mash into the potaje, along with some sherry vinegar.


Wash and remove the stems from the spinach.

espinacas al vapor

Chop or tear the spinach a little (to break it up) before adding to the pan.

espinacas marchitas

Cover with a lid or foil and allow the spinach to steam on top of the soup (5 – 10 minutes). When wilted mix in.


Picada recipe:

7 shelled hazelnuts (toasted slightly in a frying pan)
1 slice brown sourdough bread (toasted or fried)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 hard boiled egg yolk
2 splashes sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of coarse sea salt


Grind up the picada ingredients to make a thick paste with a mortar and pestle – drizzle in the olive oil to bind.

agente espesante

Stir the picada into the potage – this acts as a thickener and flavour enhancer.


Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.

bacalao crudo

Chop or break the bacalao into bit sized pieces and put them on top of the soup. Do not stir – shake or rotate the pan instead. This stops the bacalao breaking up.

bacalao cocido

Cover and allow to cook until firm (about 5 minutes).

potaje de vigilia

Cut the 2 remaining hard boiled eggs into quarters an arrange them on top of the potage. Sprinkle on a little chopped spinach or parsley for decoration. The Potaje de Vigilia is typically placed in the middle of the table – family members help themselves.

I recommend drinking a glass of La Misión (the Mission) a suitably pious Verdejo from Valladolid, to go with the Potaje de Vigilia.

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Prawn Étouffée


Étouffée made with crawfish or shrimp (prawns are the closest thing in the UK) is a very popular dish from Louisiana. The word étouffée comes from the French étouffer, which means to smother or suffocate – the crawfish (or prawns in this case) are quite literally cooked by smothering them in a sauce. It is thought that this method dates back to the 1920s, but wasn’t popularised until it was “discovered” at Aline Champagne’s Rendezvous Restaurant (as crawfish court bouillon) in Breaux Bridge during the 1940s or 50s. Breaux Bridge is said to be the crawfish capital of the world and holds an annual festival. Étouffée is normally made with shellfish (including crab) and served with rice.

As with many Louisiana recipes, the sauce for étouffée starts with a roux, usually followed by a onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. 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.

raw prawns

One can buy good shrimp or fish stock, for this type of recipe, but in my opinion, if you are buying raw prawns, why not use their heads and shells for something completely home made.

Shrimp Stock recipe:

the heads and shells from 2.2lbs (1Kg) prawns (or shrimp)
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
juice of a lemon
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs thyme
a squirt anchovy paste
a few black peppercorns
salt (to taste)
2 pints of water

peeled prawns

Keep the peeled prawns in the fridge while making the stock.

Twist the heads off the bodies, pull out the black vein that runs down the spine (it’s easy, most of the time, to grab when the head comes off) and peel off the shells.

prawn shells

Put all the stock ingredients into a cast iron casserole, except the salt, which I add at the end.

cooked stock

Bring to a simmer, scoop off any foam, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 160ºC for 45 minutes.

prawn stock

Adjust the seasoning, allow to cool and strain into a jug.

Etouffée recipe (serves 4):

2.2lbs (1Kg) prawns (peeled)
1/4lb (113g) butter (cubed)
1/4lb (113g) plain flour (sieved)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
5 medium tomatoes (grated)
2 spring onions (finely chopped)
a handful fresh parsley (finely chopped)
5 heaped teaspoons 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 mustard powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) – all mixed together
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoon tomato purée
1 pint shrimp stock
Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (to taste if you think it needs it)
the juice of half a lemon
cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 cup long grain rice per person


Melt 1/4 lb butter in a cast iron pan.


Make a roux with an equal amount of sieved plain flour. This should be cooked on a hot flame, stirring constantly or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! This is a lighter roux than I usually make for gumbo and it took about 15 minutes. If you cook the roux too dark, the flour looses it’s ability to thicken when the stock is added. A gumbo is generally soupier than étouffée.

holy trinity

Take the pan off the heat, to stop the roux browning further and stir in the holy trinity.


Turn the heat back on low and grate in the tomatoes – cut them in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin.


Sprinkle on some parsley, squirt in the tomato purée and add the bay leaves.


Pour on the prawn stock.

cajun seasoning

Add 5 heaped teaspoons Cajun seasoning, bring the sauce to a simmer, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 140º C for an hour.

prawns with spring onions

Taste and add seasoning or Worcestershire sauce (if you think it needs it). For more heat, splash on some Tabasco Sauce. Cook the rice and while it rests, smother the peeled prawns in the étouffée sauce, along with chopped spring onions and a little more parsley – for no longer than 5 minutes!

prawn étouffée

Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon and serve immediately, with rice, a little more parsley and spring onion. You might want a Dixie beer to go with this, though my recommendation is a glass of Lobster & Shrimp Muscadet-Sevre et Maine.

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Tortilla de Riñones

trozo de tortilla de riñones

The Spanish Tortilla is typically a fat, cake like, omelette containing potatoes and sometimes onions. However, a tortilla can contain all sorts of ingredients, such as mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and even bacalao (salt cod). I’ve enjoyed Tortilla de Riñones in the past, so when I cooked Riñones al Jerez last week, I deliberately included more kidneys than necessary, so that I’d have leftovers to make a Spanish omelette.


In the Oxford Companion to Food,  Alan Davidson suggests that the tortilla may have originated in Persia as kuku (a fried beaten egg cake containing herbs) and come to Spain with Sephardi Jews or the Moors. This might have arrived in Italy as a Frittata, via Sicily at a similar time. It’s also worth noting that the word omelette purportedly comes from the Roman dish overmele – a dish of eggs, honey and pepper, contained in the recipes of the epicure Apicius. Interestingly, there is a popular Persian kuku with potatoes, which illustrates how foods travel around the Mediterranean in circles. Potatoes first arrived in Europe via Spain, from the Americas, in 1492.

Tortilla de Riñones:

6 large eggs (beaten)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
2 lambs kidneys (chopped – leftover from riñones al jerez)
a heaped teaspoon chopped parsley
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
lots of olive oil


The onion should be soft and sticky, so sofreír (poach slowly) in plenty of olive oil. A large volume (depth) of onion helps, there’s more water being released and this keeps it moist. Stir often and if you notice the onion drying out, add more olive oil. Do not cover with a lid – the liquid in the onion is supposed to evaporate.


When the onion looks right, melts on the tongue (almost) and tastes sweet  (20 – 30 minutes) add the chopped garlic.

riñones cortados

Stir in the chopped kidney, to warm it trough. These were two kidneys, previously cooked in sherry. If you don’t fancy kidneys, leave them out or substitute mushrooms. Do precook mushrooms first and allow their moisture to evaporate.

huevos y perejil

Beat 6 eggs and season with salt and pepper – the best way to check if the eggs have enough salt is to taste them raw. Stir the hot onion mixture into the beaten eggs and allow them to rest for 5 minutes – this prethickens the tortilla before you start to cook it. Add the parsley, just before frying the omelette.

aceite caliente

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the frying pan and get it quite hot. You should see in rippling slightly and it should be on the verge of smoking. Swirl the oil around the pan, so that the sides are moistened and pour in the egg mixture. The hot oil will set the bottom and sides of the tortilla instantly. Shake, put a plate or lid over the top of the pan and turn the heat down. This allows the middle to set slightly.

tortilla volteada

When you smell caramelised egg, it’s time to flip the tortilla. Use a plate that is larger than the frying pan, place it over the top and in a single movement, turn the tortilla over and onto the plate. If in doubt, do this over the sink. You should have the tortilla, wet side down, sitting on the plate. Pour a little more oil into the pan, make sure it is hot and slide the tortilla back in, to cook the wet side. Turn the heat down immediately the egg hits the pan. Shake the pan backwards and forwards occasionally to stop the egg sticking.

tortilla de riñones

The tortilla can be flipped several more times, as necessary, to get a nice shape and colour. This can be cooked until it has set in the middle or it can have a runny centre. If necessary, poke a knife into the middle and have a look. Tortilla can be served hot or cold as a main course, it can be chopped into little pieces as a tapa and it’s commonly used as a sandwich filling (when sliced). It’s a normal sight to see people going to work at 7am with a long bocadillo de tortilla, wrapped in aluminium foil – a bocadillo is a sandwich made with a baguette. I like to eat tortillas with salsa brava, my guilty pleasure being that I prefer the cheap stuff (with a chilli kick), as opposed to the mild and delicate (posh) versions on sale. A glass of Fino makes a perfect accompaniment, especially with the hint of sherry in the kidneys.

the poacher

Tortillas are usually cooked on the hob and flipped. There are people who bake them in the oven, but IMHO that’s a frittata and scorching the top under the grill (broiler) drys them out too much for my liking.  I’ve cooked more tortillas than I can count and usually use cast iron frying pans of various sizes. My record (so far) is 28 eggs, using a very large chopping board for flipping. However, when I first arrived in Barcelona, I remember cooking the first couple of tortillas as being a bit daunting. Not long after moving to a new shared apartment, someone bought an egg poaching pan (like the one above). The cups and tray can be removed, the inside is nonstick, it’s quite deep, has a flat bottom and is about 8 inches (21cm) across – it holds a 6 egg tortilla perfectly, fits normal sized plates for flipping and is absolutely perfect for making tortillas!

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Riñones al Jerez

riñones al jerez

I bought some lamb’s kidneys this week for a different dish, but they were so cheap that I bought extra to make Riñones al Jerez – kidneys with sherry. Kidneys are nowhere near as popular in the UK as they used to be, but you will still find deviled kidneys and steak and kidney pie (or pudding) on restaurant menus. There should be no problem in finding kidneys in butchers shops and supermarkets. In Spain Riñones al Jerez is a classic dish that can be found in most bars and restaurants. Other types of kidney are also used for this, such as calf or pig.


The kidney’s function is to clean toxins from the blood, producing urine. Therefore, some can have a strong undesirable smell or taste. Lamb’s kidneys are quite mild, but it’s common to soak all types in a saline solution or milk to “improve” them.

Riñones al Jerez:

8 – 10 lamb’s kidneys
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
a level dessertspoon plain flour
2 dessertspoons chicken stock
1/2 glass Fino sherry
a splash of sherry vinegar
fresh parsley (finely chopped)
a knob of butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)


Peel the outer membrane from the kidneys (this is easy), then cut in half and remove the white fatty core (a good butcher will do this for you). Cut in half again, so you have 4 pieces, or chop finer as you see fit.

agua salada

If you wish, soak the kidneys in 500ml salty water, with 50ml of white wine vinegar for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

riñones fritos

Brown the kidneys in extra virgin olive oil and remove to a plate. They almost look like mushrooms and I was tempted to mix the two, but champiñones al ajillo (mushrooms with garlic and parsley) is a perfect tapa in it’s own right and can be served alongside this.


Gently poach (sofreír) the onion in extra virgin olive oil and a knob of butter. Some recipes eschew the onion, but when cooked slowly, it almost melts into the sauce.

riñones y cebolla

When the onion becomes soft and sticky, add the garlic and kidneys, but discard any oil/liquid left on the kidney plate. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes.

harina y caldo

Stir in the flour to make a roux and add the stock.


Sprinkle with parsley.


Pour on the sherry. Allow to bubble and reduce for a few minutes and season to taste. Add a little splash of sherry vinegar just before serving.

kidneys with sherry

Riñones al Jerez is an excellent tapa or even first course – serve with a little more parsley on top and a glass of Fino sherry. Fino is drunk chilled as a refreshing aperitif and often enjoyed with salty almonds or Jamón Iberico. It is a crisp, dry sherry, aged for at least 2 years in oak barrels and normally between 7 – 10 years in total. In Spain, a decent Fino will cost about the same price as a reasonable bottle of wine.

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Moorish Chicken Soup

moorish chicken soup

I was vaccinated earlier his week and a couple of friends warned me that I might have flu like symptoms, so being prepared, I bought a chicken to make chicken soup. I didn’t expected to blog anything, particularly since I’ve blogged chicken soup before. Several days past, with no symptoms whatsoever, so I got on with making soup regardless. It commenced normally, but while making the stock, el Duende sat on my shoulder and convinced me to change course …it all started with whispers of cumin – the result being a Moorish Chicken Soup, which tasted so good, it had to be posted. For a description on what makes something Moorish, see my post here.

Chicken Stock recipe:

a 3lb chicken
1 large onion (cut into 12 pieces)
6 cloves garlic (squashed and peeled)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
cilantro/coriander stalks
a few sprigs rosemary, thyme, sage
2 bay leaves
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
3 pints water
extra virgin olive oil

Brown a medium chicken in olive oil and once it has taken some colour, add the chopped onion, followed by the other vegetables. Give them a few minutes in the hot oil before pouring on about 3 pints of water, with the herbs and seasoning.

Bring the stock to a simmer and skim off any foam floating on top of the liquid. Cover and cook gently for an hour in a preheated oven at 160ºC.  Turn the chicken over half way through to cook it evenly. When done, remove the chicken and allow it to cool. Pick out the vegetables and herbs (discard them), then sieve the liquid to remove any impurities. When the bird is cool enough, chop the meat into bite sized pieces, after removing all the skin and bones.


Chicken Soup recipe (serves 6):

the meat from a poached 3lb chicken
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large Spanish onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 large stick celery (chopped)
1 large green capsicum pepper (chopped)
1 preserved lemon (chopped)
1 dessertspoon tomato purée
2 large squirts anchovy paste
a pinch of ancho chilli (chopped)
a pinch of chipotle (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimetón de la Vera dulce
1/4 bunch coriander (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 dessertspoon plain flour
2 bay leaves
3 pints chicken stock
extra virgin olive oil

preserved lemons

While I was cooking the stock, I started to think I should add cumin to the soup. Chilli seemed to go with that and I’d seen Karen’s Mexican Chicken Soup earlier in the week along with a fabulous documentary on Diana Kennedy. I was intending to squeeze the juice of a lemon over the finished dish (just before serving), but once the  turmeric went in, preserved lemon was a must!

Start by frying the chopped onion in olive oil, until it becomes translucent. Add the bacon and cook until it has changed colour. Stir in the carrot, celery and garlic followed by the green pepper (after a few minutes). Sprinkle on the dry herbs, chilli, pimentón and flour. Mix to make a roux. Pour in half a pint of stock to make a paste. Chop the preserved lemon (removing any pips) – this goes into the casserole along with the tomato purée, anchovy paste, coriander and bay leaves.


Add the remaining stock and stir well. Simmer and cover the casserole, then remove to a preheated oven at 160ºC for a couple of hours. Check the soup every 30 minutes or so – above I added  pimentón de la Vera later (but it would normally go in before all the stock – I was making things up as I went along, according to taste). Do adjust the seasoning as you see fit. I left the lid off for the final 30 minutes, so that a skin formed on top.

sopa de pollo

This is a wonderful restorative soup, which will leave you with a pleasant rosy glow. Aside from the obvious Moorish flavours, the citrus taste had a beautiful hint of orange blossom to it. Serve with toasted sourdough bread and butter with a glass of Gall Negre (Black Cockerel) from the Penedès.

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