I’ll stipulate that, when I travel, I like to buy stuff and bring it home. Some people like T-shirts and liquor; a long-ago secretary collected little souvenir spoons; an attorney on my staff favors novelty socks. When I was younger, I used to memorialize my trips abroad with the typical duty free booty – Hermès eau de cologne: check. Two liters of whisky: check. Giant bar of Toblerone: check. Boring!
Eventually, I realized I was failing to capitalize on foreign markets running out my exemption with discount Glenmorangie and enlarged chocolate bars, and, on a 1995 trip to Madrid and Córdoba, changed things up with a visit to the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés. For those of you who don’t know, I am a great big supermarket junkie. When I travel, I insist on visiting the supermarket. Not that I don’t love the kind of market that’s been taking place once a week in the town square under a bunch of big stripey tents since the seventeenth century, but I’m actually more interested in finding out how people really shop in other countries. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I dragged him into a Carrefour near Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on our way to catch the local bus to the beach. After an hour inside surveying the goods during peak tanning hours, Nat was justly annoyed. Now, of course, he takes it as a matter of course that a trip abroad means doing time in one or more local supermarkets, preferably with a backpack. See? Marriage is all about flexibility.
Anyway, on returning to Minneapolis, I learned that my luggage had been lost. A day passed, and then a week, at which point I gave up on recovering the sacks of Marcona almonds, maíz gigante, Bomba rice, and packets of squid ink, not to mention certain favored articles of clothing and a list, made poolside and fueled by leisure and cocktails, ranking the best 50 episodes of the Simpsons in order of various criteria. In early June, more than three weeks after my return and by the time my Spanish tan had started to fade, my office phone rang. Northwest had located my bag. Would I prefer to receive it at home or at my office? When it arrived two hours later, the black wheel-aboard showed no signs of its exciting detour to Antananarivo (!), where I imagined it sitting at the end of an outdoor jetway for weeks, warmed by the Madagascar sun, lonely and stuffed with unclaimed Spanish bounty. And when I opened the bag, everything was intact.
On our most recent visit to Spain, last September – just one night in Barcelona transiting between Languedoc and London – we made a quick visit to the supermercado and filled up a backpack with treats like big cans of pimentón, olive oils, tinned pulpo (octopus), berberechos (cockles), navajas (razor clams) and chipirones (baby squid), various Spanish beans. Recently, after a quest for fresh octopus ended in failure, I remembered the tinned product in the pantry. Mostly I eat the tinned souvenirs as a snack in my office, but here was a good time to find out: could cooking make these canned products more, uh, uncanny?
The answer is yes. The pulpo became part of a play on the classic pork and shellfish combination, with house-made chorizo meatballs and sweet pickled green tomato. The chipirones joined other Spanish imports from the trip – Calasparra rice and squid ink – as well as an egg-cooking technique I picked up at the outstanding Hisop a few years ago.
Octopus, chorizo, sweet tomato pickle
Obviously, if you can find fresh octopus, use that instead. I couldn’t in Baltimore, which surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Yesterday, I came upon fresh baby octopus at the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, but, you know, too little too late.
Unlike the true Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation, this sausage will be made and eaten fresh. To simulate the tang of the fermentation, this chorizo includes a small amount of sherry vinegar. The recipe makes about twice what you will need; freeze the rest, tightly sealed, or use it to stuff casings.
1 lb fatty pork shoulder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pimentón de la vera agriculce
1 tsp pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
3 cloves garlic
6 cloves garlic confit
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Dice the meat about 3/4″.
Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, garlic, and garlic confit with all the seasoning except the vinegar, and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.
Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, seasonings if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible and toss with the sherry vinegar.
Sweet tomato pickle:
2 lbs (about 3 large) green (unripe) tomatoes
1/2 lb (about 1 medium) yellow onion
1/3 lb (about 1 medium) red bell pepper
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
Dice the tomatoes, peel and dice the onion, and seed, peel, and dice the pepper, all to about 1/4″. Combine with all other ingredients in a saucepan.
Bring to a simmer and stir, dissolving the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables have softened, given up their liquid, and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (the green tomato will be translucent as well). You should have a little less than two pints (4 c). If you like, can the pickle in a sterilized jars in a hot water bath. Otherwise, refrigerate and use within about a month.
contents of two tins of octopus in olive oil, drained
Put away half the chorizo for another use. Pinch off teaspoon-sized bits of the remaining chorizo and roll into balls. Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and fry on all sides until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the pan; increase the heat slightly. Add the octopus and fry quickly on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the green tomato pickle.
[sorry – no photo. The whole thing got eaten before I could get there]
Xipirones, arròs negre
Baby squid with black rice. You wouldn’t believe how tender and delicious the baby squid were in Barcelona. I haven’t been able to find such small squid here – about 1 1/2″ long in the body – nor anything as mild. So I always bring it back in cans. Not the same, but it’s pretty good – the Spanish have a way with canned shellfish.
The rice, pimentón, and squid ink in this dish also are souvenirs of our last trip to Spain. Choose a Spanish short-grained rice, if you can – I used Calasparra rice, because I had an open bag, but Bomba is even nicer – its grain absorb more liquid and become plumper on cooking. If you can’t, use Arborio – it’s far easier to find. I used a pork stock to cook the rice because I like the savory quality it imparts to the dish – seafood stock is far too fishy, I think, especially once you add the squid ink.
The egg preparation is a straight rip-off of a great component I had at Hisop in Barcelona, and is awesome because frankly, poached egg white is more of a bland nuisance than a welcome addition to any dish. This preparation can be difficult to pull off because the yolk is delicate and breaks easily when poached without the white, so you should have a couple of extra eggs handy. If you don’t want to make the two-part egg component, just poach or fry the egg. You want a runny yolk.
two tins chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink), or substitute 1/2 lb squid cut into 1/4″ rings and tentacles
1 small onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp pimentón
1 1/2 c Calasparra rice
2/3 c dry white wine
2 packets squid ink
4 c pork stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp panko
Place a 12″ skillet (or the largest skillet available) over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil. Pour the egg white into the pan and tilt quickly to coat the bottom of the pan evenly and thinly. Fry until crisp and golden, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning. When the egg white is crisp, flip the entire egg white over and cook until golden on the other side. Turn it out onto a cutting board and mince. Return to the hot pan, adding a little extra oil if necessary, and add the panko. Fry until everything is golden brown. Set aside.
Place a saucepot holding the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat. Place a sauteuse over medium heat, and when hot add a little olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the pimentón and the rice and sauté, stirring, until the rice is coated well with oil and barely toasted (it shouldn’t take on any color). Add the thyme and bay. Add the wine and squid ink and stir well, evenly distributing the ink, until the wine is absorbed. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring until absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked al dente. Add the squid to the pot and one final ladle of stock, heating through the squid and leaving the rice moist. Remove the thyme and bay.
Poach the egg yolks and drain on clean kitchen towels (be careful with this step; it is difficult to poach egg yolks without puncturing them).
Plate the arròs negre, top with the egg yolk, and a generous amount of the egg white/panko crumbs. When punctured, the runny yolk makes a great sauce to stir into the rice.