Saturday, May 24, 2014


According to this new cookbook, the soul of Spain is not found in its literature, poetry or music, not in flamenco, nor bullfighting, certainly not in the Church. The soul of Spain is its sausage! Charcutería, the art and skill of curing meat, is the soul of Spain, claims Jeffrey Weiss, chef and author of CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN (Surrey Books-Agate; 2014).

Jeff discovered the Spanish soul a few years ago when he won a scholarship from the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) to spend a year in Spain getting to know Spanish products while working in the kitchens of top restaurants. One of Jeff’s most memorable experiences from that year was participating in a typical matanza, or hog butchering, in Extremadura. Inspired by traditional ham and sausage production, since returning to the US, he’s been pursuing Spanish sausage-making, which he declares is too little-known in America. The book grew out of that dedication. Jeff currently is chef at Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar in Pacific Grove, CA., where he serves Spanish-inflected snacks, charcuterie, small plates, entrees, sides and desserts. 

A sabia (expert sausage maker), tying off links. (Photo by Nathan Rawlinson.)

In the book, Jeff gets the sausage and dick jokes out of the way quickly. To hear him tell it, the sabias, the women who know how just how much salt and pimentón to add to the grind, are cracking wise about how small his sausage is, whether it needs massaging. When he gets down to the matanza at hand—an intense, draining and days long affair, he says, with sharp implements, the capacity to witness death and a good amount of blood required—there is no joking here, but much respect for the people and the animals involved.

Each chapter describes a curing process and its uses with recipes incorporating the cured foods. So, for example, under Salmueras y Salazones (brines and salt cures) are steps to produce your own panceta (pancetta or pork belly) or whole ham. Right down to the quantity of salt and the time to cure and air-dry them. Here, too, is absolutely everything about how the famed Ibérico ham is produced—from the pigs to the dehesa where they fatten on acorns to the slaughter and curing.  

The chapter on Embutidos (literally, anything stuffed in a casing, thus “sausages”) surveys just about all the regional variations. Some of these, writes Jeff, are vastly different and wholly unique compared to what you will find anywhere else in the world.

Butifarra, chistorra, botillo, bull, morcilla, patatera, fuet and, of course, chorizo are demystified. While you may never intend to make your own sausages, the recipes for cooking with them are fabulous—chorizo al infierno, flamed with orujo brandy; Barcelona canelones, with a filling that includes sausage, liver, chicken and veal; garbanzos with butifarra negra that includes raisins, sweet wine, spinach and mint; Nacho Manzano’s Asturian fabada; carcamusa, a pork “chili;” cocido madrileño, a grand one-pot feast, and Tolosa black beans with sausages.

This book should have been released in the fall or winter, season of hog butchering, when fatty, porky dishes are especially appealing. Nevertheless, the book surprises with its selection of non-meat recipes, included because they use many of the same techniques that are used in curing meat.

For example, in the chapter on Salmueras y Salazones (brines and salt cures) are recipes for salt cod in three classic Basque sauces, pil pil, verde and vizcaina; Catalan salads with salt fish, such as xató and esqueixada, and asparagus topped with mojama (air-dried tuna) and a perfect fried egg—“sexy, runny, crispy.” In the Adobo chapter is a take on cazón en adobo (marinated, fried shark), using chickpea flour. (I’ll be trying that one.) And, in Escabeche, recipes for mushroom or mussel escabeche alongside a classic partridge escabeche that Jeff learned to make at Restaurante Adolfo in Toledo, one of the restaurants where he interned during that year in Spain.

There are also chapters on Conservas y Confits, Pâtés y Terrinas (with a recipe for Arzak’s sensational pastel de cabracho, a fish terrine); Guarniciones y Salsas (including recipes for sweet-pickled garlic and for Almagro pickled eggplant), and Postres y Licores (including wonderful perunillas, cookies made with lard, a by-product of the matanza).

The professional cook or dedicated amateur will appreciate this book’s precision. The book describes the difference between European and American butchering, how a pig is broken down into parts. There are classifications—fresh, semi-cured, cooked and dry-cured sausages. Here are detailed instructions about types of knots for tying off sausages, 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, Charcutería—The Soul of Spain has much to love for a home cook like me who may never attempt to make sausage from scratch.

The book has a forward by well-known chef José Andrés. Jeff worked for José early in his cheffing career and José helped him get the ICEX scholarship that got him to Spain. The fabulous evocative photos by Nathan Rawlinson shot on location in Spain capture authenic scenes of matanzas, kitchens, cooks, Ibérico pigs. 

Jeff will be cooking for an event at the James Beard House, New York, on 27 June. See the information about that dinner here .

Butifarra, a Catalan sausage.

I chose a recipe from Charcutería—The Soul of Spain for Trinxat, sausage-cabbage-potato cakes, that is satisfying, but light enough for warm weather. It calls for butifarra, a Catalan sausage, that is also good grilled over charcoal. (Yes, you can buy butifarra in the US.)

“This Catalan dish,” writes Jeff, “is part of a long line of European cabbage and potato mash-ups, including comfort-food favorites like the English bubble and squeak, Swiss rösti, Irish colcannon—the list goes on.

“These recipes have common ground. They’re an easy way to use up leftovers, particularly back in the days when refrigeration was scarce and food was never wasted. This Trinxat recipe is especially porky and delicious with the inclusion of butifarra.

“Also, I say, go big or go home—take the time to fry the cabbage cakes in foaming butter, like a real fine-dining cook. Worry about the calories another day.”

Rendered ibérico lard.

Uh-oh. Sorry, Jeff. I wussed out here. No butter has crossed my threshold in several years. So, instead of a “fine-dining cook,” I am a down-home olive oil and lard type. I bought a hunk of Ibérico pork fat (I live in Spain, so that was easy to source) and rendered it down to make lard to use in the Sofrito. I did take Jeff’s suggestion for serving the cakes with an acidic salad, of oranges and spring onions.

Sausage-Cabbage-Potato Cakes
(Recipe excerpted from CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN.)

Sausage-cabbage-potato cakes with orange salad.

Note: This dish is pretty heavy, so it goes well with an acidic salad to cut its richness. Otherwise, definitely serve it as they do in the mountains, with a garlicky alioli for dipping.

4 entrée servings

½ cup Basic Sofrito (recipe below)
1 head napa or savoy cabbage, cored and cut into medium dice
1.1  pounds medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium dice.
Water, to cover
Kosher salt, to taste
½ cup + 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed
2  Butifarra Blanca or Negra sausages, removed from the casing and crumbled
White pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
All-purpose flour, as needed
Unsalted butter, as needed

In a large saucepan, prepare the Basic Sofrito, using manteca as the fat and including the garlic, bay leaf and panceta options from the recipe. Remove from the heat, transfer the sofrito to a mixing bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

In the same saucepan, cover the cabbage and potatoes with cold water. Season with salt until the water tastes like the ocean, and bring the water to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Drain but reserve the veggies in the pot.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and stir the veggies until you see that all of the residual water has evaporated. Once the mixture is dry, remove from the heat. Transfer the vegetables to a large mixing bowl.

Make cakes and place on a tray.
Using a potato masher, mash the cabbage and potatoes and set aside to cool to room temperature (the more steam that is released, the less moisture will remain).

In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the ½ cup of oil until rippling but not smoking. Add the sausages and sear, breaking them up with a spoon, for 8 to 10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked. Stir and add the reserved sofrito. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until simmering.

Add the contents of the sauté pan to the bowl containing the veggies. Mix well. Taste and season the mixture with the salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cool.

Set a baking sheet on the counter. Using a ½-cup measure, scoop out some of the mixture and form it into a ball. Place the ball on a clean work surface. Smash the ball down to form a cake-like shape (like a crab cake). Rest the cake on the baking sheet. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used. Lightly dust the Trinxat cakes with the flour and set aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil until rippling. Fry the Trinxat cakes in the sauté pan for 8 to 10 minutes, until seared on one side. Flip the cakes, add 2 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and baste with a spoon, “fine-dining style.” Cook for 6 to 8 minutes on the second side, until warmed through. Repeat as needed for the remaining cakes. Serve hot.


Sofrito--fried onions, garlic, tomatoes.
Sofrito, one of the keys to Spanish cuisine, is a word that pops up in every language spoken in the country. Whether it’s called a sofrito in Castellano, a sofregit in Catalan, a rustido in Gallego, or sueztitua in Euskadi, it’s going to be some combination of onions, garlic, and tomatoes cooked in fat to varying degrees of jam-like consistency. Stemming from the verb sofreir, which means “to fry lightly,” the sofrito is an exercise in patience and finesse. It’s all about listening, smelling and slowly cooking the aromatics down in hot fat; about knowing when to add the various components and about understanding the depth of flavor you want to achieve.

Note: Sofritos are not just personal recipes. They’re typically tailored to their end purpose, so feel free to add any of the optional ingredients, depending on what goes best with the recipe your Sofrito will play a part in.

Extra virgin olive oil, unsalted butter or melted manteca (pork lard), as needed
5 medium yellow onions, peeled, destemmed and cut into small dice
Kosher salt, as needed
3 plum tomatoes, halved and grated on the medium holes of a grater, liquid reserved
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
3 medium piquillo peppers, cut into small dice
1 medium chile pepper, such as Fresno or Anaheim, cut into small dice
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut into small dice
3 ½ ounces (100 g) Jamón or Panceta Curada

1 fresh bay leaf
¼ cup (65 g) tomato paste
1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted and ground

Cover the bottom of a medium saucepan with ¼ inch of the fat of your choice (basically, you want the entire bottom of the pan covered with a layer of fatty goodness). Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and warm the fat for 4 to 6 minutes, until rippling but not smoking and moving freely in the pan.

Add the onions and any of the optional ingredients from Group 1 to the saucepan. Season liberally with the salt.

Lower the heat to medium and cook the sofrito, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 45 minutes (depending on how far you wish to brown the onions: At 15 minutes, they’re wilted, and at 45, they’re wonderfully browned). Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the browning consistent, or just adjust the heat accordingly.

Once the onions have reached the desired color, add the tomatoes and their liquid and any of the optional ingredients from Group 2. Stir to incorporate.

Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has a jam-like consistency. Taste the sofrito and season to taste with the salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Once chilled, the sofrito can be refrigerated for a week or held frozen for up to 4 months.


  1. Does salchichón count as a sausage? That's my favorite, and I honestly only really like homemade stuff. My in-laws make homemade chorizo and salchichón that are to die for.

    Anyway, I really enjoy this premise, and I agree that Spain's soul is in its food and the food's preparation.

    1. Kaley: Salchichón definitely counts as sausage! Jeff's recipe is in the style of Catalan salchichón de Vic. Imagine your inlaws' salchichón is especially soulful!

  2. Does Jeff mention or discuss the jewish influence or introduction of sausage to Spain?

    1. Jay: Yes, he traces history from the pork-centric Celts, to the Romans, who firmly established charcuterie and meat-preserving techniques to the years of the Reconquest from Moors, when pig butchering moved to front yards and village squares to proclaim a (Christian) political and cultural identification. Nothing specific about the Jewish influence.