September 8th 2011
Migas is a very simple dish, made from stale bread, that can be cooked in a large pot over a wood fire. A perfect meal, prepared in the fields, for a farm worker or shepherd and lately a starter for special occasions. Ingredients vary, depending on the region of Spain, but the most common ones include, bacon, chorizo, eggs, garlic, grapes, lard, manchego (cheese), olive oil, peppers, pimenton, and pork belly (though generally, not all of those at once). At a matanza (annual pig slaughter) the migas might even contain offal and blood. Personally I think that migas is quite similar to a full English breakfast – heavy and fortifying, to provide energy for a hard day’s work.
The word migas means fried bread crumbs – I’ve had it, literally cooked with crumb like pieces and also, bite sized pieces similar to croutons. Personally I prefer it with torn or chopped up bread – made with crumbs it’s a bit too porridge like for me.
Migas (Extremadura) recipe (serves 1):
3 big slices of stale bread (torn or chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (cut in half)
half a red (or green) pepper (cut into big pieces)
1 hot green chilli (finely chopped)
4 slices of smoked, streaky bacon (chopped into pieces)
half a hot chorizo ring (chopped into bite sized pieces)
lots of olive oil
1 level teaspoon of hot, smoked pimenton
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Obviously, outside of Spain, one can’t use Spanish bread. I generally buy brown sourdough bread, so that’s what I have leftover – sourdough is quite substantial and does fry well.
This kind of dish needs a lot of oil to cook the bread and as I mentioned earlier, it would be cooked in a large cooking pot, over an open fire. The nearest thing I have for this style of cooking is a wok – it tapers towards the bottom, so I can have oil, half an inch deep, without it being too large a quantity, and high sides, so the bread can be stirred easily without it falling out of the pan.
Heat the olive oil until it is almost smoking (traditionally lard might also be used). Start by frying the pieces of garlic
and add the bacon pieces (or pork belly) before the garlic has taken much colour. I’ve seen people in Spain cook the garlic until it’s brown, at which point they discard it. I quite like garlic so once it has browned a little, I take it out and put it on a plate.
The chorizo pieces go in next – once they look crispy, both the bacon and chorizo can be removed to the same plate as the garlic.
Cook the red pepper along with the chilli pepper (optional) for a few minutes in the oil, until it has gone a little crinkly – there’s no need to overcook it or fry it to a crisp. Like the other ingredients, remove the peppers to a plate when done.
All the recipes I’ve seen for migas require that the bread be sprinkled in water (don’t get it soggy though) and left overnight before using. However, from experience of living in Spain, I know that the bread there, does tend to go as hard as a rock quite quickly, whereas, sourdough manages to stay moist and malleable for quite a few days in my English kitchen. So, I don’t wet the bread, I just chop it into crouton size pieces.
Fry the bread in the, by now, flavoured oil – it does need to be about half an inch deep to fry this much bread. Do remember that olive oli in Spain is an ingredient and not just a frying medium (I definitely wouldn’t cook this in vegetable oil – in point of fact I don’t buy anything but olive oil). Sprinkle the hot, smoked pimenton over the bread and flavour to taste with salt and pepper. Keep stirring in order to cook all the pieces through, otherwise, the bread on the bottom will burn. I prefer the bread to go crunchy like croutons or fried bread, though I know that some people like it slightly soft in the middle.
Once the bread is nice and crunchy, all the other ingredients can go back into the pan to warm – mix them in to the bread before serving.
I poured out some of the excess oil, into a frying pan, to fry the egg that goes on top of the migas. You’ll notice that it has an orange colour from the chorizo and pimenton. I’d imagine that a shepherd would take out the migas and cook the egg quickly in his single pot before the food got cold, but, he wouldn’t have the luxury of a gas hob – likewise I don’t have the lovely smokey flavour that comes from an open fire!