Mexican cooking and Spanish cooking have a lot in common, it’s true. Spanish cooking, however, missed most of the New World influences so prevalent in Middle America.
Some of the particular flavors found in Spanish cooking come from regional availability of certain plants.
Spanish olives and olive oil are known for their high quality and unique flavors. While the olives generally available in the United States that are commonly known as Spanish olives are most often small, green, and stuffed with pimento. They are also extremely salty. Like the wines of Spain, true Spanish olives are distinctive in flavor and texture to their regions, raging from subtle and floral to robust and nutty.
Olives grown in Spain go through a rigorous grading system, with a larger portion being used for oil pressing. The remainder fall into four color/ripeness groups that then become many of the olives known in Spanish cuisine.
Green olives are harvested for their firmer flesh and smokey flavor. Semi-ripe olives have a mottled, pinkish color, and a vibrant flavor. Ripe olives are dark and robust. Ripe black olives are harvested before they fully ripen, and treated to maintain their color and to remove any bitterness.
As with any other wine producing country, Spain is known for it’s many regional vintages. Wine if often the drink of choice at meal time and topped off with sparkling water. Spanish wines come from grapes with names like Albariño, Tempranillo and Verdejo, and pair with regional spices like no others.
While I am not a wine drinker by choice, I know where to find the best in my area. I frequent Spec’s and enjoy perusing their selections.
Jamon is an air-cured ham. It is a visual fixture in Spain as well as a culinary one. These hams may be found hanging everywhere form restaurants to home kitchens to meat markets. Thinly sliced, it adds a rich flavor to a variety of dishes from tapas to stews.
Chorizo in Spain is quite different from the more familiar chorizo from Mexico. Mexican chorizo is made from fresh pork, whereas the Spanish counterpart is smoked. The Spanish variety imparts is regionally spiced flavor to paella among other dishes. It can also be found sliced very thinly and served with a complimentary selection of cheeses.
Among all the spices grown in Spain, saffron is the most outstanding of the lot. It’s origins trace back into Asia, but the majority of the world’s saffron in modern times comes from Spain. It takes thousands of Crocus sativus flowers to yield only an ounce of saffron. the spice is collected in “threads” which are ground and added to a variety of dishes. Saffron is also known for imparting a rich golden-yellow hue not only to foods, but to textiles as well. Along with cumin, tarragon, dill, sage, anise, thyme, fennel, mint, cinnamon, cloves, the Spanish have collected spices from around the world and embraced them as their own.
These are but a few of the outstanding ingredients found in Spanish cooking. For your edification, give this recipe a try, or look up one of the many recipes available online.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2-3 hours
1 large onion, peeled but still whole
1 head garlic, whole
4 cans (15 oz.) beans (cannellini or other large white beans), drained
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 large pinch saffron threads, crushed
1 (1 lb.) meaty ham hock
½ lb. bacon, unsliced
½ lb. chorizo
Salt and pepper to taste
Drain beans and transfer them to a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, paprika, crushed saffron, ham hock, bacon and 12 cups cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer the stew, tucking the ham hock under the cooking liquid as necessary, about 1 hour.
Add the chorizo to the bean stew and cook until the meat and beans are tender and the cooking liquid is thick and slightly reduced, about 45 minutes longer.
Discard the onion and garlic and transfer the meat to a bowl. Pull the meat from the ham hock and cut it into large pieces. Cut the bacon and chorizo into pieces. Add the meat back into the beans and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Serve hot. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Enjoy a taste of Spain in your own kitchen!