Cooking – thoughts, perceptions, fabada and sausages…

It started like this. Last night I tweeted, “Dear god, it’s twenty to eight – where’s my day gone?” Because it had seriously got away from me somehow. Someone responded “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and I went back with “Ah – fun – I remember that!”

And they bounced back with “ from your posts you seem to have a lot of fun cooking, making black puddings etc.”

Which set me thinking – if that’s how someone on Twitter perceives me, what impression are DWP snoops going away with – if they exist, which I have little doubt about.

While I have considerable skill, and a passion for cooking, and for learning new skills and making new recipes (if I say so myself I’m bloody good at it), it has, I’m sorry to say, long since stopped being fun. For me, it’s only fun if I have somebody, besides me, to cook for, and that’s not happened for far too long.

Cooking, like anything else I do, is extraordinarily painful and exhausting (exhausting is relatively new, but it’s been painful for years). In consequence I don’t cook as often as it might seem (a look at my blog will show that actual recipes are, in fact, quite widely spaced). And these days, when I’m able to cook, I cook for the freezer rather than expend the effort on one meal.

I suppose, though, people could be forgiven if it looks as if I’m enjoying myself – after all, there’s be little point in saying, for example, that this is a new recipe for (as it was last weekend), Spanish black pudding, and by Christ it hurt making it! Nobody wants to read that, do they?

My recipes are written to encourage others, especially other disabled people, to try them, so why bitch about my problems? It won’t help. And I’ll not deny it’s immensely satisfying too, and on some level I suppose I must enjoy it or I wouldn’t do it.

This weekend I’m trying another new recipe, Fabada Asturiana, a simple white-bean stew with pork, morcilla (the Spanish black pudding), and chorizo, flavoured and coloured with paprika and saffron (at this point I have no idea whether I like saffron).

I’ve bought some packs of fabada meats, which include, along with chorizo and morcilla, pieces of fat pork, so fat, in fact, that it would be disgusting casseroled (there’s just a few meat fibres running through it), so it’s going into the oven to be rendered down into extremely tasty lard, and replaced in the recipe with a nice, thick, meaty hunk of panceta (and when all the fat has been rendered out, I’ll be left with a small handful of  DIY pork scratchings, not crisped skin in this case, but the cellular scaffolding of the fat itself which is left behind to become nice and crisp and – above all – light and, eaten warm, well-dusted with fine sea salt, it’s a universe away from whatever comes out of a little Cellophane bag in the pub.

I’ve noticed that the recipe I have for fabada doesn’t, as it would were it British or Italian, start with a base of onions (and maybe other veg), gently sweated in home-made lard (I have a small jar which is rationed like gold), or olive oil in Italy, but I have a very strong suspicion that mine will, and I think it will be better for it, too (just because a recipe is traditional doesn’t mean it can’t be improved, and I have shallots rather than onions, which will do nicely). I might add some carrot too, just to add flavour, and remove it at the end. Not traditionally Spanish, I know, but then, neither am I.

The recipe (in Rick Stein’s Spain), also calls for the beans to be cooked for a total of  two hours. These are beans about the size of cannellini beans, and in two hours I think they’d be sludge.Possibly, in Spain, the traditional terracotta cazuela in which this is cooked requires much less heat than a conventional pan or casserole, and thus a longer cooking time?

And in the TV programme the sauce of the dish was a gorgeous, deep blood-red. Saffron, of course, is yellow, and at the moment I’m unconvinced that the morcilla and chorizo, both flavoured with paprika and cooked whole, would be capable of yielding such an intense colour (online sources suggest adding paprika, not saffron) – we’ll see, but in my experience you need a lot of paprika to get that depth of colour in the sauce.

I’ve also noticed that the book says that Stein has cooked these recipes to “make them my own” so they might not be totally authentic anyway. Stein’s version has pork back fat (good luck with getting that here), bacon, chorizo, and butter – that’s one hell of a grease-fest.

I’ll certainly be leaving out the butter, the chorizo will go in early to give up their fat and flavour to the cooking beans (not after an hour as with Stein, and the morcilla will go in soon after, not after 90 minutes as per Stein’s recipe. In fact, a quick canter around Google for recipes for fabada suggests that my proposed version is at least as valid as Stein’s (many recipes have garlic, in hefty amounts, for example; his has none, and many omit saffron too, which I might well do – since this is so paprika-heavy, I’m not sure there’s any point to saffron).

I was watching Stein on TV last night, in one of his seafood programmes from years ago, and he was waffling endlessly, as he’s prone to, while pounding ingredients in a hefty stone mortar, with an equally hefty stone pestle (which he insists on calling a “pezzle”); he pounded the bejesus out of chillies, garlic, roasted peanuts, green beans, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, for about 5 minutes, yet when it was tipped out, it was all utterly unchanged. Must be magic!

And one last thought – in the near future, when I feel up to it, I’ll be making bog-standard pork sausages. So far I’ve not done that, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to ponce them up, but not this time, they’ll get nothing more than salt, white pepper and a little sage. Watch this space…

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