Saturday, March 31, 2012


Marinated fried fish.
Last week I wrote about escabeche, a tangy marinade used for cooked foods. To follow up on that, here is another popular marinade, adobo.

Adobo is a mixture of spices and vinegar used to marinate fish or meat before cooking. Before the days of refrigeration, both adobo and escabeche were used to conserve foods.

Fish in adobo marinade.
Adobo marinades usually contain wine vinegar, oregano, garlic and pimentón (paprika). Pork and solid-fleshed fish such as shark are good candidates for adobo marinades. The food to be marinated is submerged in the mixture for 24 hours (for fish) to several days (for meat). A whole pork loin in its vinegar marinade would keep for a week or two in cold weather. Then it could be sliced and fried in oil to make a quick and satisfying meal.

Bites of Marinated Fish

This is a popular tapa throughout Andalusia. Bienmesabe means, more or less, “yummies.” The tapa is also called cazón en adobo. Cazón is tope shark or dogfish, which is perked up nicely with a tangy, adobo marinade. Any solid-fleshed fish, such as monkfish (angler fish), could be substituted. I used small pintaroja, (lesser spotted dogfish), cut crosswise into chunks. 

Makes about 45 pieces.

Shake off excess flour.
2 pounds shark or angler fish (monkfish) fillets
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
3 cloves chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
1 teaspoon crumbled dry oregano
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Flour for dredging fish
Olive oil for frying

Cut the fish into 1 ½-inch cubes, discarding any skin and bone. Put the cubes in a non-reactive container.

Mix together the oil, vinegar, water, garlic, pimentón, oregano, pepper and salt. Pour over the fish and mix well. Marinate for at least 6 hours and up 48 hours.

Drain the fish well, dredge it in flour, shake off the excess and fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until golden and crisp. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

Fish in adobo has tangy flavor.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Quail legs in escabeche marinade make a tasty tapa.
Escabeche is one of my favorite cooking methods. I use it for fish, poultry and game. The procedure, which involves putting cooked food into a vinegar marinade, makes tangy foods that are great for tapas and for salads.

Escabeche is an ancient way of preserving foods. Hunting once was much a part of rural life in every region of Spain. where small game—rabbit, hare, partridge and quail—were free for the taking on scrubby hillsides and in dry ravines. During the season when hunters returned with an abundance, the game would be dressed-out and cooked in a marinade, then packed into clay pots. Olive oil in the marinade would rise to the top and create a protective seal, allowing the escabeche foods to be kept for several months during the cold season. Chunks of marinated meat could be reheated with beans or added, cold, to salads.

Typically, escabeche is made with white wine, vinegar, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt, peppercorns, pimentón or dried chile, cloves and bay leaf. In order to conserve the game, the marinade needed to be very strong in vinegar. Nowadays, with refrigeration, the escabeche is not so sharp.

Escabeche marinade is also used with fish, both fresh water trout, pike and tench, and seafood such as mackerel, sardines and oysters. Fish is gutted, floured and fried until thoroughly cooked. Then hot escabeche marinade is poured over the pieces of fish. Left to marinate for a day or two, the fish acquires a delicious tang. Escabeche fish is usually served as a cold dish, on a bed of lettuce and garnished with lemon and sliced tomatoes.

When  preparing escabeche marinades, use nonreactive pans and bowls—glass or ceramic. Dusting the fish or poultry pieces with flour before frying keeps them from splattering in the hot oil and allows them to brown nicely. If using leftover cooked food (for example, roast turkey), simply add it to the marinade and bring to a boil. It does not need to cook further. Warming escabeche before serving helps to liquefy the jellied marinade. The foods can can be served warm or room temperature. 

ChupaChups de Codorniz en Escabeche
Lollipops of Quail in Escabeche Marinade

ChupaChups is a popular brand of lollipop. Eat these miniscule quail legs right off the bone like a lolly, a two-bite tapa. Leave drumstick and thigh connected if you’re cutting them from whole quail. This recipe can also be prepared using chicken drumettes, the thick, first joint of a chicken wing. 

To serve as finger food, reheat the legs or wings to liquefy the sauce and skim them out of the liquid. If desired, wrap ends in foil, and serve with paper napkins, as they are a bit messy. They can also be used in the following recipe for Salad of Pickled Partridge or Chicken.

Makes 12 tapas.

12 whole quail legs or chicken wings
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek (white part only), sliced
1 carrot, sliced crosswise
1 slice of onion
1 slice of lemon
2 cloves garlic, slivered lengthwise
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika) stirred into 1 tablespoon water
1 small dry red chile (optional)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water
 ½ cup white wine
½ cup wine vinegar
Salad greens and cherry tomatoes, to serve

Sprinkle the quail legs with salt and pepper. Dredge them in flour and shake off excess. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Brown the quail on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove. Wipe out the pan.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan with the leek, carrot, onion, lemon, garlic, bay leaf, pimentón, chile, if using; peppercorns, oregano, salt, water, wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Return the quail to the pan. Cover and simmer until quail is tender, but not falling off the bone, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the quail to cool in the marinade.

Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. Serve cold or room temperature, garnished with salad leaves and tomatoes.

Salad of chicken wing escabeche.
Ensalada con Escabeche
Escabeche Salad

Partridge in spiced escabeche is an emblematic dish of La Mancha (central Spain). If you find canned pickled partridge at gourmet shops, serve it in this delectable salad. The salad is almost as good made with chicken wings in escabeche. Strip the meat from the bones, discarding most of the skin too. You’ll need the meat from about 8 wings (16 wing pieces) to serve 4. Use some of the carrots from the marinade in the salad too. The salad can be garnished with pickled mushrooms and onions. Or, omit the pickles and scatter pomegranate seeds over the salad.

Serves 4.

4 cups mixed salad greens
3 cups boned partridge or chicken wings in escabeche plus pickling liquid
8 hard-cooked quail eggs, halved, or 4 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
Cherry tomatoes or sliced plum tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
Pickled mushrooms, optional
Pickled onions, optional
Olives or capers
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Divide the salad greens between 4 salad plates. Divide the boned partridge or chicken between the plates. If there are carrot pieces in the escabeche, scatter them around the partridge or chicken.

Garnish the partridge with hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes, oregano, scallions, pickled mushrooms and onions, if using, olives or capers.

If escabeche liquid is jellied, heat it briefly in microwave or in a saucepan to liquefy. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the pickling liquid over each salad. Dribble 1 teaspoon oil over each. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Leeks from the garden.

Biding their time through the winter, the leeks in my garden plot are ready for pulling. I’ve used one here and there, usually for adding to chicken or vegetable soup, but now the whole crop is ready to harvest. What to do with several dozen leeks?

Leeks can be used in place of onions, of course. They are milder, sweeter than onions. I especially like them with all things fish—sauteed in olive oil until melted into a thick jam as a bed for roasted salmon; simmered with white wine and scallops or mussels; fried to a frizzle as a garnish for grilled sea bass.

Leeks, trimmed of outer leaves and tops.
I love leeks prepared in that old-fashioned French dish, leeks a la grecque. The leeks simmer in an aromatic mixture of vinegar and olive oil and are left to cool in the broth, to be served atop greens as a salad course.

There’s always vichysoisse, a leek and potato soup. That trail led me to a home-style Basque soup, porrusalda, leek and potato soup, often embellished with salt cod. Lush with leeks, the soup is not pureed as is vichysoisse. Olive oil, not cream, gives it richness. Some cooks add carrots or pumpkin as well as potatoes. I like a sprinkle of hot pimentón (paprika) to punch up the flavor.

Dirt collects between leaves.

Leeks collect dirt between the multi-layered leaves. The best way to clean them is to slice downward from the tops and spread the leaves open under running water. Strip off and discard any leathery outer leaves.

Porrusalda is Basque leek and potato soup with salt cod.

Basque Leek Soup

8 ounces salt cod (optional)
6 to 8 leeks (about 1 ½ pounds after tops are trimmed)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ¼ pounds potatoes (russet type)
5 cups water or light chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Hot pimentón (paprika), if desired

If using the cod, put it to soak in water to cover 36 hours before preparing the soup. Cover and refrigerate. Change the water twice daily. Drain and rinse the cod. Cut it into bite-size pieces, discarding any skin and bone.

Split the leeks lengthwise and wash them well. Slice them crosswise (making approximately 5 cups of sliced leeks).

Heat the oil in a cazuela or soup pot. Add the sliced leeks, carrot and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes.

Peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Add potatoes to the cazuela with water or stock to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and add the pieces of cod. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper. Simmer another 15 minutes until potatoes and leeks are tender. Sprinkle with hot pimentón before serving.

Leek and potato soup.

Here’s a tip I learned from a television chef: use the outer leaves of a leek to wrap up a bouquet garni with carrot, celery, parsley and thyme.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Ann and Kenton haul olives to the mill.
This is the story of a fellow-American living in Spain. She and her husband have a farm with 850 olive trees. They pick the olives themselves, take them to the mill, and bring home the oil

Even before the press starts to squeeze, oil begins dripping from the tower of mats spread with crushed olives. When the hydraulic press begins to slowly compress, the flow increases. Oil begins to pool in a trough at the bottom. This is pure “olive juice,” squeezed from fresh “fruit,” olives.

Old-fashioned olive press.
Watching are Ann Larson and Kenton Smith, who picked the olives on their 22-acre farm in Yunquera, a white village in the highlands of southern Spain, and hauled them to the mill. Later they will truck the extra virgin oil back to their farm.

The olive juice as it is drawn off into a settling tank does not look appetizing.

“The first time I saw it,” says Kenton, “I was horrified: ‘What have they done to our wonderful olives?’  It looked like old machine oil.”

Oil in settling tank.
Allowed to settle in a convex tank, the oil rises to the top, leaving the dark water and sediment at the bottom. The oil is pumped out into big plastic jugs. Greenish-golden and still very cloudy, the unfiltered oil is ready for use without further treatment. Extra virgin. Fresh-squeezed olive juice.

“We let it rest for a couple months,”says Ann. “It settles more and turns almost clear.”

The traditional olive press in the small village of Yunquera is one of very few still operating in Spain. The process is simple. First the olives are tumbled and air-blowed in a hopper to remove leaves and dirt, then crushed by stones or steel wheels to release the oil. The pulp is spread onto mats woven of esparto grass or of polymer synthetics. These are stacked on a spindle on a hydraulic press, which squeezes the pulp tighter and tighter, allowing the oil to flow out through channels at the bottom.

There is another, modern mill in the village. Like most oil processing in Spain, it uses a far more efficient centrifugal system to extract the oil. After crushing, the olive pulp is spun at high speed to separate the oil from the water and solids.

“Once or twice a week I see tanker trucks with Italian license plates pull up at the gates,” says Kenton. (A lot of Spanish olive oil is exported to Italy, where it is blended and marketed as an Italian export.)

The traditional press, not very different from those used for milennia, is slow, labor-intensive and costly, but, said Ann, the locals think it produces the best oil.

Ann pours new oil for tasting.
Back in the kitchen, where Ann and Kenton enjoy cooking together, Ann pours some new oil into a saucer and cuts up a mollete, fresh-baked bread roll, for dipping. The oil is fresh and fruity, a little herbaceous. For comparison, she sets out some of last year’s oil. It is heavier, more full-bodied.

“This year we started picking early in December,” explains Ann. “Mainly to avoid the high winds that make picking nearly impossible. The locals usually wait as late as possible—February or March—because the yield is greater, but then the olives are over-ripe and the oil isn’t as fresh tasting.”

Ann, who is originally from Sioux Falls, SD, and Kenton, from Suffolk, England, left jobs in information technology eight years ago and moved to their mountaintop farm in Spain.

“We were at the top of an interesting profession, but we were always at the office or on a plane. We never saw our house in daylight. I had to ask, ‘do I want to do the same thing another 25 years?’ “

They traded in their upwardly mobile lifestyle for an abandoned farm on a mountainside facing the Sierra de las Nieves national forest. There they built a small house amongst olive and chestnut trees with astonishing views to the tumble of white-washed houses of the village, across hills all the way to the Mediterranean coast.

“We grow almost all our own vegetables, and cook with our own olive oil,” Ann tells me, “very much enjoying the more natural, outdoor life here, and the open way of living. Most of our friends in the village are farmers like ourselves. They’re finding it hard to make a living with dropping agricultural prices. In fact, many are just abandoning their land, because farming just doesn't pay.”

Estate-bottled olive oil.
Ann and Kenton sell oil under their own label, Yunquera Gold, bottled in recycled wine bottles, or, for shipping to the US, in silver-grey Pepsi Light bottles. Now, that’s estate-bottled oil. But the oil is a hobby, not a business.

 “It’s too expensive to bottle mechanically,” says Ann. ( for more about Ann and Kenton’s olive oil and life in Spain.)

A few years ago, Ann and Kenton started using their virgin oil to make artisanal soap for Christmas gifts. Stirred up in their small kitchen, the soap was scented with locally grown herbs and flowers.

“We were stunned at the difference between our soap made from olive oil and commercial soaps,” says Ann. Instead of just clean skin, we had clean, soft and moisturized skin. This is because commercial soaps have all kinds of additives in them and the manufacturers strip out the ‘good stuff’ (glycerin) for use in other beauty products.”

Silky olive oil cream has spicy scent.
Besides soap, Ann and Kenton developed blends of olive and other oils for body and face creams as well as hair care products. Easier to ship world-wide, the beauty products are proving quite successful. ( for more information.)

Ann has been collecting recipes from the locals, starting with Manuel, a neighbor, who has coached them through olive harvests and pruning. This is a traditional Yunquera dish—a “soup,” often cooked outdoors on a wood fire.  (The recipe for Sopa y Bollo is compiled by Ann Larson and used with permission.)

Sopa y bollo, cooked outdoors during olive harvesting. (Photo by Kenton Smith, used with permission.)

Yunquera Soup and Accompaniments
Sopa y bollo

Ann’s notes: The sopa is served first. When people have eaten almost enough, bollo is made from the remaining sopa. This is because the bollo contains expensive ingredients! My grandmother did the same by serving my farmer grandfather fried potatoes first, then the meat and veg afterwards.

Olive oil
5-6 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 large onions, sliced
4 long green peppers, sliced
1 large tomato
A few fava beans, cut into ½ inch pieces, but not shelled
A few asparagus stalks, torn into small pieces
1 head garlic, broken into cloves but not peeled
1 loaf day old bread, torn into small pieces

Heat olive oil, then add potatoes. Turn occasionally, so they don’t burn on the bottom, but don’t turn too much or they will break apart.

When softened, add the onions and garlic; cook a few minutes more, then add the green pepper and tomato, and other vegetables. Cook until potatoes are ‘al dente’.

Add water to cover the potatoes; after it boils, heat through a few minutes. Add the torn bread and cook until the liquid has been absorbed.

When people have nearly eaten their fill, prepare the bollo.


1 tin tuna, not drained
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
1 orange, peeled and chopped

Add the above ingredients to the remaining sopa, and stir.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Flan with caramel sauce.

Flan, that sweet, golden custard resting in its little pool of dark caramel sauce, is as Spanish as sunshine. Flan really comes into its own in the spring, especially during the Easter season. That's because, in the spring, cows, goats and ewes give an abundance of milk. Hens are laying. What better way to use up the season's bounty than to turn it into luscious custards?

Classic flan calls for whole cows' milk infused with lemon zest and cinnamon stick and bound with whole eggs. Individual custard cups are coated with caramel before being filled with the custard mixture. The cups are set in a baking pan partially filled with boiling water. After baking, the flans are allowed to cool and are unmolded immediately before serving. Baking liquidizes the caramel, which spills over the custards when they are unmolded. Flan should be firm enough to stand unsupported, but just a little wobbly.

When making caramel to coat the molds, I use a light-colored pan, so I can watch the sugar changing color. As the water cooks off, the sugar bubbles into a thick syrup, then begins to turn gold around the edges. Rather than stir,  tilt the pan to mix it. It’s ready when the syrup is a dark gold, not brown. This takes about 6 minutes.

Then, work quickly and pour into the flan cups. The caramel hardens almost immediately. If it sets up too quickly, set the pan back on the heat until it melts.

To clean the pan after making caramel, partially fill it with water, bring to a boil, put the lid on and let boil one minute. Remove from heat, leaving the lid on. The steam will clean the sides of the pan.
Free-range eggs for making flan.

I buy fresh, free-range eggs for making flan.

The flans need to bake very gently, so set the cups in a pan partially filled with hot water.

The traditional flavoring for flan is lemon zest and cinnamon stick, infused with the hot milk. Or, use instead a vanilla bean, or a combination of orange zest and a favorite herb (rosemary or bay leaf, for example). In this version, I have used saffron in place of cinnamon, lending a very subtle aroma and a sunny  yellow color to the flans.

Caramel Custards
Flan con Caramelo

Serves 8.

2 cups sugar
5 eggs, beaten
4 cups milk
Strip of lemon peel
Pinch of saffron, crushed

Preheat oven to 325º.

Have ready 8 1-cup custard cups (preferably metal).

Place ½ cup of sugar in a small heavy saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water. Cook until sugar melts and turns a dark gold. Quickly pour the syrup into the custard cups, tilting them to cover the bottoms.

Combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar with the milk, lemon peel and saffron in a saucepan. Place the beaten eggs in a bowl.

Heat the milk until sugar is dissolved. Whisk the hot milk  into the eggs. Pour the milk and eggs through a strainer into a heat-proof pitcher. Discard lemon peel.

Divide the custard mixture between the custard cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Set the custards in a pan and add boiling water to half the depth of the cups.

Bake the custards until set (a thin skewer comes out clean), about 1 hour. Cool, then refrigerate.

Immediately before serving, dip the bottom of each custard cup in hot water. Loosen the custards with a knife and invert each on to an individual dessert plate.