Dipping a toe into the cooking of Spain…

Ok, for now, this is just me, thinking out loud – there’s nothing approaching a finished recipe.

For some time now I’ve had an urge to make my own black pudding (dehydrated blood is easily available), but the unavailability, at the retail level, of the essential pure, white, back fat has meant it’s been impossible – there is simply no substitute.

Last week, however, Rick Stein’s Spain TV series showed morcilla being made – the Spanish take on black pudding, with numerous variations on a basic theme of blood and rice, some of which are not studded with fat. So I ordered the book of the series.

Last night, though, the morcilla episode was re-shown, so I made some notes – basically, it’s roughly equal parts, by volume, boiled rice, and onions fried in plenty of lard, spiced with smoked sweet paprika (ordinary sweet paprika in my case – can’t stand the smoked stuff), all bound with pigs’ blood, which you can buy in the supermarket there, in bottles. How cool is that, Carrie?

Presumably there were the usual seasonings in there too, but not mentioned or shown, so I’ll go with fine sea salt (not too much – blood is quite salty – is that why the omission; none goes in?), and white pepper – so now I know the basics of making morcilla, and the quantities are a mere detail.

Just as well I took notes, though, as the morcilla recipe is absent from the book, which came today. Numpties!

Traditionally, morcilla is packed into ox intestine, called ox runners  (or beef runners), and there are also synthetic casings available to make a slicing sausage, or as many butchers do these days, it can be baked in a loaf tin, in a bain marie, and sliced  (right now I’m looking at mini loaf tins to make individual ones – Amazon has a fair selection), but whatever size, it has to be seamless as (a) it might leak, and (b) it’ll be a right bugger to clean.

The synthetic casings and loaf tins are what I prefer, as my ability to do this sort of thing is severely limited and unpredictable, and natural casings have a limited shelf life.

So, for now – and it probably will change – my basic morcilla test recipe looks like this:-

250g paella rice (such as this Bahia rice), cooked until almost soft – not totally, so it will absorb liquid in the morcilla

Sufficient finely chopped onion to roughly match the cooked and drained (and cooled), volume of the rice (obviously this isn’t an exact science, as onions cook down dramatically, so I suggest double the volume of chopped raw onion for starters), fried until soft but not coloured.

50g Lard (a guess for now, until I know the actual amount of onion – all I know for sure is that it needs “plenty” of lard

2 tablespoons sweet paprika – or more depending on the final volume of rice and onions

1 teaspoon white pepper – you don’t want to dominate the paprika

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Sufficient rehydrated pigs’ blood to bind – a slightly wet, just runny, mix if using casings, less runny in loaf tins so the solids don’t settle out. Any surplus liquid blood will freeze.

And that, for now is it, and the more I think about it the more I feel that it’s a very good starting point. Based on how that turns out, I can tweak future batches.

Note – for a typically English flavour, omitting the paprika and adding ground mace plus more pepper might be interesting. Maybe a little dried sage too. Not authentic, but something to think about.

There were a couple of other dishes which sparked my interest, too, particularly Fabada Asturiana, a tomato-based stew of white beans (Alubia Blanca Extra – like a large cannellini bean, which could be usefully substituted), with belly pork, sausage, and morcilla, and Caldo Gallego, a white bean and potato soup with chorizo (something else I plan on making), and bacon, plus, I swear I saw  quartered Savoy cabbage going in, rather than Stein’s suggestion of turnip greens or kale (I love the taste of kale, but no matter what you do it it, it remains leathery). Or it might have been grelos, which looks like Brobdingnagian  turnip greens. Whatever, Savoy will get the job done.

So, anyway, as you might have gathered, I was quite taken by Spanish food, so I’ve bought myself a stainless steel casserole (I don’t trust the traditional terracotta cazuelas). I love cooking in a casserole, on the hob – it feels somehow more elemental than just plopping stuff in a non-stick pan and leaving it. I used to have a cast-iron pot, but as I got weaker, the buggerdly thing became too heavy, and was abandoned – stainless steel is a lot lighter, and more easily handled.

Casseroles need more input, and rather more skill, than non-stick pans, if your food isn’t to weld itself to the bottom through inattention but, I’m happy to say, having learned to cook before the NASA moon programme brought us non-stick pans as a bonus, it’s a skill I still have.

Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on a few Spanish ingredients – Judion de la Granja beans, a type of giant butter bean, sweet paprika, of course, and dried Noras Dulces, the pepper from which sweet paprika is made, just to see how it performs unpowdered, and will be ordering more.

The Judion beans, at £7.65 a kilo, are just to satisfy my curiosity – at that price, I’ll be using ordinary butter beans in future!

Stein’s book contains a small list of online suppliers of Spanish ingredients and kitchen equipment, though other than cazuelas, should you be tempted (just bear in mind they can break in use, and that can be dangerous), or you have an urge to buy a proper paella pan and/or burner, nothing special is needed – you don’t even need a casserole!

For online Spanish delis, I’ve looked at a load, and the best, in terms of variety and price, are also on Stein’s list:-

http://www.delicioso.co.uk/shop/ where I ordered the above items, and  

http://www.cafegarcia.co.uk/

Also worth your time is http://www.saborear.co.uk/ which stocks a very good range of ingredients. Prices look good too – I think I’ll order a few bits and bobs.

One annoyance. In the TV series, Stein said that a particular saffron blend, rather than the actual stamens, tasted far better than saffron itself, as too much saffron imparts a medicinal flavour – but fails to mention it in the book’s glossary! Not only that, he actually contradicts himself, coming down in favour of the stamens. Aaaargh! Maybe he’s been nobbled by the saffron producers of La Mancha!?

And a note of weirdness to end on – obviously I had to input a lot of the Spanish words into my spell-checker’s personal dictionary but, oddly, while it accepted de la Granja without quibble (and how is that possible?), it balked at unpowdered.

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2 thoughts on “Dipping a toe into the cooking of Spain…

  1. In the Canaries they have morcilla dulce (sweet black pudding), it omits the rice that’s found in the usual Spanish version, but has dried fruits and huge chunks of almonds in it. Sounds weird, but it is amazing.

    Also out there, they favour safflower a.k.a. “bastard saffron”. http://www.flickr.com/photos/tenerife/154281368/ I wonder if that was what he was talking about?

    Si necesitas mas ayuda … I mean, if you want any more help with the Spanish cooking, let me know. Come to think of it, I could help with eating it too! 🙂

    • They do something similar on the mainland, too, apparently. It really would have to be better than it sounds! Mind you, the French have been known to add apples, raisins or even apricots to black pudding, and black pud fried with apples is pretty traditional here, and France, too . . .

      If everything goes according to plan, morcilla should be on for the weekend. Still trying to decide between loaf tin – I’ve got a suitable one – or synthetic casing. Both will give a slicing sausage, but the loaf tin has the advantage of being easier and free, if rather less elegant.

      Whatever Stein had, it was saffron diluted with something else (my guess would be turmeric for colour plus something bland to bulk it up), but half the time the voice-over was mumbled, and I missed it. If it’s in the book, it’s buried and I’ve not come across it yet.

      I’m having fun with some of the online Spanish food sites, though – I’ve not had to read Spanish for about 40 years, and most of it’s gone. Still, I’ve managed not to order anything bizarre.

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