Saturday, January 24, 2015


I haven’t quite finished with my porky extravaganza (see previous posts on pork loin and chorizo sausage). This week I’m enjoying salchicha, fresh pork link sausage. But, I’m giving equal time and place on the plate to a vegetarian lentil dish that can be served on its own or as a side with the sausages.


Sherry-glazed sausages, lentils and crisp salad--great lunch dish.
Salchicha is a fresh sausage that must be kept refrigerated and cooked before eating. It’s similar to the breakfast links you’re probably familiar with or to sweet Italian sausage.

Salchichas--fresh pork sausage.
The Spanish version consists of pork meat and fat ground together; seasoned with salt, lots of white or black pepper, nutmeg, garlic, oregano and parsley, and stuffed in sausage casings. It’s ready to eat immediately, without curing time. Fresh link sausage is also sometimes called longaniza blanca. Another version, called salchicha criolla or longaniza roja has pimentón (paprika) and hot pimentón or chile as well.

Salchicha can be fried, grilled or simmered in soups.  I’ve prepared an easy version, frying the sausages, then simmering them with fino Sherry, a dish often served in tapa bars. The lentils along with a salad with a sharp citrus dressing make great side dishes. Or, hold the sausages and serve the lentils as the main event.

Sausages with Sherry
Salchichas al Jerez

If the sausage pieces are to be served as a tapa, cut the links into 1 ½ -inch pieces.

Serves 4-6 as part of a meal, or 10-12 as a tapa.

Sausages as tapa.

1 pound fresh pork link sausage
½ tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup dry Sherry
Chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the sausage pieces on all sides. Add the Sherry and cook on a medium heat for 3 minutes until the sausages are slightly glazed. Serve the sausages with the pan juices, sprinkled with parsley.

Don Quixote’s Friday Lentils
Lentejas Viudas

Vegetarian lentils get flavor from a sofrito of vegetables.

Lentils are what Don Quixote ate on Fridays. Or, so Cervantes tells us in the first paragraph of the novel. Because it was Friday—usually a day of abstinence from meat in the Catholic Church—they were certainly lentils viudas, “widowed,” bereft of meat or sausage. Nevertheless, well flavored with the olive oil of the region, garlic, onions, and spices such as cumin and pepper, they were probably a substantial and tasty meal.
Pardina lentils.

Use the tiny dark brown pardina lentils for this dish, which is served “dry,” not soupy. Small Puy green lentils could be used as well. With a salad and bread, lentils make a fine vegetarian meal. They are also a good side dish with duck, ham or pork. (Another recipe for lentils is here.)

A splash of vinegar or lemon juice at the end of cooking really jacks up the flavor of lentils.


Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 to 8 as a side dish.

1 pound small brown lentils (about 2 ½ cups)
1-inch piece of lemon zest, slivered
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups water
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil + additional to serve
1 ½ cup diced carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon whole cumin seed
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped (optional)
Lemon wedges to serve

Place the lentils in a pot or cazuela and add water, slivered zest, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for 8 minutes. Drain the lentils, saving the liquid. Discard the bay leaves.

If using saffron, soak it in 2 tablespoons hot water for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a pot or cazuela and sauté the carrots, onion, celery and red pepper for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 5 minutes. Add the cumin seed and sauté 1 minute.

Stir in the lentils and 2 cups of the reserved liquid. Add the cloves, pepper, saffron, and additional salt, if necessary. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until lentils and carrots are tender. Add additional liquid as needed to keep the lentils from scorching on the bottom. Add vinegar and cook 3 minutes longer. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the lentils immediately before serving. If desired, serve them garnished with chopped egg. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze into the lentils.

Lentils make a satisfying meal.

Citrus Salad Dressing

Use this dressing on salad greens, on cooked vegetables such as beets, carrots or asparagus, or on grilled fish fillets.

Oranges add a sweet tang.
1 orange
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grate a little orange zest into a small bowl. Peel the orange removing all the white pith. Cut the sections free from membranes and chop the sections. Add to the bowl. Stir in the vinegar, oil, scallions, salt and pepper. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Chorizo to feed a crowd.
It’s pig-out week! A pre-Lenten time of pig butchering and celebration of all foods porcine. Last week I was eating high-off-the-hog with marinated pork loin. This week I’m making chorizo, Spain’s most distinctive sausage.

Back when I was developing recipes for the cookbook, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN (HarperCollins 2002), Spanish chorizo was still very difficult to find in the United States. Intending to include a recipe for making chorizo in the book, I experimented with sausage-making in my kitchen.

Seasoning for chorizo.
I got natural sausage casings from my butcher, who also ground up the pork belly for me. To season it, I used three kinds of pimentón (paprika)—regular sweet pimentón, smoked pimentón and hot pimentón picante, along with garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. (More about pimentón here.)

To stuff the sausages I used a simple plastic pastry bag with a ½-inch nozzle. Having tied off the bottom of the casing with cotton string, I eased the casing onto the nozzle, filled the funnel with the sausage mixture and pressed the plunger to force it into the casing. It worked just fine. I tied-off the sausage in 4-inch links.

I hung the chorizos from a rod in a well-ventilated, unheated shower room for a  week, then cooked them on the grill and in cocidos and potajes (soups and stews).

By the time the cookbook was edited, chorizo had become widely available, so my recipe was left out of the book.

This week, I’m not making real sausages in casings. I’m making the spiced chorizo meat mix, then using it as sausages, patties, and picadillo, ground meat for stuffing.

For how to make “real” Spanish chorizo, both semi-cured and dry-cured, for both professional cooks and dedicated amateurs, see CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN by Jeffrey Weiss (Surrey Books-Agate; 2014). Here you'll find detailed instructions about equipment and the “secrets and science of charcutería “ (precise measurements and exact temperatures make a difference), with the curing salts needed for safe processing and where to get them.

But, back to my home kitchen.

Chorizo Casero
Home-Made Chorizo Sausage

Panceta--pork belly.
Fat is what makes sausage juicy. The greater the proportion of fat to lean, the juicier will be the sausage. My local butcher suggested using all panceta, which is pork belly, fresh uncured bacon, a cut which is almost equally fat and lean. (Yes, in Spanish it's panceta, not pancetta.) You could also combine equal parts lean pork with pork fat.

Have the butcher grind the pork belly or use a meat grinder (food processor doesn’t work well).

La prueba del chorizo--taste-testing for seasoning.
After mixing the meat with the spices, refrigerate it for 24 hours to allow flavors to develop. Then, make a small patty of meat and fry it in a small skillet, about  2 minutes on each side or until cooked through. This is the prueba de chorizo, the taste-test. Does the mix need more salt? If you have used the lesser amount given (½ tablespoon), it probably does! Adjust the seasoning, then fry another prueba to taste.

Instead of sausage casings, this chorizo is wrapped in cheesecloth.
At this point the sausage is ready to cook. I wrapped some of it in cheesecloth and tied-off links resembling sausages. I made meatballs with some to drop into lentil soup. I used some to stuff onions (recipe below). The chorizo keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to a week.

The recipe makes about 16 (2-ounce) sausages.

2 pounds pork belly (panceta), coarsely ground
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
½-1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoons sweet pimentón (paprika)
1 tablespoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked)
1 tablespoon (hot) pimentón picante
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of ground cloves
¼ cup water

Ground pork belly mixed with spices and salt.
Place the meat in a large non-reactive bowl (glass or earthenware). In a blender combine the garlic, wine, salt, pimentón, oregano, pepper, cloves and water. Add this mixture to the meat. Use a mixer with a paddle attachment, a wooden spoon or hands (sterile surgical gloves can be used) to thoroughly mix the spice mixture into the ground meat.

Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Test the mix for seasoning. Fry a small patty of it until thoroughly cooked and taste it. Adjust salt and other seasoning as needed.

At this point the chorizo can be stuffed into sausage casings or made into patties or meatballs. If not to be cooked immediately, store refrigerated. Use within 1 week.

Onions stuffed with chorizo and baked with cheese on top.
Stuffed Onions
Cebollas Rellenas

Onions are a main ingredient in the making of morcilla, blood sausage. With rice or other fillers such as potatoes or even pumpkin, they are combined with fat and pigs’ blood to provide the substance of the sausage.

In Extremadura, where folks gather for the traditional pig butchering, this stuffed onion dish is traditional. The inner parts of the onion are ground up for the morcilla. Sausage mixture is used to stuff the onion shells, which are roasted until tender.

The stuffed onions make a nice starter, served with salad with a citrusy dressing.

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.
6-8 medium onions (2 ½ inches diameter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil or pork lard
1 tablespoon pine nuts
¼ teaspoon cumin seed
½  pound fresh chorizo (recipe above)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 teaspoon aguardiente (anisette liqueur), optional
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) grated cheese (such as Manchego)

Wash the onions. Place them, unpeeled, in a pan with water to cover plus salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Drain, saving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins. Trim the bottom root ends. Cut a thin slice off the tops. Use a spoon to hollow out the center of the onion, leaving about three outer layers intact. (Save the centers for another use.)

Picadillo--chorizo mix fried.
Heat the oil in a skillet. Fry the pine nuts and cumin seed until lightly toasted and skim them out. Add the chorizo to the pan and brown it, using a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Stir in the pine nuts, cumin, wine and aguardiente, if using. Cook for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Use a spoon to stuff the onion cavities with the chorizo mixture. Place the onions in a cazuela. Combine the flour with 1 cup of the reserved onion liquid and pour over the stuffed onions. Cover the cazuela with foil and bake for 25 minutes.

Top the onions with grated cheese, cover with foil and return to the oven for 25 minutes.

Remove foil and place under broiler for 4 minutes, until tops are browned.

Serve hot or room temperature.

Today was Día de San Antón, the festival of St. Anthony Abbot, celebrated in my village with a romería, an outing to the saint's shrine in the countryside and potaje de San Antón, a stew with chickpeas, pig tripe, trotters, ears, meat, chorizo and morcilla sausages. That big pot in the picture was one of two prepared by the women for the festival. (The recipe for potaje de San Antón is here.)

Note the glorious January sunshine.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Tender, juicy pork loin for a lovely dinner.
A cada cerdo llega su San Martín, For every pig, its day of reckoning arrives. This old saying refers to the holiday of San Martín (November 11) that marks the beginning of the matanza—hog slaughtering—season in the central regions of Castilla-León. Here in southern Spain, the pig slaughtering time comes later, in January, when conditions are cold enough. 

Hog butchering in traditional rural families was a time for celebration, because it meant food in the larder for the coming year. Cured hams, several kinds of sausages, lard, salted pork fat, ribs, trotters, ears, tail, were produced from the butchering and carefully stored to feed a family during many months.

Pork loin marinates with vinegar, herbs, pimentón.
Undoubtedly, the choicest cut of the pig is the loin, which is boned and preserved in adobe, a marinade that keeps the pork conserved for several days  in cold weather. It can be sliced and fried, as required. Or, after marinating, the loin can be cooked in lard or olive oil and kept, totally covered in the fat, as a confit.

My version of the marinated loin isn’t meant to be a conserve. The meat acquires flavor and juiciness from the marinade, then it's roasted. It can be served hot or as a cold-cut for sandwiches.

Herb-Marinated Pork Loin
Lomo en Adobo

Served with chard, potatoes, squash and figs.
Serves 8.

3 pounds boneless pork loin
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
2 teaspoons oregano
pinch of thyme
pinch of rosemary
10 peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup wine vinegar (preferably Sherry vinegar)

Place the pork loin in a non-reactive container (glass or earthenware). In a small bowl combine the crushed garlic, pimentón, oregano, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, salt, 1 tablespoon of the oil and vinegar. Pour this over the loin, rubbing it to cover all the surfaces.

Cover the container and marinate the pork, refrigerated, for two days. Turn the pork in the marinade twice a day. Drain the meat and pat it dry. Allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy oven-proof skillet or roasting pan. Brown the pork loin on all sides. Place the pan in the oven and roast until pork is done. Meat should be juicy, only slightly pink in the center. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should register 145ºF. Depending on thickness of the meat, this will take from 40 to 60 minutes.

Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  

Manteca colorá--red lard with sliced pork loin.
In La Mancha, the loin is slow-cooked in olive oil, then packed in an orza, a deep earthenware jar, completely immersed in oil which protects the meat from the air. But, in Andalusia, it’s cooked in lard that’s colored and flavored with pimentón, sweet paprika.

The red lard is used as a spread and as a cooking fat. Absolutely delicious spread on slabs of grilled bread. A pair of eggs fried in lard with a slice of the loin alongside makes a hearty supper.

Better than butter! Lard flavored with garlic, oregano and pimentón.
Yes, lard is a fat—and not nearly so healthful as olive oil. But, surprisingly, it has 20 percent less saturated fat by weight than butter! Processed lard sold as shortening is usually hydrogenated—bad. Get leaf lard from a butcher, chop it finely, heat it until melted and strain it. The crispy bits left after rendering are chicharrones, cracklings. 

Lomo en Manteca Colorá
Confit of Pork Loin in Red Lard

12 ounces sliced pork loin
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
1 teaspoon oregano
Pinch of thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
12 ounces rendered lard
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón

Marinate sliced loin.
Rendered lard.
Fry pork in melted lard.
Pour lard over the fried pork.
Place the slices of pork loin in a shallow bowl. Combine the crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of pimentón, oregano, thyme, salt and vinegar. Spread half this marinade over the pork. Turn the slices and spread the remaining marinade on the pork. 

Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours.

Melt the lard in a heavy skillet. Carefully add half of the pork slices and their marinade to the lard. Fry, turning once, until pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove the pork. Fry the remaining pork in the same manner. Scrape any remaining marinade into the lard.

Place the pork slices in an earthenware cazuela or bowl. Remove the lard from the heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sweet pimentón and smoked pimentón to the hot lard.

Carefully pour the melted lard over the pork slices. Allow to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. The lard solidifies as it cools. The meat and lard keep up to 2 weeks.