A dish inspired by the Spanish bean, chorizo, pork and morcilla dish, Fabada Asturiana which, like many dishes of peasant origin, comes to no harm for a bit of tweaking. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have made the traditional version. It’s very simple, both to cook and in its finished form. Nothing wrong with simple, but I felt it could be better while still keeping to the same basic ingredients – and adding to them. It’s worth pointing out to would-be purists, that there is no one dish which is the definitive fabada – even within Asturias there are many variants.
As some of you will know, I was quite taken by the idea of Spanish food while watching Rick Stein’s TV show, Spain. I then bought the book of the show, thought Hmm… put it away and bought Claudia Roden’s vastly superior The Food of Spain. Five years in the making, it covers in considerably more depth that of which Stein barely scratched the surface, the inextricably interlinked food, history, and traditions, of Spain. Beware, though, if, like me, you’re disabled, and weak as a result – bugger weighs nearly 4lb.
Anyway, I’ve spent the past few weeks stocking up on Spanish ingredients – covered elsewhere – including the meats required to make Fabada Asturiana, with which, I have to confess, I was rather unimpressed. It may well be traditional, but it’s still food that has its roots deep in peasant traditions, among which is surely poverty – it’s meat and beans in a thin sauce spiked with paprika, and that’s about the best you can say for it.
My Fabada Wirraliana clearly bears a family resemblance to the Asturian version, but damn, it’s just so much better, with multilayered flavours complemented by a textural complexity lacking in the original. At the end, a bag of left-over morcilla crumbs went in,** which, though I say it myself, was inspired. It really made the dish come alive, pulling it together into an harmonious whole, adding its own layers of texture and flavour without masking the others.
**The morcilla stuck to the loaf tin I made it in, but the residue was soft, not burned, so I scraped it off and froze it, knowing it would come in useful at some point.
The original is OK, but like most peasant dishes that have become adopted as regional or national dishes, it’s still basically a dish born of poverty. Mine is richer, more voluptuous but, in common with the original, still costs little.
The big, Spanish, butter beans, Judion de la Granja, used instead of the normal alubia blanca white beans, make a vast difference – they’re plump and taste positively buttery (except for the occasional one which is salty – curious, that). Expensive, at £7.65 a kilo**, over twice the price of ordinary butter beans but only a quid more than the alubia blanca, but so worth it. And let’s face it, it was the only real expense, everything else I already had.
**Brindisa have them for a rather ambitious £13.95/kg. OK, they might be better quality, but they’re beans, ffs, there’s a limit to how much better they can be!
I have to say that I have a deep loathing for chorizo, the damn stuff is as chewy as shoe leather , even the “soft” cooking chorizo (I gave some to a friend who likes chewy, and he found them too much). My intention, as it crops up rather a lot in Spanish cooking, is to make my own, with the dense, all-meat texture lightened with either rusk, from my own bread, or with cooked paella rice, which has a soft texture when used in my morcilla, so should be good in chorizo too. I didn’t have any for this dish, so I omitted them. I did have a flavoured sausage, pork and cider, so they went in – the Spanish are fond of cooking with cider, so why not? This is my take on it anyway – absolute authenticity doesn’t matter, and I have to say that the cider content, which I haven’t really thought worked very well, goes brilliantly with paprika. Oh yes, and on the subject of that, as I’ve mentioned before, if I use paprika, it’s always sweet and unsmoked, as I simply don’t like the smoked version which is ubiquitous in Spain.
So, this is my recipe. There also follows an ingredient list for those of you who don’t have your own sausages or morcilla.
Unlike most fabada recipes, I started with aromatics, but first I sliced some panceta very thinly, trimmed off the skin, cut each piece into 4, and rendered it over a low heat until it had released its fat and had crisped up nicely. Two reasons for this, the pork belly, bacon, or panceta (any are acceptable as recipes vary), cooked in the fabada are invariably fatty, and while I love fat on cold meat, I hate it hot and boiled, it’s disgusting.
So, the crisped panceta was removed with a slotted spoon and set aside, and the fat used to sweat off…
4 large oval shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
to which were added, in their due time:-
2 tablespoons sweet, unsmoked, paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
300g Judion beans, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed**
4 Pork and cider sausages
Add the crisp panceta, which will soften in cooking; I’ve given no quantity for this – a little is OK, a lot is better – it depends on your patience as slicing it very finely and, equally importantly, evenly, is slow for most people, as is cutting it up while stopping it all sticking together.
a handful of dehydrated vegetables, the ones I have are primarily aromatics; dried leek, onion, parsnip, carrot, celery, celeriac and tomato
About 6 ounces of de Burgos-style morcilla crumbs
2 Kallo Organic vegetable stock cubes*** added once the beans are soft; these have become my go-to cube for all but beef dishes, as they enhance the flavours of a dish, without dominating it
1 scant tablespoon Knorr Taste of Chicken stock, added at the same time
Season well with black pepper, and a little sea salt – salt with care, always, you can always add more, you can’t take it out again.
**Given the size of the beans, and the time they took to cook, I recommend soaking for at least 24 hours, which should speed things up.
***Remove a little of the liquid from the casserole, avoiding the deep red fat on the surface (if you’re the sort of person who skims fat, this isn’t for you!), and thoroughly dissolve the stock cubes before adding to the dish. Stir gently, so as not to break up the sausages too much, though ultimately, they will get broken. It doesn’t matter.
This is the casserole I use
3litres, stainless steel, with a stainless-steel-encapsulated aluminium base. The best thing I’ve ever cooked with, and that includes the ferociously expensive Le Creuset cast iron casserole I once had, with the advantage of being vastly lighter.
Rick Stein (he’s not alone), would have you believe that the Spanish always cook in terracotta cazuelas of varying sizes (which the steel paella, the pan from which the dish takes its name, disproves), but from what I saw of his TV programme they cook in metal pots just like anybody else, though I did notice that dishes like fabada would be served in cazuelas in restaurants and bars.
As per the above, and when the shallots have softened (carrots take longer so use the shallots as a guide), stir in the spices and mix well. If they’re a little dry, add a splash of olive oil and stir again. Allow to cook out for a few minutes, add the beans and cover with boiling water by about an inch. Stir well, bring to the boil then move to the smallest burner/ring on your cooker, cover and reduce to a very gentle simmer.
When the beans have plumped up and are beginning to soften, add the sausages, plus enough hot water, if necessary, to ensure the sausages are just covered, replace the lid and leave them more or less alone, until the beans are soft. If the heat is low enough, nothing should stick, but give the pot a shake occasionally to move things around. Stein says this is so you don’t break up the beans. No, Rick, it’s so you don’t break up the sausages (in a conventional fabada, the chorizo and morcilla, of course).
My sausages are in artificial casings, for reasons I’ve explained too often for it to warrant repeating, as were the chorizo and morcilla that I tried a few weeks ago. The skins on the bought-in ones became slimy and vile, like something that had crawled up onto a beach, and died; on mine they simply dissolved.
After I’d added the sausages, I had the idea to add the morcilla crumbs. A slight problem, in that they were in a frozen lump. Rather than just drop them in the pot, I floated a measuring cup (half-cup size), on top, put the lump in it, used the lid to hold the handle in place and left it to defrost without dropping the temperature of the rest of the dish. Which it did, very successfully.
Once it was soft, I crumbled it and stirred it in, along with the stock cube, and chicken stock. It broke up the sausages a bit but, as I said, it was bound to happen. No biggie.
I let it cook a little longer (the morcilla was already cooked, it just needed the stock to cook out), removed it from the heat and left it to cool.
I checked the seasoning, seasoned it with pepper and a little salt, and once it was cold, stashed it in the fridge overnight.
Next day the beans had absorbed a lot more of the stock, and the morcilla crumbs had thickened the rest very nicely, leaving it more stew-like – while normal fabada is positively soupy.
The flavours and textures were absolutely wonderful, all there individually, but also working well as a whole. It was amazingly good. So good, in fact, that I polished off an extravagant plateful, far in excess of what I’d normally eat.
In future, it will be made with my own chorizo** (due to be made this weekend, all being well (if all is not well, I’ll be having roast pork!), and I might be tempted to serve it with a slice of my fried morcilla, which will be more traditional, just to see if I prefer it to having it crumbled in. I’ll be surprised if I do.
**Though my pork and cider sausages will get a look-in too – too good not to.
Alternative version for those without my homemade goodies.
Although the standard version has smaller beans, I really would recommend sticking with the Judion beans, they’re just too good to pass up.
In lieu of my pork and cider sausages, you could revert to chorizo, but I warn you, they take “chewy” to a whole new level. Better, perhaps, and closer to my version, would be a really good pork sausage, not too thick, plus a tablespoon of a very good dry cider – what’s in my sausages is Aspall Organic Suffolk Cyder, and I strongly recommend going with that. Don’t be tempted to add more cider, it won’t improve it.
In lieu of morcilla crumbs, supermarkets sell sliced black pudding in the sausage section, Buy a pack (usually 2 slices), and chop it very finely. Use that instead.
Dried vegetables from here just don’t look for quick delivery, unless they’ve got their act together since I ordered. I also have a jar of these blitzed to a powder in the blender – very good for adding flavour to all sorts of things.
Other than that, proceed as above.