Caldo Gallego (Galician soup) comes from Galicia, in the north of Spain and on the Atlantic coast. Galicia has a strong Celtic history and it’s own language – Galician, which is closely related to Portuguese. The traditional economy of the region (aside from fishing) is farming and this broth is what keeps the farmers going through wet winters. I’ve seen it written, that in times gone by, the soup was so popular, people ate it three times a day, particularly when there was a scarcity of vegetables during the long dark months. It’s not hard to imagine the ingredients going into a cauldron in the morning and simmering over an open fire throughout the day. Caldo Gallego is a very common sight on Galician menus and well known across Spain.
This dish is said to date back several centuries. While white beans and potatoes only arrived after 1492, it’s quite feasible that the soup was cooked with turnips and dried broad beans prior to the discovery of the Americas.
Caldo Gallego recipe (serves 6):
1 gammon knuckle (ideally smoked)
250g alubìas blancas (dried white beans)
400g flowery potatoes (cubed)
half a large cabbage (torn or sliced)
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) water
cracked black pepper
coarse ground sea salt (if necessary)
You might also include pigs ears, tail and ribs for a luxury version!
Soak the gammon in cold water, overnight in the fridge – this removes some of the salt.
Alternately, using a cast iron casserole, immerse the gammon in cold water, bring a the boil and immediately throw the water away, rinse the gammon and clean the pot before commencing with the recipe.
The dried white beans should also be soaked in cold water overnight. Rinse and drain before using. Add the knuckle, presoaked beans and potatoes to the pot with 3 1/2 pints cold water. The Spanish way to cut potatoes is to use a small knife with which you cut and break them, so that the surface is uneven. Sprinkle on cracked black pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and scoop off any foam. Cook for 2 hours, at which point the gammon should be quite tender, if not cook for another 30 minutes or so.
Remove the knuckle, allow to cool in order to handle, then chop the meat and discard the fat, skin and bones (do use them in making stock, there will still be lots of gelatin and flavour in them). Return the ham to the casserole. By this time the beans and potatoes should be soft and the broth should have taken a little colour from the potatoes. Some will have dissolved, but there should still be small potato chunks.
Cut or tear the leaves of half a cabbage (or use turnip greens) – discard the thicker part of the stems. Allow the cabbage to steam on top of the soup for 10 – 15 minutes, until tender, then stir in. I’m not a huge cabbage fan, but when I put the lid on and the cabbage started to cook, the smell was amazing! Add more black pepper if necessary and in spite of the brined gammon, you might need salt – but don’t add any until the chopped meat has been returned to the pot and the soup has been tasted!
If using chorizos, add them to the pot after 1 1/2 hours of cooking time. If using a piece of smoked bacon (with the beans and potato), chop it up as per the gammon.
Xa vai sendo hora de cea, bo proveito – It’s time for dinner, bon appetite!