Catalan Pheasant

catalan pheasant

I have been planning to do a Catalan rabbit post for several weeks, however, Mr McGregor is a poor hunter, so all 60,000,000 rabbits (estimated UK population), have got off lightly! Fortunately, Jake the Poacher is a crack shot, so I’ve adapted the recipe for pheasant instead. In Barcelona, pheasant is sold (in season) alongside rabbit on the Avinova stall in the Boqueria.

pheasant

Pheasants were probably introduced to Britain and most of Europe, by the Romans, because aside from being delicious, they are easy to hunt. They don’t move very fast and when they take do flight they announce the fact loudly, making them easy to spot.

Catalan Pheasant (Faisà Català) recipe (feeds 2):

1 medium to large pheasant (cut into 6 pieces)
3 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
1/2 pint pheasant (or chicken) stock
a small glass of dry white wine
parsley (finely chopped) garnish
extra virgin olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Picada:

1 teaspoonful parsley (finely chopped)
12 blanched peeled almonds
3 pieces garlic (chopped)
1 slice fried bread (chopped)
2 dessertspoonfuls stock
a teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 pinches sea salt
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

chopped

Chop the pheasant up beforehand, into 6 pieces (legs, wings and breasts) and any small bits of meat from underneath – leave it out of the fridge for at least an hour to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and do save the carcass for your stock pot. Take out any stray feathers – they taste quite bitter. If your pheasant has feet, twist them to disconnect the bone and pull them off – the small leg bones and tendons will come out with them. This makes eating the legs less of a chore later on.

A typical Catalan recipe starts with a sofregit, similar to a sofrito, but simpler and more fundamental. The word sofregit means to under fry or fry gently. Generally this base for a recipe would be slow cooked onions and tomatoes, though tomatoes have only been included since the discovery of the Americas.

bacon

Ideally this should be cooked in a Spanish terracotta cazuela with a diffuser underneath to provide gentle, even cooking. However, I’m sure similar results can be obtained in a cast iron casserole. When cooking a sofregit, bacon isn’t cooked with the onion, so I’ve fried it until crispy first, which adds flavour to the olive oil from the outset. When done, reserve the bacon for later.

fry up

Next, brown the pheasant all over – when it has a nice golden colour, remove it to the same plate as the bacon.

sofregit

Turn the heat down low and cook the onion in the pheasant and bacon flavoured oil. It’s very important to cook the onion slowly – it must not burn! Frequent stirring is a must. This is much easier than it sounds with a cazuela and diffuser – the above onion cooked for about an hour with only minimum stirring, at which point it had almost begun to  melt. You may be able to cheat this in a cast iron casserole with lid, at a low temperature in the oven…

tomato

Garlic is an optional sofregit ingredient – add it to the onion when it has reached a golden colour and 5 minutes before grating in the fresh tomato. Cut the tomatoes in half and push the wet side into the grater as you move your hand up and down. It’s quite simple and easier than blanching and peeling. Discard the skins or save them for stock.

stock

When the tomatoes have cooked in for about 10 minutes, the bacon and pheasant can go back into the cazuela, along with 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a small glass of dry white wine and about half a pint of pheasant (or chicken) stock. The meat should just be poking up above the liquid. Let the dish bubble away gently for about an hour and then check the seasoning.

To finish off a Catalan sauce, it needs to be thickened with a picada – this is a paste, usually made of fried bread, almonds (or hazelnuts), garlic and olive oil, ground up with a mortar and pestle.

fried bread

I fried some bread, earlier in the day – typically Spanish bread comes in a barra (baguette), so a couple of slices of French bread would be about right.

almonds

Put all the solid picada ingredients into the mortar – chop the bread, garlic and parsley beforehand.

picada

Give everything a good pounding with the pestle and drizzle a little olive oil in as you do so. What you want is a smooth, pesto like paste. It should start to look quite thick, at which point pour in a little stock. Once the paste looked right I tasted it and thought a dash of red wine vinegar was needed to give it a kick. The picada should have a robust flavour and be smooth with no lumps. You can use a food processor if it’s easier.
N.B. If your pheasant or rabbit comes with liver intact, it should be fried with the meat and ground up in the picada. Sadly, Jake the Poacher had made off with my liver!

thickener

Remove the bigger pieces of pheasant (temporarily) to facilitate stirring.

thickened

Mix the picada into the sauce to make it rich and creamy.

pheasant’s return

Return the pheasant pieces to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

faisà català

Sprinkle on a little parsley as a garnish. Serve with seasonal vegetables and a glass of Cava from Sant Sadurní.

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Rabbit and Mustard

rabbit and mustard

Rabbit is not an indigenous British species, it’s thought that they were brought here by the Romans or Normans, to farm for meat and fur. Over the last millennium, rabbits have become a real pest – they can have 3 – 12 babies every 2 or 3 months. It’s estimated that the population of rabbits in the the UK alone, is in excess of 40 million.

bunny

Vegetable farmers have to do a considerable amount of shooting and trapping in order to protect their crops (our food). Rabbits are classified as vermin, so there’s no closed hunting season. As rabbit tastes good, it seems to me that we should be eating the wild ones that breed here, rather than importing farmed rabbits that taste inferior (due to their diet of grain). Rabbit meat is far leaner than most other meats – you won’t get fat on it! So when Mr. McGregor hands you a rabbit, do cook it slowly with some fine herbs and spices, instead of feeding it to your dog.

One of the most popular European rabbit recipes is rabbit with mustard (there are many variations throughout the continent). I can’t find any mention of it’s origins, but since the Romans loved eating rabbit and mustard was one of their favorite condiments, the dish must be more than two thousand years old.

Rabbit and Mustard recipe (feeds 2):

1 wild rabbit
3 slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
6 heaped teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 heaped teaspoon tarragon (finely chopped)
3 heaped dessertspoons plain four
100ml crème fraîche
2/3 pint game stock (or chicken stock)
1 glass of dry white wine
extra virgin oil olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

tarragon

Finley chop some fresh tarragon, so that you have about a teaspoonful

mustard and tarragon

and mix it with 5 heaped teaspoons of Dijon mustard (hold the sixth spoonful back for later).

smothered

Cut the rabbit up into small pieces (a good butcher will do this for you), pat it dry with some kitchen towel and smother it with the mustard and tarragon mixture. Discard the ribs or use them for stock – there’s not much meat on them. Cover the meat and refrigerate for a few hours (ideally overnight).
If wild rabbit smells too gamey for you, soak it in salted water for 3 hours – the meat  will be tenderised and smell less fragrant. It’s not something I do though and 90 minutes in the oven should make it nice and tender regardless.

fried rabbit

When you are ready to cook, dredge the rabbit pieces in seasoned flour (keep any leftover flour for later in the recipe) and fry in olive oil over a medium heat for about 4 or 5 minuted on either side. Ideally, use a large cast iron casserole for the whole cooking process. When browned, remove all the rabbit to a plate. Don’t overcrowd the frying, it’s best to do it in two or three batches.

onions, bacon and garlic

When the rabbit is done, turn the heat down and fry the chopped onion in the same casserole.  If necessary pour in a little more olive oil.  When the onion goes translucent, stir in the bacon and garlic. Don’t worry about any stuck flour, mustard or juices in the pan, this will become unstuck while cooking the onion. It looks a bit messy, but it will dissolve and add amazing flavour.

crocodiles

When the bacon, onions and garlic have taken a little colour, stir in a tablespoonful of the reserved flour. Pour in a glass of dry white wine (a Burgundy to match the Dijon mustard is good). Mix in half the stock and all the rabbit. Top up the casserole dish, so that the rabbit pieces poke out, just above the surface, like sleeping crocodiles.

braised

Turn the heat up and let the liquid bubble for a minute or two, then cover with the lid and put the cooking pot into a preheated oven at 150º C. Taste the dish half an hour later to check the seasoning. After an hour, stir in 100ml crème fraîche – if the sauce is a bit runny sprinkle on a teaspoon or two of the leftover seasoned flour, when mixed in and heated it will smooth out and thicken things up nicely. Cook for a further 30 minutes in the oven (90 minutes oven cooking time in total).

tarragon garnish

To finish, stir in the remaining teaspoonful of Dijon mustard and a splash of white wine, just before serving. Sprinkle on a little chopped tarragon for decoration. Serve with mashed potato and seasonal vegetables.

I used a Blason Mâcon Villages (Burgundy) in my recipe and enjoyed a glass with my supper. The taste and smell of anise in the tarragon had me drinking a Pastis while I was cooking.

…and finally, I came across a very funny quote from American food writer James Andrew Beard, who said, “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

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Conejo al Ajillo (Rabbit with Garlic)

conejo al ajillo

Conejo al Ajillo (rabbit with garlic) is an extremely popular Iberian dish with many regional variations, as you will see if you look it up online. Rabbit itself is very much considered meat in Spain, unlike the UK where most people (these days) see it as a pet. It is said that the Carthaginians, arriving in Spain (around 300 BC), named the region Ispania (from Sphan meaning rabbit), land of rabbits, which later became Hispania under the Romans and España today.

chopped bunny

Conejo al Ajillo recipe (serves 2):

1 wild rabbit (2-3 lbs) chopped into small pieces
1 head of garlic (peeled)
6 medium potatoes (thickly sliced)
lots of extra virgin olive oil
6 pieces of thyme
2 small branches of rosemary
1 heaped teaspoon dulce (sweet) pimentón de la Vera
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 dessertspoons plain flour
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
half a lemon

Cut up the rabbit ahead of time and sprinkle some salt and pepper all over. A good butcher will chop the rabbit for you if you’d prefer. Don’t bother with the rib cage, there’s barely any meat on it – use it for making stock instead. I included the liver, kidneys and heart in my dish, but you can relegate them to stock too, if you are not keen.

conejo

Heat about 1 cm extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan – it needs to be quite hot, but not smoking. Give the rabbit pieces a light dusting of flour (just before cooking) and fry them until golden (about 10 minutes). Remove the rabbit while you cook the potatoes.

patatas fritas

I like to thickly slice the potatoes raw and bring them to the boil in water (plunge into cold water and allow to dry) before frying. This gives them a nice fluffy center. Don’t crowd the slices in the pan – they can be cooked in batches. Remove the cooked potatoes to a plate and add salt to taste.

ajos

Meanwhile, squash (slightly) and peel, an entire head of garlic (some recipes call for two heads – your choice).

garlic and herbs

Put the garlic and the leaves from the thyme and rosemary into a mortar and give it all a good grind with the pestle to make a herb and garlic paste (a pinch of salt helps in the grinding process).

salsa

Pour most of the olive oil out of the frying pan, then (on a low heat) stir in the garlic paste and red wine vinegar (use a small glass of dry white wine if you prefer) before combining the rabbit and potato in the pan. Sprinkle on the pimentón de la Vera and mix that in too. Give the conejo al ajillo about 10 minutes more on low, to allow most of the vinegar to cook off – you will need to keep stirring so it doesn’t stick. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the rabbit before serving. Reserve the remaining olive oil for cooking roast potatoes – it should keep for a few days.

allioli

Serve with salad and lots of allioli (see my recipe here). It has occurred to me that the potato and rabbit would also work well with the allioli poured on top (like this recipe) then cooked in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

This smelled and tasted so good that I had to stop myself eating the lot in one go! Pair the rabbit with a robust Spanish red, like Carta Roja Monastrell.

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Pheasant and Rabbit Casserole

pheasant and rabbit casserole

While cooking my Arroz de Faisán y Conejo, I realised that I’d have two carcasses and meat leftover. So as not to waste anything, I put it all in a cast iron casserole with an onion, 2 carrots, a stick of celery, 6 pieces of garlic, a few black peppercorns, a large pinch of sea salt and a bouquet garni with 2 litres of water. I brought the water up to boiling, skimmed off any scum and put the casserole in the oven at 150º C for an hour. As I was busy cooking, I turned the oven off after 60 minutes and left the casserole to cool down. A few hours later I strained the stock, picked off and saved the meat and threw away the bones and vegetables.

Pheasant and Rabbit Casserole recipe (serves 2):

250g mixed pheasant and rabbit meat (chopped
250g leftover roast chicken (chopped)
a small piece of jamón serrano (chopped)
3 medium Mozart potatoes (peeled and quartered)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
3 medium mushrooms (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1.5 litres pheasant and rabbit stock
a squirt of tomato purée
olive oil for frying
a splash of red wine vinegar
1 chicken stock cube
ground sea salt, black peppercorns, rosemary, sage and thyme
2 bay leaves
a sprinkle of hot Pimentón de la Vera
rabbit’s blood

In a large cast iron casserole, Fry the onion in olive oil until it becomes translucent. Add the carrots and celery, followed by the garlic, mushrooms and meat. After a few minutes squirt in the purée, crumble in the stock cube, sprinkle on 2 teaspoons of herbs and a splash of red wine vinegar. Pour on the stock and stir. Meanwhile, peel and quarter the potatoes – they can go in the pot too, along with the bay leaves. Bring the stock to boiling, cover with the lid on and put the casserole into a preheated oven at 150º C for a couple of hours. This will be perfect after 2 hours, but but won’t come to any harm if cooked for an hour or so more. Obviously the potatoes will dissolve eventually.

rabbit blood

After two hours check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. A sprinkle of hot Pimentón de la Vera on top gives the casserole a kick and a slight smokey flavour. I had some rabbit blood, so as per coq au vin, I stirred it into the casserole to the thicken the sauce.

Serve with a robust red wine, such as Marquesa de la Cruz, a Garnacha, Syrah, Mazuelo from Aragon.

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Arroz de Faisán y Conejo (Pheasant and Rabbit Rice)

arroz de faisán y conejo

Many people think that Paella (pie-eh-ya) is the Spanish national dish (along with slightly lesser known, Arroz a Banda and Arroz Negro), however, they would be mistaken, because these rice dishes all hail from the province of Valencia.

The Moors began cultivating rice in Spain, perhaps as far back as the 8th and 9th Centuries and the marshes and lagoon of L’Albufera, (in the south of Valencia) proved to be a perfect place for paddy fields (though rice is cultivated all over Spain). Originally rice dishes would have been cooked in cauldrons or terracotta cazuelas – soupy stews of fish or meat, such as a Caldero Murciano or oven baked meat and rice with beaten eggs on top like Arroz con Costra. Paella became popular from about 1840 onwards and takes its name from the pan it’s cooked in – a wide but shallow cast iron frying pan with handles on either side, ideal for cooking outdoors over a wood fire which provides a smokey flavour. Having become extremely popular with Spaniards and tourists alike, versions of paella can be found all over Spain and as far afield as British supermarkets. Much to the consternation of Valencian chefs and traditionalists, the fairly specific regional ingredients have become adapted, often mixing fish and meat – the worst transgression being the addition of chorizo, which is not found in any of the above mentioned rice dish recipes. Some of the “best” British celebrity chefs have played a big part in adulterating Spanish regional food. Read the 6 pages of comments on this paella recipe to see how heated the debate can get.

To defend against the bastardisation of their regional food heritage, an organisation of Valencian celebrities from the world of culture, gastronomy and society has been set up, called Wikipaella. Their aim is, “To encourage knowledge and acknowledgement of authentic paellas.”

They have 10 golden rules for making an authentic Valencian Paella:

1. Don’t mix seafood and meat. And only use seafood if by the sea.
2. True Valencian paella is made with rabbit, chicken and green beans in the summer, duck and artichoke in the winter.
3. No garlic. No peas. No potatoes. No stock. NO CHORIZO.
4. Only use Spanish rice, preferably Valencian bomba or senia.
5. Cook over wood, for that authentic smoky flavour.
6. On no accounts, stir. The rice should stick to the pan.
7. Oh, and that pan should be an authentic paella. Not a frying pan. And definitely not a wok.
8. Eat it straight from the pan, preferably using a wooden spoon. At lunchtime only.
9. If it’s served in a portion for one, it isn’t the real thing, it’s been frozen and reheated. Or it’s from Vesta.
10. For ultra-authenticity, it should only be cooked by a man. A Spanish man. In Valencia.

cooking paella on gas

Having read the rules, how would I dare to make a paella in London? Since I don’t have a paella pan, or an open fire and I’m not in Valencia or remotely Spanish, the next best thing, would be to make a rice dish inspired by the common ingredients of the genuine article. The paellera (pan) isn’t really suited to a home cooker anyway, having been originally designed for an open fire of pine or orange branches. In modern professional kitchens or at outdoor events, outsized gas burners are used to spread the heat out across the entire pan for even cooking. So instead, I used my Spanish terracotta cazuela – a cooking dish in common use throughout the Roman Empire (2000 years ago) and still very much a useful Spanish kitchen cooking pot today.

Arroz de Faisán y Conejo (Pheasant and Rabbit Rice) recipe (serves 3 – 4):

a very generous pouring of Spanish extra virgin olive oil
500g pheasant (legs and breast)
500g wild rabbit (legs, saddle and liver)
200g green beans (chopped into 2cm pieces)
1 large Spanish tomato (or 3 English sized ones)
6 pieces of garlic (chopped)
a heaped spoonful of dulce Pimentón de la Vera
200g lima beans (butter beans) or pinto beans
1.5 – 2 litres water
1/2g saffron
1 sachet food colouring
a branch of rosemary
400g Valencian rice (bomba or senia)
sea salt to taste

naked lunch

I bought a rabbit at the farmers’ market and had a pheasant in the freezer. Since, in spite of the paella rules, there is some flexibility in ingredients and differences in recipes on the Wikpaella website – duck is sometimes used as well as, or in place of chicken and I could imagine a Valencian farmer using another shot game bird instead. Apparently water vole was used in early recipes. Similarly, outside the rules, most sample recipes include garlic!

meat browning

To start, season with salt and brown the meat in plenty of Spanish extra virgin olive oil, holding back the rabbit liver. I recommend buying wild rabbit, farmed rabbit is treated worse than battery chicken – there are few regulations for farming rabbits.

rabbit liver

When the meat is nearly ready, fry the liver for a couple of minutes and remove to a plate – there’s no need to overcook it.

judias verdes

If I had a 45cm paellera, I’d push the meat to the edges and continue with the vegetables in the middle. Since the cazuela is deeper, but less wide, I removed the meat to a plate so as to fry the green beans (judías verdes) for 5 minutes or so.

grated tomato

Here’s a good Spanish trick – instead of blanching and peeling tomatoes, it’s easier to cut them in half and grate the cut side into what you are cooking.

tomato skins

It’s very quick – all the goodness goes into the recipe and you are left with an empty flat skins.

ajo

Follow the tomato with finely chopped garlic

pimentón

and when it has softened, sprinkle on a heaped teaspoonful of dulce Pimentón de la Vera. Give this a stir and return the meat to the cazuela.

water

Pour on 1 litre of water – I used boiling water to speed things up. When the liquid is bubbling, mix in the butter beans – mine were presoaked and cooked in a pressure cooker beforehand. If using a pallera, the water would go up to the top of the rivets in the handles.

reduction

Turn up the heat and reduce the stock to almost nothing.

azafrán

Pour on more boiling water (to the nails [rivets], as they say) and taste – add more salt if required. Pour a little boiling water on the saffron before stirring it in to the stock. Your kitchen should be infused with a fabulous crocus aroma.

el aeroplano

I noticed that some of the paella recipes used food colouring and I just happened to have the real thing (bought in Valencia) in my cupboard, thanks to Sue.

powders

Note the beautiful packaging,

food colouring

reminiscent of Beecham’s Powders! This is tartrazine (A.K.A. E102) and corn flour. Curcumin might be a more organic alternative.

arroz

With the saffron and colouring added, pour the Valencian rice into the cazuela. Stir this in, so that it’s evenly mixed, but do not stir again!

romero

Put the rosemary branch into the middle of the broth and leave it there for 3 minutes only. If cooking snails in a paella, you don’t use rosemary, because snails eat it and therefore contain an essence of rosemary already.

simmering the rice

Simmer the dish vigorously for about 10 minutes before turning the heat right down for a final 10 minutes.

cooked

The stock should all be absorbed and rice will have a brilliant yellow colour.

resting

Place a newspaper on top of the cazuela (making sure the gas is switched off) for 5 minutes, to allow any remaining liquid to be soaked up and the dish to settle.

crusty

A good paella is judged by the dark crust (socarrat) that forms at the bottom of the pan. I’m careful not to let the rice get too dry in terracotta or the cazuela will crack, but you can see evidence of the crust forming in the above picture.

Paella is a lunchtime dish, it should be served warm (not hot!) and eaten direct from the pallera with a wooden spoon. I enjoyed my Arroz de Faisán y Conejo with an organic Valencian tempranillo, Casa Lluch. Historically, paella and rice dishes were not served with allioli, but in recent years it has become common practice. I made my own, since I like a bit of allioli on the side.

As an experiment, when I heated up leftovers today, I added a little chopped fried chorizo to see how it affected the taste. While the rice was still quite enjoyable, the chorizo dominated all the flavours and in particular, completely smothered the flowery sweet and bitter saffron. Conclusion – chorizo does not belong in a paella!

Posted in Food, Game, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Bacalao a la Llauna

la boqueria

On my last visit to Barcelona, I went to the Boqueria to buy some bacalao from the Brandada Lady. They are almost exclusively ladies in the fish part of the market – perhaps in the old days the husbands caught the fish and the wives sold them. These ladies can be quite a fearsome bunch, taking no nonsense from tourists, but at the same time flirting outrageously to get you to buy their fish and not that of the stall next door.

cod fish

Cod cured in salt and will literally keep for years, perhaps even decades without spoiling. The technique of curing by air drying cod dates back to the Vikings and it is said that the procedure was given to the Basques, along with directions to the Grand Banks off North America, where the sea was literally full of cod (one could practically dip a hand in the ocean and pull out a fish). Unlike Norsemen, the Basques had salt and they perfected the art of salting, so perhaps there was some trade off. According to Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (by Mark Kurlansky), the Basque fishermen were sailing across the Atlantic for 500 years before Columbus discovered America. It is said that the Basques kept their fishing grounds a secret and others who tried to follow them foundered on the way. Regardless, salt cod became an essential cheap staple (along with cured meat and sausage), in the centuries before refrigeration – all long journeys and voyages depended on food that would keep for the duration.

shrink wrapped

Normally, one buys salt cod dry or rehydrated from a bacalao stall in the market. If you want cod for supper, the Bacalao Ladies will have some ready soaked – they have fantastic old marble sinks a bit like those used to wash photographic prints. If one is buying salt cod to cook at a later date or for a journey, traditionally it’s wrapped in wax paper, but these days, if you ask nicely in Spanish, you can have it shrink wrapped. Strictly speaking, shrink wrapping isn’t necessary, flies and germs won’t go near salted fish, but the bacalao is smelly and in a constant state of repelling any remaining moisture. I did consider sending myself bacalao by post, unwrapped, to see how well it lasted (knowing full well that it would probably be fine), but the Spanish Correos (Post Office) objected. In fact they even refused to accept shrunk wrapped bacalao with an address label on it, stating that it must be wrapped in brown paper – “Why I asked,” but all I got in response was a lecture about rules and regulations. After that rebuttal, I put the salt cod in my suitcase – no problem with customs!

en el frigo

On arriving home, I wasn’t entirely sure about keeping bacalao in plastic – normally it’s supposed to be hung up in the larder. I consulted La Chica Andaluza who said, quite rightly, that salt cod will sweat and go bad in plastic. Her recommendation was to rehydrate it and freeze it until needed.  The main reason for not having it hanging from a hook in the kitchen is the very strong fish smell. So, to rehydrate bacalao, it needs to be soaked in cold water for between 48 and 72 hours. I put mine in a glass bowl and changed the water every 12 hours or so. The preferred method of testing codfish to see if enough salt has been removed in washing, is to break off a little peace and taste it. Fear not, all germs have been banish from salted cod.

I came across a couple of novel rehydration methods for cured codfish in the Cod book:

“Deep inland in France, La France profonde, as the French like to say, on the far side of the mountain range called the Massif Central, is the Aveyron. It is a rugged region of high green sheep pastures, deep gorges, and jagged rock outcrop-pings, the most famous of which, in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, provides the natural caves for aging the world’s most famous cheese. An isolated area where shepherds still speak a local dialect, the region would get supplies all the way from distant Bordeaux on river barges. Barges would move up the Garonne to the Lot to Rodez and other towns in the Aveyron. The stockfish, bought in Bordeaux and dragged in the river behind the barge for the two-day voyage, would be soft and ready for cooking when it arrived.

In the twentieth century, the Lot became increasingly polluted and unnavigable, but a new invention was well suited to the preparation of stockfish: the flush toilet. In 1947, the president of the Conseil, the governing body of France, asked his valet to flush the toilet once an hour for the next week in preparation for a special dinner he was preparing on Sunday. The dish was stockfish. The toilet was fed by a water tank mounted high up on the wall, the chasse d‘eau. A stockfish left in the chasse d’eau for two days was soft and ready for cooking. The system was also ideal for salted fish, since the water was easy to change. All of this may be deemed unaesthetic, but, unfortunately, it is now more hygienic than using the Garonne and its tributaries.”

I think I’d prefer it flushed to dragged up river by a barge.

My Basque friend Amaia does sometimes have bacalao hanging in her kitchen and she likes to break off little pieces to gnaw on. My salt cod did sit in the freezer for a couple of months, but finally I got round to making my favourite Catalan bacalao recipe this week.

bacallà a la llauna

Bacallà a la Llauna recipe (per person):

250 – 500g piece of salt cod (rehydrated)
6 large pieces of garlic (3 sliced and 3 chopped)
1 heaped teaspoon dulce (sweet) pimentón de la Vera
plain flour for dusting
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 large glass of dry vermouth or white wine
lots of Spanish extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)

Bacallà (bacalao) a la Llauna is specific to Cataluña and means salt cod on the tin, as in cooked on a tin tray or tin receptacle. This simple recipe is something that would have been cooked at home and out in the fields, probably in a large tin vessel or pot. I love this dish – when I arrive in Barcelona I always want to visit Romesco (on my first night), where the delicious smell of cod and garlic hits you as you walk trough the door. Can Vilaró, also does a very good bacalao a la llauna with beans. I’ve looked at a least a dozen or so traditional recipes, most of which are the same as mine. A few people add grated tomato or chopped red pepper with the garlic. It’s common to serve this with boiled potatoes or mongetes – a small white haricot bean, cooked in the tray along with the cod.

dusted

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan – it’s an ingredient and not just a cooking medium. Dust the salt cod lightly with plain flour and fry it skin side down, when the oil is nearly smoking.

frying

Lightly brown the codfish all over, remove to a tin tray and set aside. Any oven proof cooking dish will do – glass, terracotta, metal, etc. Heat the oven to about 180ºC while you cook the garlic.

ajos

Fry the sliced garlic in the hot olive oil until it starts to go golden brown.

pimentòn

When the garlic is cooked, sprinkle on a heaped teaspoonful of sweet Pimentón de la Vera and stir.

vino

Pour in the wine – I used half dry white wine and half dry vermouth. Add a heaped spoonful of parsley as the wine bubbles. Do let the alcohol burn off for a couple of minutes, but don’t let the liquid reduce too much. Season with salt and pepper (to taste).

para el horno

Pour the wine and pimentón sauce over the bacalao and scatter the chopped, uncooked garlic on top. Place in a preheated oven at 180ºC for about 15 minutes. If adding white beans they would go in now.

bacalao a la llauna

I ate my salt cod with a boiled potatoes and green beans, a little chopped parsley garnish on the bacalao finished it off. I ejoyed a glass of Muscadet-Sèvre et Main with mine.

You can buy bacalao in Britain from a reputable fishmonger or Spanish and Portuguese shops. You won’t have any trouble finding it in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Fresh cod could be substituted, the main difference being that having been salted, bacalao is preseasoned and has firmer flesh.

N.B. The introduction of cod in batter (for fish and chips) to Britain, by Jews fleeing persecution from the Inquisition, would have been salt cod in a tempura batter, tempura having been created in Iberia, was originally taken to Japan by Jesuit missionaries.

The popular Caribbean akee and salt fish, started off as cheap salt cod from the Grand Banks, but since this fishing ground has been depleted and cod prices have gone through the roof, the aquatic ingredient has been replace with cheaper salted white fish.

Posted in Barcelona, Drink, Fish, Food, Recipes, Shopping, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Saponara

saponara

I had lunch with Sean this week at Saponara, just a stone’s throw from where I live. In fact it’s so close I can see it from my living room window. I like Saponara so much, I’ve been meaning to take some pictures and write a blog post for the last two years, but the weatherman (on my lunching outside days) has conspired against me! As you can see above, the restaurant has seating for at least 20 people outside on a sunny day. It’s a quiet street and easy to believe that that one has been transported to Italy for a moment or two…

saponara interior

Saponara is a fantastic delicatessen and pizzeria in the heart of Islington, but off the beaten track, which makes it a hidden treasure. This hasn’t, however, stopped it being voted Best Pizza in London by Time Out. The business was set up by the Saponara brothers (from a small Basilicata village in the South of Italy) in 1989. Everyone working here is Italian, so I assume they are all part of the family. The deli fridges contain the most astonishing array or stuffed tomatoes, Italian cheeses and I have never seen so many types of cured meat. The interior, reminds me of a classic 1950s bar/restaurant in Italy.

pizza menu

We ordered from the pizza menu (above), but the restaurant also makes its own pasta – they are always keen to show customers a little basket of the various types to aid their choice. I find it hard to get past the first pizza on the page and I have to confess that I crave it!

piccante pizza

I had the usual today – piccante pizza, made with tomato, mozzarella, nduja, salame piccante, olives and salciccia piccante on a stone baked base.

piccante

The pizza base is light and slightly crispy. There’s no skimping on the quality and quantity of the charcuterie and the nduja oozes umami. Nduja is spicy pork spreading sausage, flavoured with chilli, that comes from Calabria. It is said to be loosely based on French andouille, introduced to the region in the 13th Century by the Angevin, French Capetian rulers from Anjou. Nduja has some similarity in texture and use to Spanish Sobrassada, but tastes quite different (more on Sobrassada in a future post).

chilli oil

In spite of my pizza being piccante, I couldn’t resist a drizzle of hot chilli oil on top.

margherita pizza

Sean ordered a margherita pizza – tomato, mozzarella and oregano, decorated with basil leaves on top. Legend has it that the margherita was invented by Raffaele Esposito (1890) in honour of the Queen of Italy (Margherita of Savoy) and the toppings represent the colours of the Italian flag. However, this is probably untrue, since pizza with the same toppings existed in Naples 100 years before that date. It is also said that the mozzarella was sliced thin and arranged on top of the tomato in a flower shape and along with the basil it resembled a daisy (Margherita in Italian). Regardless of the history, Sean ate his pizza in about 10 minutes, it was so good!

Complimenting the aromas coming from our own pizzas, there was a delicious smell of truffle wafting towards us from a table close by.

san pelligrino

We drank San Pelligrino with our lunch, but be reassured that Saponara has a fantastic wine cellar with the house red and white starting at £12.95 a bottle.

cappuccino

These pizza’s are a complete meal in themselves, there’s no need for pudding, not even when it’s a greedy person like me. The most I could manage was a tiny amaretti biscuit with my cappuccino.

I can’t help feeling extremely content for several hours after eating the piccante pizza and when ordering a takeaway in the evening, I’ve noticed that there’s a fantastic happy atmosphere throughout the packed restaurant when I go to pick it up. In my opinion, this is definitely the best pizza in London – don’t tell anyone!

Saponara is at: 23 Prebend Street, Islington, N1 8PF.

Posted in Eating Out, Food, Meat, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments