Arroz al Horno (arròs al forn – in Valencia and Catalan) is a very simple rice dish from Valencia – there’s an annual festival for it in Xàtiva. This Baked Rice was traditionally cooked on Mondays, using the leftover broth from the weekend’s cocido. There are many Spanish cocidos (from cocer, the verb to cook or boil), the most famous, perhaps, is the Cocido madrileño (Madrid stew) and there’s Escudella i carn d’olla (a Catalan stew commony served at Christmas). These stews contain pieces of meat, sausages, vegetables and chickpeas, cooked for a long time over a low heat. The broth is normally served first with pasta – the Escudella broth comes with very large snail shaped pasta – galets.
The Madrid cocido has the vegetables and chickpeas served second and the meat served last. It is thought that these soup stews originally came from the Sephardic Jewish adafina cooked for the Sabbath. After the Alhambra Decree of 1492, where the Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain, many of them became conversos (converted Christians) in order to stay. To avoid torture and death from the Spanish Inquisition, the Marranos (as they were called) adapted their food to avoid suspicion, by adding pork and sausages. Over time these dishes have been adopted by the Spanish.
I can’t help noticing a passing similarity to Ragù alla Napoletana (from Italy) and cocidos – by this I mean that large pieces of meat with sausages are cooked slowly for a long time with vegetables and then the broth is eaten with pasta, followed by a second meat course. I imagine that this relates to cooking in a single pot over a fire, so the whole meal had to be cooked as one. This is also a typical Sunday meal.
Arròs al Forn is often referred to as arròs passejat (arroz paseado in Spanish), meaning walking rice. This is because (in the old days) housewives prepared the rice at home, but lacking ovens, took it to the communal oven or baker to be cooked. These days they probably take a 20 minute stroll while the rice cooks at home!
Receta de Arroz al Horno (serves 4):
4 small pork ribs
3 pieces pork belly (sliced)
3 or 4 morcillas de cebolla (depending on size)
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
a whole head of garlic
1 medium tomato (grated)
1 medium tomato (sliced)
1 medium potato (sliced)
a handful of cooked chickpeas (about 100g)
300g arroz Bomba
600ml home made stock (chicken or pork)
a large pinch saffron
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
liberal quantities of extra virgin olive oil (as required)
Relative to the stock coming from cocido leftovers, one would expect it to be quite tasty. I used a home made chicken stock which had been cooked with the pulp of 6 large tomatoes (from making salmorejo). If using stock cubes, I think a quarter of a chicken, pork (or beef) and vegetable cube, mixed with boiling water should produce a reasonable substitute. I soaked 100g dried garbanzos (chickpeas) in boiling water and cooked them in a pressure cooker for 25 minutes. I used a handful of them in the rice and ate the rest while the dish was in the oven!
I used a terracotta cazuela for the whole cooking process, but the hob cooking can be done in a frying pan and the dish can be cooked al horno (in the oven) with a glass casserole dish. Or use a large cast iron frying pan or casserole.
Season the pork ribs with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Brown the meat a little in hot olive oil, then reserve to a plate.
Slice the pork belly (panceta fresca) into little pieces, season and brown in the same pan as the ribs. Remove to a plate when it has taken some colour.
Similarly, brown the morcillas a little, but don’t over do it or the skins will split. These were quite big black puddings, so 3 were sufficient. Many morcillas are quite small, so use your judgement. I asked Martin, the 75+ year old Andalucian butcher for his best morcillas muy ricas and ignoring the 4 varieties on display, he went off to the walk in fridge and came back with these, which were extra special!
With the meat caramelised, do the same with a thickly sliced medium potato.
Show a thickly sliced tomato to the pan but cook it for no more than 30 seconds per side or it will dissolve.
Turn the heat down a little and pour the grated tomato into the cazuela, along with the chopped garlic.
Cook for a few minutes before adding the chickpeas, then put the stock on to heat up in a saucepan – needs to be simmering.
Spread the uncooked rice around the cazuela and stir it to coat it with tomato and the oil in the pan. Cook for a minute or two on low.
Grind a large pinch of azafrán (saffron) with a mortar and pestle. Pour on a splash of boiling water and stir into the rice. In this simple dish, the saffron really stands out and shines. In many other rice dishes it can get slightly overwhelmed (especially those containing pimentón).
Next pour the hot stock into the cazuela and mix well. Taste the stock to check the seasoning – add salt and pepper as required, but you probably don’t need much if you’ve got the stock right beforehand.
Arrange the sliced potato around the dish, with the tomato on top. Put the whole head of garlic in the middle (give it a good coating of stock) with the morcillas around it.
Cook the Arroz al Horno at 220ºC for about 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven. It’s ready when all the stock has been absorbed by the rice. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and home made allioli. Do squeeze out the pieces of garlic to spread on the bread! I recommend drinking a dry white wine with the rice, such as Santpere Blanc from Valencia.