Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Spain

Waste not, want not.

Here’s a question that comes up a lot: what happens to all the scraps and trim from all those nicely-plated dishes and tiny little vegetable cuts? Isn’t that a wasteful way to cook?

A little history. When I was a kid in Milwaukee, my mother dispensed most parental wisdom in the form of aphorisms, usually when I was under suspicion of wrongdoing or inefficiency. If she suspected me of lying about coming home at midnight rather than 3 am, she’d prod me that “honesty is the best policy.” If I complained about the unfairness of some punishment or adverse consequence – no doubt justly administered – she would declare, in an ominous tone, that “you reap what you sow.” It was as though the ghost of Ben Franklin had come to inhabit the form of a thirtysomething high school librarian in the Milwaukee suburbs. We’re both older now, but even today, a chat about spending habits and 401(k) plans might end with a raised finger and the admonition that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I’ve often thought a great idea for a toy would be a doll, modeled after my mother circa 1973, that would utter a different aphorism every time you pulled the string.

Mom and me, summer 1973

Among my mother’s top five tenets was “waste not, want not,” which I usually heard after she found me throwing out a moldy peach or discovering that I hadn’t eaten the chicken sandwich she’d packed me for lunch because I decided to spend my allowance on pizza instead. I made great sport of this back in the day, but she was right. When it comes to food preparation, you should find a way to use everything, and to avoid waste. Trim goes into sauces, pasta, and soup; bones go into stock; fat converted to a frying or poaching medium. Which brings me to the pig. As you know, I went hogging a little while back and picked up various cuts of the raw ibérico de bellota pork product. The hallmark of the ibérico pork is its clean, sweet fat, and the belly was an unbelievable example of this lardiness. Only the day before, at WholeFoods, I’d picked up a couple of pounds of what seemed to me unusually thick Niman Ranch belly, the meat interspersed with layers of creamy fat. At the time, it seemed like a pretty awesome piece of meat (and truthfully, it is a enough nice belly). The meat embedded in the ibérico belly was the same maroon as in jamón, though, and the fat cap twice as thick. When I got home, I put them side by side.

Side by side: Ibérico belly compared to an actually very nice Niman Ranch belly. LOOK AT THE FAT.

Side by side color comparison.

I trimmed the bellies into two squared-off pieces and froze one. The fat from one I expect will make some superb lardo in the near future. I cured the other in the manner of bacon. Sliced and fried until crisp, the ibérico bacon joined some heirloom tomatoes and avocado in the best BLT ever.

Best BLT and chips EVER

The potential for waste in this process was pretty high. Turning pork belly into crispy bacon means leaving behind trim (before cooking) and melted fat (after cooking). In fact, being mostly fat, about 1 1/4 lbs of ibérico bacon yielded about a quart of clear, clean-tasting fat after cooking. Rather than waste the fat, I used it to fry paper-thin slices of russet potato, seasoned with white truffle salt. And rather than tossing out the trim, I diced it and incorporated it into a surprisingly quick yeast bread.

Note: I bought the raw ibérico product at Wagshal’s Market in DC. You can buy via mail order through their Ibérico USA site, or through La Tienda.

Ibérico bacon

Do yourself a favor and use a kitchen scale. I’ve provided approximate dry measurements, but you’re better off weighing everything. Generally, I like to smoke the bacon (or use a smoked salt or pimentón to lend the same smoky taste), but in the case of the ibérico belly, I think it’s best to let the taste of the fat stand on its own.

4 lbs (~2 kg) ibérico pork belly, skin removed (reserve for chicharron or something)
100 g kosher salt (2/3 c)
50 g granulated sugar (1/2 c)
5 g TCM (about 1/2 tbsp)
2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 sprigs thyme, washed and dried
4 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled

Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly. Dredge the pork belly to coat on all sides. Press the thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and crumbled bay evenly to coat.

Place in a large (2 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. Double bag. Press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. Place the bag in a stainless steel pan (or other large, flat) container and refrigerate for about ten days. Every day, turn the bag over and redistribute the cure evenly over the surfaces of the pork. Touch the pork each day to feel its firmness.

After about ten days, the pork should feel firmer and there should be more liquid in the bag as the salt has penetrated the meat. Once the pork feels fairly firm/rigid, remove the pork from the bag, discard the cure, and rinse thoroughly. More curing time is not better in terms of curing since your belly just gets saltier and saltier. Once it’s firm, take it out.

Preheat an oven to 180F/83C. Place the bacon on a rack over a sheet pan and roast for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours (depending on thickness) until it reaches an internal temperature of 140F. Chill promptly and refrigerate up to three days before use; otherwise, freeze.

Sliced up.

Potato chips

Unless you cook a lot of the bacon at once (say two pounds or more), you’ll need to save it up in the refrigerator or supplement it with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or rice bran oil, for frying. Use something with a high smoke point whose taste won’t compete with the ibérico’s flavor. Fry the potatoes in batches and don’t try to fry too many at once; if the temperature of the oil drops too much, the chips will be greasy.

Don’t be tempted to fry at too high a temperature (over 350F/176C); the oil will break down (rancidify) more quickly, and what’s more, your chips will burn. You can slice potatoes into cold water, soak, and rinse to remove some of the surface starch first, but I’ve never found this a necessary first step. Instead, I slice using a handheld benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil.

one very large russet potato, washed well and dried
2 quarts fat rendered from ibérico bacon, strained (or as much fat as you have, plus enough grapeseed or rice bran oil to supplement)
fine salt, such as popcorn salt

Place a rack over a baking sheet and line with a double thickness of paper towels. Place a deep but not wide pan containing the fat over medium high heat, with a frying thermometer. The oil should not fill the pan more than halfway. Heat to 345F/174C. Slice using a benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil, being sure not to crowd the pan. You should slice about 1/8 of the potato in each batch.

Russets frying in iberico fat.

Adjust the heat upward if necessary to keep the temperature from falling below 285F/140C (and be sure to lower it again if necessary to keep it from rising above 350F/176C). Using a spder-type skimmer, move the potatoes around in the oil to ensure that they remain separate.

Fry until the potato chips are crisp (not soft) and light golden. Remove with the skimmer and drain on the paper towels. Season with salt (I like a white truffle salt). You also can try adding some flavors – I sometimes like combining a fine salt with powdered malt vinegar, for a salt and vinegar potato chip, .

Chips fried in iberico fat.

Ibérico ring bread

The bread dough for this recipe isn’t mine; it comes straight from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible. This is her recipe for prosciutto ring bread, substituting diced ibérico bacon for the prosciutto. Amazingly, this bread goes from raw ingredients to finished product in two and a half to three hours, meaning that it’s possible to make it on a weeknight.

Because the diced ibérico bacon is far oilier than prosciutto, you will have to incorporate it by hand rather than using a machine.

I’ve made this using both barley malt powder and barley malt syrup. I highly recommend using the powder. You will not be able to stop eating this bread once it comes out of the oven. After the first day, toast it. There’s no need for butter or any additional fat – the ibérico bacon makes the bread very rich – but if you like, a fig jam would complement the pork perfectly.

340g AP or bread flour
10g barley malt powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp instant yeast (just shy of 1 tsp active dry yeast)
3/4 tsp salt
1 c water, 90F
1/2 lb trimmings from ibérico bacon, about 50% meat/50% fat more or less, diced 1/4″
2 tbsp melted ibérico fat

450F/232C oven, with baking stones or an upturned large cast iron pan.

Whisk together the flour, yeast, pepper, and barley malt. When combined well, whisk in the salt. Add the water and mix, using the dough hook, on a stand mixer, or with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand or in the mixer for about ten minutes on a medium-low setting, until the dough is smooth and springs back slowly when depressed.

Turn out onto a board, stretch out slightly, and spread the diced bacon on the surface. Roll up and form into a ball. Dust with flour and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Rest for about 20 minutes or so.

Roll the dough into a rope about 18″ long. Form into a ring, tucking the ends together. Transfer to a silpat-lined sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and rise for about 90 minutes to 2 hours in a warmish room until doubled.

Load the sheet pan onto the baking stones and throw a cup of ice onto the oven floor. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until deep golden brown on the outside. The loaf should be hollow inside when tapped, about 190F.

Cool on a rack.

See how it's studded with bacon

Pork Products, Spain

Museum piece.

It seems a long time ago, but just six weeks ago, my husband and I were in Madrid after our annual trip to France. Learning of our plans to visit Madrid, a friend asked, and I quote, “why the hell would you go to Madrid when you can go to Barcelona?” And it’s true – Madrid and Barcelona are as different as Washington and Miami. Whereas Barcelona transcends both ancient and modern times (visit both the Barri Gòtic and the Eixample and you’ll see what I mean), Madrid, which first came into its own in the 16th century when the Spanish capital moved there from Toledo, maintains a baroque and Neoclassical feel that anchors the city in Spain’s imperial past. Similar distinctions exist between the cuisines of the two cities. Not that you can’t find a good asador in Barcelona or suitably avant-garde bistronomia in Madrid, but the geography and history of both cities have set them on different culinary paths. If we’re going to overgeneralize, Barcelona is fish and rice and adventurous modern gastronomy; Madrid is meat and beans and a conservative, classic style. And that makes sense: it’s in the middle of the country, not far from the shore, nestled beside Spain’s finest pork-producing regions, Castile y León and Extremadura. Speaking of pork, the first time I visited Madrid, in 1993, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of the Museo del Jamón, which is exactly what the name suggests – a shop dedicated to Spain’s finest pork product, jamón. A museum dedicated to ham? Why was I not informed?

Museo del Jamón, as I discovered, occupies that gray area between food store and restaurant. It’s pretty touristy, lowbrow, and mostly located near attractions like the Prado or the Puerta del Sol. I don’t care about that – the ham is delicious and the beer is cold, and even after eighteen years, I’ve never escaped a visit to Madrid without a visit to el museo. Anyway, my husband had never been to Madrid and, after my incessant chatter about ibérico pigs and all that, suggested it for lunch on the way to a Teotihuacan exhibit at the Fundación la Caixa. We made for the plato combinado, an inexpensive but filling lunch offering, and, for good measure, a ración of jamón ibérico de bellota. While we ate, the place filled up with locals, almost all men, in for a quick afternoon beer and bocadillo.

Plato combinado: jamón, huevos, patatas fritas, croquetas de jamón, ensalada. Note the ración of bellota.

Spanish cured ham comes in several forms, in order of quality. First, there’s jamón serrano, your basic dry cured ham. The term “serrano” doesn’t mean anything special in this context – it just connotes a conventional dry-cured ham from the hind legs of the white Landrace pig. Jamón serrano reminds me of conventional prosciutto. Then there’s jamón ibérico, which connotes only dry-cured hams made from the black pata negra pig, fed at least partly on acorns. Although most ibérico comes from farm-raised pigs, fattened on acorns only at the end, the fabled ibérico de bellota comes from pata negra that are allowed to forage among the acorn forests of Extremadura. It tastes like nuts, fatty and sweet, and has a dense, meaty quality rather than the saltier taste and flimsy texture of serrano. Behold the difference:

Side by side: jamón ibérico de bellota vs jamón de serrano.

I was lucky enough to try some fresh cuts of the ibérico de bellota pig earlier this summer at the Fancy Food Show. They were as sweet and rich as the cured ham. Recently, I picked up some of the bellota cheeks, belly, and a shoulder cut, so keep your eye out for future postings. Jamón is far easier to come by, though, so pick up some ibérico de bellota and enjoy with a glass of chilled sherry. Or try making your own plato combinado sometime. It’s easy – french fries, sliced jamón, fried egg, and croquetas.

Croquetas de jamón

I make these croquetas with jamón serrano. I suppose you could make them with ibérico, or if you were filthy rich and kind of nuts, ibérico de bellota, but the fact is that a fried bite like this croqueta isn’t suitable for the bellota – the rich béchamel swamps the delicate, sweet flavor of the acorn-fed pork and its delicious fat. Save the bellota for eating raw, sliced paper-thin, so you really can enjoy it.

I use gelatin in my croquetas so I can use less flour – the result is a lighter croqueta whose filling melts more in the mouth rather than a heavy, pasty item. It is important to chill the filling thoroughly before breading and frying. If you don’t, the filling will be fairly wet and hard to bread. In addition, I call for using stock: in Madrid, the filling often includes the broth of the classic meat-and-chickpea stew called cocido madrileño. You probably don’t have that to hand, but any good meat stock is fine.

You can scoop them using a tiny ice cream scoop or a spoon (the scoop releases the filling without dirtying your hands). If you like, leave them round (as in this recipe). If you prefer the traditional oblong shape, roll them slightly to flatten once you’ve coated them in flour during the dredging process. I’ve depicted the oblong shapes in the eggplant recipe below.

6 tbsp (3 oz) unsalted butter
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c ham or pork stock, or any other meat stock
3 sheets gelatin
4 oz jamón serrano, minced
grapeseed or vegetable oil
standard breading station: flour, beaten egg with a little water, breadcrumbs or panko

Start a day in advance: it seems fussy, but it guarantees that your filling will set up. You need to let it set for at least 4 hours.

Make a moderately thick béchamel sauce: place a saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. When the butter melts and begins to bubble, add the flour, whisking well, and reduce the heat. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, for about 6 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. Don’t allow the roux to color.

Add the milk slowly, whisking. Increase the heat and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Lower the heat and barely simmer for about 6 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 115F.

Bloom the gelatin in cool water and squeeze out the excess water. Whisk into the still-hot béchamel and incorporate well. Add the minced ham and distribute. Season to taste. Pour into a shallow pan, like a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until solid.

Set up a standard breading station of one pan of flour, another with beaten egg (thinned slightly with water), and another of breadcrumbs or panko. Pour about 1/3″ oil in a sauté pan and place over medium high heat. Scoop the filling using a small cookie scoop (about 1 tbsp) and bread. When the oil reaches 350F/177C, fry the croquetas. Drain on paper over a rack. Serve hot.

Homage to the plato combinado: note the serrano, pale cousin to the bellota

Croquetas de berejenas “Parmigiana”

Let’s try something different for a change. Eggplant parmigiana is classically made by frying slices of breaded eggplant, and then baking the fried eggplant with mozzarella cheese, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a light tomato sauce. It’s usually pretty heavy and greasy – other than an incredible version my husband makes that skips the breading and frying step – and I can’t say I usually love it. So how about an croqueta with the flavors of eggplant parm?

Salt the eggplant to remove bitterness (I usually skip this step in favor of microwaving, but that won’t work so well for this recipe). Then roast the eggplant and purée as part of the filling. Breaded and fried, and served alongside a light marinara sauce, these are so much better than the dish that inspired them.

4 tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter
4 tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 c whole milk
4 sheets gelatin
3 oz fresh mozzarella, diced or torn into the smallest possible bits
1 1/2 c eggplant purée (below)
grapeseed or vegetable oil
standard breading station: flour plus grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2:1), beaten egg with a little water, breadcrumbs or panko
minced parsley
Tomato sauce

Eggplant purée:

two medium eggplants or five baby eggplants
olive oil
lemon juice
a little milk if necessary

Oven 400F/204C.

Halve the eggplant lengthwise, score, and season with salt. After about 30 minutes, pat dry, rinse, and pat dry again.

Place on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and roast cut side-down until tender. Pierce the skins with a fork. Scoop the flesh from the skins and purée with a squeeze of lemon in a blender. If necessary, add a little milk to help it purée. For a really smooth texture, pass through a tamis. Set aside.

Make a stiff béchamel sauce: place a saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. When the butter melts and begins to bubble, add the flour, whisking well, and reduce the heat. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, for about 6 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. Don’t allow the roux to color.

Add the milk slowly, whisking. Increase the heat and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Lower the heat and just barely simmer for about 6 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 115F/46C.

Bloom the gelatin in cool water and squeeze out the excess water. Whisk into the still-hot béchamel and incorporate well. Add the eggplant purée and incorporate well. The mixture should cool substantially. Add the mozzarella cheese and distribute. Pour into a shallow pan, like a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until solid.

Set up a standard breading station of one pan of flour 2:1 with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, another with beaten egg (thinned slightly with water), and another of breadcrumbs or panko. Pour about 1/3″ oil in a sauté pan and place over medium high heat. Scoop the filling using a small cookie scoop (about 1 tbsp) and bread. When the oil reaches 350F/177C, fry the croquetas. Drain on paper over a rack. Serve hot, garnished with minced parsley, additional grated cheese, and the tomato sauce on the side.

Eggplant parmigiana croquetas, tomato sauce

Pork Products, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Spain


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?

Barcelona shopping haul.

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.

Green tomato pickle.

To assemble:
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
olive oil

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.

Arròs negre, xipirones.

Spain, Vegetables

The Gambler.

We’re heading to Spain in a couple of days en route to the south of France, and, as always, I’m looking forward to the eating. For me, no trip to Spain is complete without jamón ibérico, the cured ham made from the black-footed cerdo negro pig, a visit to one of Barcelona’s bistronomia venues, a glass of the Basque dry sparkling wine txakoli, and a shopping excursion to buy pimentón, tiny squid in their own ink (chipirones en su tinta), and the fine-flavored dried beans of Spain’s northern interior. More than just paella and jamón, sherry and tapas, Spanish cuisine encompasses regional influences from the Celts in the northwest to the Moors in the south.

Just as one would never confuse the cuisine of the Gulf coast of the United States with that of the Pacific Northwest, or New Mexico’s with Maine’s, the foodways of Spain’s regions vary widely. In Asturias and the País Vasco, you are as likely to drink hard cider as wine; in Andalucía, the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic that characterize many Mediterranean cuisines become gazpacho and escalivada. In Valencia, the spiny lobster (langostino) and plentiful squid of the Mediterranean Sea combine with the region’s short-grained Bomba rice for paella valenciana and numerous other arròs (rice) dishes. In the arid central regions of Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha, frugal dishes of dried beans, pork and lamb, like olla podrida, and aged sheep’s milk cheeses like the famous Manchego, evidence the role of preservation in more frugal, leaner times. And all over the country, you can find evidence of cocina de autor, modern cuisine reflecting the chef’s aesthetic, made famous by Ferran Adría but practiced coast to coast.

Galicia, in the far northwest corner of Spain, appears on a map as a bit of the Iberian peninsula that Portugal left behind when it claimed the lands bordering the Atlantic. Unlike its Arabic-influenced counterparts in Valencia and Murcia, Galicia shares its language and cuisine with the Portuguese and the Celts. In Galicia, rather than sitting down to cold, garlicky gazpacho as you might in the south, you more likely would find caldo gallego, a broth of potatoes and a kale-like vegetable, not dissimilar to the Portuguese caldo verde, alongside broa, the disk-like cornbread common to both Portugal and Galicia. Your octopus will arrive at the table stewed in pimentón and olive oil (pulpo gallego). And if you’re in Galicia in mid- to late summer, everywhere you go, you will encounter platters of jewel-bright green chiles called pementos de Padrón, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. These are not jalepeños or serranos – indeed, most of the thumb-sized peppers are sweet and mild, grassy, with just a hint of a bite. But randomly, every fifth, or tenth, or twelfth pepper (depending whom you ask) packs a fiery punch. Or, as Galicians would say, “os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non.” For this reason, my husband calls them “The Gambler.”

It just so happens that our back garden is inhospitable to most vegetables. Tomatoes wilt from the extreme heat and never get quite enough water; zucchini plants sprout enormous blossoms, only to follow with shriveled, pinky-sized squash. The hot, dry conditions are perfect for chiles and this spring, I planted some Padrón seeds in a pot, hoping to enjoy this treat so uncommon outside Spain. Don’t ask where I got the seeds, because I won’t say.

Once plucked from the plant, the deeply wrinkled peppers are washed and dried, and fried in olive oil until they darken and blister. Drain them on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Have a cold glass of Albariño and some bread handy to douse the fire of the occasional hot pepper. Some say the larger peppers tend to be hotter, but I don’t think you can tell by looking.

Pementos de Padrón.

Pementos de Padrón

As I understand it, in the United States, you can buy The Gambler from the excellent Spanish food site La Tienda as well as the occasional farmer’s market. In London, Brindisa carries them fresh in cello bags. The only other chile I know that resembles The Gambler is the Japanese shishito pepper, which is not particularly easy to find either. If you have a high tolerance for heat, you can try frying up jalepeños, but the taste will not be the same.

1 lb Pementos de Padrón, washed and dried
1 c olive oil, preferably a Spanish or Portuguese oil
sea salt (I use Portuguese flor de sal)

Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat to about 350F/175C. Add the peppers (in batches), frying on each side until the peppers begin to darken and the skin blisters. Drain on a rack or on paper towels. Plate and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Eat the pepper by grasping the stem and biting the entire chile. Discard the stem.

Served the traditional way.