Saturday, December 9, 2017


Is this what's for Noche Buena dinner? Baby kid roasted with potatoes and vegetables.

Early on in my life in an Andalusian village, I was shocked to see in the local butcher shop, ten tiny baby goats, still unskinned, hanging by their hind legs from a long rack. Straight from “pre-packaged” American supermarkets, I was disconcerted by meat in such a primary state. Nor had I ever eaten goat.

At that time, several herds of goats were stabled in the village. In the morning, the cabrero led his goats—brown, grey, and dappled—through the village streets, their small bells tinkling as they passed. In some doorways, a goat would come tripping out of the house to join the herd on its day´s outing to graze in the countryside. At another, a housewife stepped into the street with a pail. The cabrero called to one of his flock, “Rosita, ven p’ acá." One of the goats separated herself from the herd and the goatherd, squatting in the street, milked her right into the pail. After the herd passed, I could still smell their presence.

When the kids are born, baby males are culled (they aren't good for much except meat), while the females grow up to be dairy goats. That’s why baby kid was seasonally available from the butcher. It was especially appreciated for the feast of Noche Buena (Christmas Eve).

No goat herds reside in the pueblo nowadays, though some are stabled below the village. Refrigerated trucks pick up the milk and carry it to cheese makers elsewhere in the province and much farther afield (France). I never see the meat in my local market and hadn’t eaten it in years.

In recent years Chivo Lechal Malagueño (baby kid from Málaga) is being promoted and sold in some markets and via an internet site. (Chivo and cabrito are both words for kid-goat.) I sampled a whole goat menu at a local restaurant (goat chorizo, unctuous with ibérico pig fat; goat’s milk croquettes; fried kid riblets; roast leg of kid (cooked sous vide); and arroz con leche, rice pudding made with goat’s milk. That inspired me to cook kid-goat at home.

I found this meat quite expensive (€18 per kilo or about $9.65 per pound). I bought a whole rear half—two legs and the attached loin sections. This provided four generous servings. It would be a stretch to serve six. The meat is very delicate in flavor, somewhere between suckling lamb and young veal. It is very lean, so has a tendency to be dry. The kid cooked sous vide at the restaurant was juicier than my roasted rendition.

Baby goat, food for a festive occasion.

Potatoes and vegetables cooked in wine with the kid are fabulous. Saffron gives them a golden hue.

Kid is "the other white meat." Tender, delicate, very lean.

Roasted Kid-Goat with Potatoes
Chivo al Horno con Patatas 

This dish comes straight from the campo, the countryside around Málaga, where it once was a favorite holiday or wedding meal feast. Prepared in a giant pan (1 ½ feet in diameter), the dish spends most of the day in the slow, fragrant heat of the bread-baking oven.

For special occasions we would order the meal from a local bar. It consisted of a whole baby kid, hacked into fairly small pieces, layered with potatoes and vegetables in the big pan and baked at the local panadería (bread bakery).

If suckling kid or lamb is not available, try this dish using lamb chops. Use more or less wine. Use chicken stock or water for the remaining liquid. Part way through roasting, check to make sure liquid still remains in the pan.

Peel tomatoes with a peeler.

Peeling the tomatoes before slicing them means no annoying loose tomato skins mixed in with the yummy potatoes and vegetables. Use a vegetable peeler to peel firm tomatoes. 

To roast a whole head of garlic, spear it on a fork or grasp with tongs and turn it over a gas flame or put it under the broiler (grill), turning, until it is charred on all sides. Rub off the skin and peel the garlic cloves. 

Two back legs plus the loin sections, ready for the oven. 
Spices and vegetables.

Serves 4.
3 ½ - 4 pounds kid-goat
Salt and pepper
½ cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
8 medium potatoes (about 2 ½ pounds), peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
2 green bell peppers, cut in strips
4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 head garlic, roasted
1 teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon coarse salt
10 peppercorns
2 cloves
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups white wine
½ cup chicken stock or water

Sprinkle the meat with salt, pepper and thyme and allow it to come to room temperature.

Spread half the oil in a roasting pan or large cazuela. Place a layer of onions on the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of sliced potatoes, strips of green pepper and sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle generously with salt and half of the parsley. Continue with remaining onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and parsley. Sprinkle with salt. Break the bay leaves in half and tuck the pieces in with the vegetables. Peel the cloves of roasted garlic and push them under the vegetables too.

Layer potatoes, onions, green peppers, tomatoes and garlic in the bottom of roasting pan. Pour over spice mixture with saffron. Add oil and wine. Place the meat on top.

Crush saffron and spices.
In a mortar, crush the saffron with the coarse salt, peppercorns and cloves. Stir in the cinnamon. Stir in ¼ cup of the wine. Pour the spices over the vegetables.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Place the meat, skin side down, on top of the vegetables. Pour the remaining olive oil over the meat.

Roast the kid 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Roast 1 hour more.

Remove the pan from the oven.  Turn the meat skin side up. Baste it with some of the liquid in the pan. If liquid has cooked away, add more water. Return the pan to the oven. Roast 30 minutes longer, until the meat is browned and potatoes are cooked. 

Kid and vegetables can be served straight from the roasting pan. Or, if preferred, remove them to a serving platter.

Allow the pan to set 10 minutes before serving. The potatoes will absorb some of the remaining pan juices. If desired, remove meat and vegetables to a serving platter.

Recipes for chicken and fish prepared in a similar manner:

Saturday, December 2, 2017


First, pick the olives. Get them to the mill as soon after picking as possible. That way, they maintain their freshness and fruitiness and produce the finest virgin oil.

Unloading six sacks of my olives at the mill. This mill is a small, family run business only a few miles from where I live. Originally established in 1920, it stopped functioning in the early 1960s. Five years ago, the four Ayala brothers who own it decided to put the mill in working order again.

A fork-lift loader moves my bin of olives to the loading chute. A week's worth of picking looks like nothing in that bin that holds 500 kilos!

Off they go, olives on the way to becoming oil.

First step, the olives are tumbled and air-blown in a hopper to remove leaves and dirt.  Large scale growers usually down olives by vareo, thrashing the branches with sticks and gathering the fruit in tarps spread on the ground. Inevitably, leaves and twigs accumulate with the olives. I hand-pick olives, ordeñando, or "milking" them off the branches. So my olives are especially clean. Sometimes the jefe decides they don't need the leaf-blower. The olives drop into a bin that functions as a scales.  
Weight: 127 kilos ((280 pounds).

Harvesting of olives seems to begin earlier every year. Two factors are at work here. One, yes, global warming. The fruit matures earlier. As soon as the first rains plump the olives (October), they are ready to pick, green and fresh. Also, early milling makes superior virgin oil.

Virgin olive oil is oil that has been extracted solely by mechanical means--crushing and pressing, without the use of high temperatures or chemical disolvents that alter the oil's composition. It is almost the only oil that can be consumed without further refining. 

The next step, the olives are crushed to release the oil. This is the old way for molturación, with grinding stones. It is no longer used at this mill. "Not efficient," said the owner.

Instead, olives go into this machine to be ground up by spinning steel wheels.

This is an old-fashioned olive press. The ground-up olive pulp is spread onto mats, woven of esparto grass or of polyester synthetics. These are stacked on the hydraulic press, which squeezes the pulp tighter and tighter, allowing the oil to flow out through channels at the bottom. This mill no longer uses this press, except for special orders. The reason these presses have fallen into disuse is that they produce less good oil. The mats must be scrupulously cleaned in order to prevent residue from causing rancidity and off flavors in new oil.

Jesús Ayala monitors a modern olive oil extraction machine. The crushed olives are spun at high speed to separate the oil from the water. Forget that old phrase, "cold-pressed oil." Almost all olive oil in this day and age is extracted by a centrifugal process. Big cooperative factories have huge ones. This mill has a small one. During the milling season, the Ayala brothers run it seven days a week.

Straight from the centrifugal extractor, new oil pours out. Fresh-squeezed olive juice.

This oil is unfiltered. After settling a couple of weeks, it will clarify quite a lot.

Modesto Ayala figures out how much I've earned. I could take the money--hardly enough to buy lunch! But, I want the oil. Fifteen liters, he tells me. This is not from my own olives--I don't have enough olives at one time for the "run of the mill" (500 kilos). Working by myself, with a little help from son and grandson, I can't pick enough in one week to make up the minimum. 

Labels applied by hand.

No automated bottling here.

Ben and Leo load three 5-liter jugs of oil. I'm up to 35 liters now and still more olives to pick! Hopefully, we'll finish by next week.

The olive mill of the Ayala family is located in Campo de Mijas (Málaga).

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Cooking is getting short shrift at my house, as I’m spending many daylight hours outside picking olives. It’s a bumper crop this year and, luckily, the weather has been fabulous.

Easy picking! Son Ben cuts down high branches. I sit on the ground and pull the olives off and plop them in a bucket. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

But I found a few minutes to make this fish soup, sopa al cuarto de hora, “fifteen-minute soup,” a Madrid classic. I tested the recipe against the clock, and it really does work—if you’ve got the shrimp peeled, the onions chopped and the water boiling before you start the timer.

A quickie fish soup, with cod, shrimp and clams. (The olives pictured are not for eating--they're fresh ones that will go to the mill to make virign olive oil.)

Prep all the ingredients before setting the timer. Ok to use frozen peas or any green veg. Leftover rice is fine.

Serve the soup with a dish on the side for depositing clam shells.

Fifteen-Minute Fish Soup
Sopa al Cuarto de Hora

I’ve usually got fish stock in the freezer—because I can’t bear to throw out fish heads, bones and trimmings. If fish stock is not available, use clam or chicken broth. Or water.

Cod is a good choice for the soup, but, really, any white fish will do. Got leftover cooked fish? Even quicker. Frozen fish is ok too. The clams are opened in the soup, which means you eat them out of the shells. If you prefer, first steam them open, discard shells and add them to the soup in the last minute of cooking. The classic version of this soup is made with peas, but any green vegetable will work. I like it with chopped chard.

Feel free to vary the ingredients and proportions. I came indoors from olive picking with a handful of fennel seeds, growing wild on the edge of the olive grove, so I added a few of them to the soup.

Serves 6.

¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup grated tomato pulp
¼ cup dry Sherry or white wine
1 cup peas or chopped chard
6 cups boiling water or stock
Pinch of fennel seed (optional)
¼ cup chopped ham, preferably serrano
Pinch of crushed saffron or pimentón (paprika)
6 ounces fish fillets, cut in 1-inch pieces
½ pound small clams
1 cup cooked rice
6 ounces small, peeled shrimp

Heat the oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions on a medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and wine. Cook on a high heat for 1 minute. Add the water or stock, fennel, if using, salt to taste (1 ½ teaspoons if you’re using water instead of stock), ham, saffron or pimentón. Let the soup bubble for 5 minutes. Add the fish, clams and rice. Cook 5 minutes more. Add the shrimp and cook 3 minutes more.

Lots more olives to pick, so I'll be at this another week. Notice the blue sky? Sure hope the fine weather lasts.

More recipes for olive picking days: 
More quickie recipes: