Sunday, February 26, 2017


It’s the month to enjoy cocido madrileño, a boiled dinner that may be the national dish of Spain. And, you thought it was paella or gazpacho! In fact, a meal-in-a-pot is enjoyed in every region of Spain. It’s a family meal, perfect for a weekend or a holiday when there’s time to cook, time to savor.

Through 31 of March, 37 restaurants in Madrid and the surrounding area are featuring the famous cocido in its many versions. For a list of the participating restaurants, go to http://www.rutadelcocidomadrileñ

And, if you’d like to try this famous dish at home, here you have the recipe.

Cocido madrileño, a meal served in tres vuelcos--first the soup, then a platter of meats and chicken and another of vegetables and chickpeas.

First off, I didn’t grow up eating cocido. No abuela (grandmom) taught me the tricks. I don’t have any castizo roots at all. I learned to make Andalusian cocido/puchero 50 years ago from village cooks. But the madrileño version, I learned from restaurant tastings and Spanish cookbooks.

I’ve tried to give you a pretty authentic recipe—but I admit to taking some liberty with the hallowed recipe! I use whole-wheat bread for the relleno, the typical dumpling that accompanies cocido. I substitute kale for some of the cabbage. And, while I always use a chunk of serrano ham and bone for the inimitable flavor and aroma it lends to the soup, I have never really liked the texture of cooked serrano ham. But, no! I would never, ever, substitute cooked smoked ham. It just wouldn’t be cocido madrileño.

A cocido can be a one-pot meal, if you have a really big pot (olla or cacerola). You’ll have to pay close attention to cooking times, adding ingredients to the pot so that they’re all done at the same time. With experience, this is no big deal. But if, like me, you only make a full scale cocido once or twice a year, the chance of having underdone beef or disintegrating potatoes increases.

Serve the soup first with fideo noodles.

Then comes a heaping platter--beef, chicken, chorizo, pork belly, marrow bones, cooked ham, morcilla sausage, salt pork and relleno, fritters that are poached in the broth.

Stewed cabbage is dressed with sautéed garlic and pimentón. I've added some (non-traditional) kale, as well.

Chickpeas cooked with the meat and ham bone soak up lots of flavor. These are the castellano variety.

I opt to use three different pots. In the first one, the biggest, the chickpeas cook with the meats, bones and chicken. This produces the flavorful caldo, broth, that will be served as a first course. In the second pot, with an extra few pieces of meat bones, I cook the potatoes, turnips and carrots. In a third pan, I cook the chopped cabbage along with the chorizo and morcilla sausages. 

You have some choices to make. Do you want the caldo—soup—to be as pale as possible or somewhat ruddy-colored? If you want it pale, cook the red chorizos and black morcilla separately. Do you like morcilla (blood sausage)? If so, will you choose the muy castellano, morcilla de arroz, sausage with rice? Or the rustic morcilla de cebolla, sausage with onion? Each has its fans. (I like Andalusian onion morcilla.)

If you prefer cocido-“light”—with reduced fat—I suggest making it a day in advance. After straining the soup, chill it overnight. Then it’s easy to lift off the congealed fat and discard it. Keep the meats and vegetables covered with some of the remaining broth. Refrigerate them overnight too.
Before serving, heat the strained and defatted soup in one pot and cook the fideo noodles in it. Reheat the meat and vegetables in another pot.

Relleno--patties of bread crumbs are fried, then simmered.

The relleno, also called bola or pelota, is a cross between a dumpling and a fritter. Made of bread crumbs, sometimes with the addition of ham or minced meat, it is shaped into small patties, fried in olive oil, then simmered in the soup pot. In households where meat was scarce, the relleno was a way of extending the meal. Now it’s a cherished addition to cocido, especially liked by kids.

Stewing hen or boiling fowl adds a lot of flavor and doesn’t fall apart with long cooking. If using ordinary chicken, add it after the pot has been cooking for one hour.

Put the chickpeas to soak in warm water 8 hours before cooking the cocido. Add them to the pot when the water comes to a boil. If you have hard water, use filtered or bottled water to cook chickpeas. You won't use a whole pound for one meal, but cooked chickpeas have many uses.

Chickpeas cook in a mesh bag.
Spanish cooks use a malla, a mesh bag, to cook the chickpeas, so they can be easily removed.

Skim off the foam that rises as the water comes to a boil. Skim again after adding the chickpeas.

If using ham and salt pork, additional salt probably will not be needed. Taste the broth after 1 hour of cooking and add salt if necessary.

Allow 1 medium potato per person or use larger ones and cut them in half to serve.

The soup, with meat, chicken and chickpeas, will be done in about 2 ½ hours.

Cocido Madrileño
Madrid Style Boiled Dinner

Two kinds of sausage, serrano ham, pork belly, salt pork, ham bone, stewing hen, beef shin and marrow bones plus carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage and chickpeas--cocido is a whole meal in a pot.

Serves 6, with leftovers

1 pound chickpeas
Hot water
¾ pound boneless beef shin (morcillo)
Beef marrow bones (hueso de caña con tuétano)
2 ½ -inch chunk of serrano ham bone
4 ounces boneless serrano ham
 10 ounces fresh pork belly (panceta) or boneless ribs (costillas)
2 ounces salt pork
1 ¾ pounds stewing hen (gallina) or chicken
12 cups water plus additional for 2nd and 3rd pots
1 medium onion
2 cloves
1 leek
1 stalk celery
6 carrots, peeled
1-2 turnips, peeled
6 medium red boiling potatoes, peeled
Coarse salt

1 ½ pounds cabbage, chopped
3 links of chorizo (8 ounces)
6 ounces morcilla (blood sausage)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon water
For the soup:
8 ounces fideos (vermicelli soup noodles)
Chopped parsley, to serve

For the relleno:
2 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 eggs
¼ cup milk or water
Salt (about ½ teaspoon)
Olive oil for frying
Pickled onions as a side
Pickled green chiles as a side
Tomato sauce, to serve

Day before cooking the cocido, put the chickpeas in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and enough hot water (not boiling) to cover them by three times their depth. Allow to soak overnight (8 hours). Drain the chickpeas and rinse them in warm tap water.

In a large soup pot, place the piece of beef, bones, ham, pork belly and salt pork. Add the stewing hen and 12 cups of water.  (If using chicken, add it after 1 hour of cooking.) 

Skim the foam from the broth.

Bring to a boil and skim off the foam that rises to the top.
Add the onion stuck with 2 cloves. Add leek, trimmed, and the stalk of celery.

Add chickpeas to the pot.
Add the chickpeas. Bring again to a boil and skim again.
Cover the pot and reduce the heat so the liquid bubbles gently. After 1 hour, stir the pot. Taste the broth and add salt if necessary. Cook until the chickpeas, beef and chicken are very tender, about 1 hour longer. 

Allow the pot to settle for 10 minutes. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. If you’ve cooked the chickpeas in a special bag, lift it out and reserve the chickpeas in a bowl. 

Place a strainer lined with cheesecloth or dampened kitchen towel over a clean pot. Ladle the soup into the strainer. Use approximately 8 cups to serve 6. Cool the soup, then refrigerate until the fat solidifies (overnight). Skim off the fat before finishing the soup.

In a second pan, cook the carrots, turnips and potatoes in some of the broth from the main pot or in salted water until they are tender, about 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift the vegetables out of the hot liquid immediately before serving. (If preparing the cocido a day in advance, the vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated until shortly before serving.)

In a third pan, cook the chopped cabbage in lightly salted water with the chorizo and morcilla until the cabbage is very tender, 30 minutes. While cabbage is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet and sauté the sliced garlic. Stir in the pimentón, vinegar and spoonful of water. Drain the cabbage. Place it in a serving bowl and pour over the garlic oil. 

Place the cooked chorizo and morcilla on a platter with the marrow bones, beef, pork, chicken and ham. Add the relleno.

On another platter, arrange the potatoes, carrots, turnip and leek. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Place the chickpeas in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Skim off fat from the strained soup. Bring it to a boil and add the fideos (noodles). Cook until they are al dente, 5 minutes. 

Serve the soup as a first course. Serve the platter of meat and chicken, the platter of vegetables, the bowl of cabbage with garlic dressing and the bowl of chickpeas.

Serve pickled onions, pickled green chiles and tomato sauce on the side. 

For the relleno:

Mix breadcrumbs with garlic and parsley.
Combine the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley. (Use a mini-processor to make the crumbs and to chop the garlic and parsley.) Beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water until they are foamy. Add to the breadcrumbs with milk and salt.

Form the mixture into 6-8 2-inch patties. Heat oil in a small skillet and fry the patties until they are browned on both sides. Drain on absorbent paper.

Add the relleno to the pot with the meats and cook 15 minutes. Serve the relleno on the platter with the meats.

Serve the cocido with a red wine with denominación de origen Madrid.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Counting down to Lent, now it’s time for Carnaval and feasting on fat. You’ve certainly heard of Mardi Gras—“fat Tuesday,” the last day before Lent. In Spain, it’s jueves lardero, or “fatty Thursday,” celebrated at the beginning of Carnaval. This year jueves lardero is February 23. 

Carnaval celebrates Don Carnal, Mister Flesh-pot, a last pig-out before Lenten austerity. Besides raucous parades, ribald ditties, flamboyant costumes and plenty of partying, there’s food, in particular fatty food—sausages, lard, ham—before the fasting of Lent begins.

Ensaïmadas are sweet rolls made with lard, typical of the island of Mallorca.

In Mallorca (Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean) a favorite for Carnaval is  ensaïmada, a spiral sweet roll traditionally made with lard. In fact, saïm means “lard” in the Catalan usage.

Ensaimadas are popular year-round and now can be found, not just in the Mediterranean archipelago, but in every corner of Spain. Small ones are perfect breakfast sweet rolls paired with café con leche. Big ones, split crosswise and filled with pastry cream, chocolate or whipped cream, might become dessert. Leave off the topping of powdered sugar and they make great sandwich buns. Are ensaimadas the next Cronut?

For Carnaval, the spiral roll is studded with slices of sobrasada, typical Mallorcan soft sausage, and slices of candied pumpkin. 

The perfect breakfast sweet roll!

Split the rolls and serve with marmalade.

Rolled cords of yeasted dough form the spiral rolls.

Sweet Rolls with Lard

Melt pork fat to make lard.

Buy rendered lard from a good butcher or buy the fresh pork fat (leaf lard) and render it yourself. Heat it in a heavy pan until fat is melted. Strain the lard, cool and refrigerate. The solid bits that are strained out can be fried crisp and salted as a snack--cracklings. Freeze lard that you do not intend to use immediately. 

Fresh yeast.

Use fresh pressed yeast, levadura prensada, if you can get it. I buy it from a panadería, bread bakery. Kept in the freezer, it lasts up to a year. If substituting dry yeast, use 1 (¼ ounce-) envelope of active dry yeast.

Use harina de fuerza—bread flour—for this recipe. 

Allow the dough to rise slowly—overnight—in a draft-free space such as a turned-off oven. Use a deep enough bowl so the dough doesn’t reach the top. Cover with a clean dampened cloth. To speed up the second rising, after the rolls are shaped, place them in a warm place. Don’t cover the rolls, as the cloth will stick to the dough, but put the pans in a draft-free place. 

Make either small, individual rolls or two large ones. You’ll need space (big table is good) for rolling out large pieces of dough.

Makes 12 (5-inch) rolls or 2 (10-inch) rounds.

Softened pork lard.
½ cup warm water
1 ounce fresh pressed yeast
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (4 ¼ ounces) softened lard
4 cups bread flour
Olive oil for rolling out
Slices of sobrasada and candied fruit (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar

Place the warm water in a small bowl. Crumble the yeast into it. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir. Allow the yeast to activate for 15 minutes.
Beat the sugar and eggs together in a large bowl. Add the salt, 1 tablespoon of lard and half of the flour. Use a wooden spoon to mix well. Add the dissolved yeast. 

Gradually work in remaining flour. Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead it (or use a mixer with dough hook) for 25 minutes. At first it will be crumbly and shaggy, gradually becoming shiny and very stretchy. If dough tends to stick to work surface, oil the surface lightly. (Don’t add additional flour.) To test the dough for elasticity, take a marble-sized ball and stretch it—it should become thin and transparent. 

Gather the dough into a compact ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat it on all sides with oil. Place it in a draft-free place (such as a cupboard or turned-off oven) until doubled in size (6 hours or overnight). 

Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. If making small rolls, divide the halves into 12 pieces (each about 2 ½ ounces) and roll them into balls.

Roll out dough, smear it with soft lard.

Lightly oil the work top and rolling pin. Place a ball on the surface, pat it to flatten and roll it out to a long rectangle (about 12 inches for a small roll; 25 inches for a big one). With the fingers, smear the surface of the dough generously with lard.

Lift and stretch edges of dough.

Working on the long sides, lift the dough and gently stretch it until very thin and transparent. 

Cut a strip of dough off of one long side. Place it on the edge of the other long side and use it as a “core” to roll the dough around. Roll the dough into a long cord. Pick it up in the center and gently squeeze and stretch the cord towards the ends. 

Roll the dough into a long cord.

Coil the cord of dough into a spiral, leaving gaps between the loops, as the dough will expand as it rises. Place the rolls at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. (If making two large ensaimadas, place each one on a separate baking sheet.

For the Carnaval ensaïmada, add pieces of sobrasada and candied fruit.

Dough expands as it rises, so place rolls 2 inches apart.

Allow the rolls to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350ºF. Bake the rolls, changing the position of the baking sheets after 8 minutes, until golden on top, about 15 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over the rolls while still warm.
All jollied up for a village Carnaval parade.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Like the “white sales” of January, the grocery store ofertas offer some post-holiday bargains. Some of the best are found at the butcher’s counter, where duck liver and magret, baby kid, turkeys and partridge, pork loins are displayed at discount prices.

I take advantage to buy a whole lamb’s quarter—leg and loin—at a special price. The butcher takes the time to cut it up for me, separating the shank from the leg and boning out the loin.

The shank goes in the freezer until I’ve got enough of them to braise. The boneless loin, the most tender part, I’ll freeze as well, perhaps to use for kebabs. The leg, a Sunday roast to serve six. The heap of bones will make a rich lamb broth for cooking mushroom-barley soup.

For a frugal February--cannellini beans fill out a robust lamb stew.
I’m left with some scrappy, fatty pieces cut from the loin section. They’re not really enough meat for a whole meal, but, trimmed, cut up and cooked with beans, they make a hearty winter stew, perfect for a frugal February.

I used about 1 ½ pounds of boneless lamb. Boned-out flank or breast could be used as well. (I consider the shoulder too good for stew.) The stew can also be made with bony, bargain cuts of lamb such as shanks, necks, riblets. Allow about 3 pounds for bone-in pieces.   

Tender bites of lamb plus beans make a hearty meal.

I used a jar of cooked cannellini beans. If you’re starting with uncooked beans, put them (8 ounces or about 1 ¼ cups) to soak in water to cover overnight. Drain the beans and put them in a pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a rolling boil. Drain the beans, rinse them in cold water, and return them to the pot. Add 4 cups water, 2 bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 90 minutes.

Lamb and Bean Stew
Estofado de Cordero con Alubias

The flap of meat covering the loin is layered with fat. Trim off as much as possible before cutting the meat into bite-size pieces.
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ pounds boneless trimmed lamb, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup drained, canned diced tomatoes
Sliced carrots
1 teaspoon peppercorns, coarsely crushed
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
1 bay leaf
Sprig of fresh dried thyme
Sprig of fresh rosemary 
2 cups water
3 cups cooked cannellini beans
Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or mint to serve

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Brown the pieces of lamb on all sides and remove them.. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté until onion begins to brown, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and carrots and sauté 2 minutes. Add pepper, cloves, pimentón, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water and stir. 

Return the lamb to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until lamb is tender, about 60 minutes. Add the beans to the pan and cook 15 minutes more.

Serve lamb and beans in bowls, garnished with chopped cilantro, parsley, or mint. 

Lamb bones produce a rich broth. Vegetable-barley soup coming next.

A recipe for lamb shanks.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


At a roadside restaurant on the banks of the Guadalquivir, not far from Sevilla, my friends and I ordered the menu del día, a fixed-price meal consisting of primer plato (starter), segundo plato (main dish) and postre (dessert) for €8.50 (about $9.20). There were a couple choices for each course. 

For the primer plato, we chose albondiguitas de pescado, fish balls. Served in shallow bowls with sauce and bread to go with, they were four or five small balls, nicely seasoned, very tasty. I asked the cook for the recipe.

Fish balls in sauce--a Spanish dish that dates from medieval times.

I later discovered almost the identical recipe for albóndigas de pescado in Sephardic (Jewish) cookbooks. Sephardic cooking originated in medieval Spain, when Jews lived in many parts of the Iberian peninsula along with the Moorish (Arab) overlords. The word “albóndiga” comes from the Arabic al-bundaq, meaning “round.” Albóndigas is the word for either fish or meat balls.

You can use any white fish, such as hake, cod, sole, grouper or halibut for these fish balls. Fresh fish is best, but frozen will work just fine. (If you’re in Spain, you might want to try this recipe with the widely available rosada, a fish caught wild in the South Atlantic (Genypterus capensis, pink cusk eel) and marketed frozen or thawed.)

The fish balls are also a good way to use leftover cooked fish. Use about 2 cups flaked, cooked fish and leave off the poaching step.

My current favorite fish is corvina. (More about corvina  here.) Because it is farmed in Spain, the fish is reasonable in cost. I cut two fillets from the lomo, thick center section, for grilling and save the skinny tail ends and thick “belly” section with rib bones for making these fish balls. Once the bony pieces are gently poached, it’s easy to remove any remaining skin and bones.

After frying, the fish balls can be served as a tapa.

Add fish balls to soup with cooked rice and peas.

Serving ideas. Make small fish balls (marble-sized) and serve them, without the sauce, as a tapa. Accompany the fried balls with a garlicky alioli. As a starter, they’re good with bread for mopping up the sauce. If you’re serving them for dinner, make walnut-sized balls and accompany them with steamed white rice, pasta or potatoes. At my house, kids like fries with the albóndigas. Remaining broth from poaching the fish can be saved for fish soup. Add any leftover fish balls to the soup.

Fish balls in sauce on the dinner plate, with new potatoes and snap peas from the garden.

Fish Balls in Sauce
Albondigitas de Pescado

If you’re starting with fish that has some skin and bone, use about 20 ounces fish, as some will be discarded.

Makes 16 fish balls or 32 small ones.

For the fish balls:
1 pound boneless, skinless white fish
4 ½ cups water
Slice of lemon
Sprigs of parsley
Slice of onion
1 bay leaf
2 ounces crustless bread (about 8 baguette slices)
½ cup milk
2 cloves garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
Pinch of crushed saffron (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
Grated lemon zest
1 egg
Plain flour for dredging the fish balls (about ¼ cup)
Olive oil for frying 
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup grated tomato
½ cup fino Sherry or dry white wine
¾ cup reserved fish broth or water
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley to serve

For the fish balls: Wash the pieces of fish. Place the water in a pan with lemon slice, parsley, onion slice, bay and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add the fish to the pan and simmer just until it flakes easily, about 5 minutes. Lift the fish out with a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Strain and reserve ¾ cup of the broth in which the fish was poached. (Remaining broth can be saved for soup.)

After poaching, it's easy to remove bones.

When fish is cool enough to handle, flake or chop it, discarding any skin or bones.

Pour the milk over the bread slices in a small bowl and allow to soak for 10 minutes.

In a food processor finely chop together the garlic and parsley. Squeeze out excess liquid from the bread. Add it and process until bread is fairly smooth. Add the saffron, if using,  ½ teaspoon salt, lemon zest and egg and process to blend. Place in a bowl.

Add the flaked fish to the processor and pulse several times just to chop it. Combine the fish with the bread mixture. Refrigerate the fish mixture, tightly covered, at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.
Mix chopped fish with bread.

Place the flour in a shallow pan. Shape the fish mixture into 1 ¾ -inch balls (or small ones, half that size) and place them in the flour. Roll the balls to coat evenly with flour.

Roll fish balls in flour.
Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. Heat the oil and fry the fish balls, in two or three batches, turning them to brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove them as they are browned.

After frying, fish balls are ready to serve. Or, reheat them in the sauce.

For the sauce: Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a clean frying pan. Sauté the chopped onion and green pepper on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomato and fry on a high heat until tomato sweats out its liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and reserved strained fish broth. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Add the fish balls to the sauce and reheat gently, about 8 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs to serve.

Fish balls are light, juicy.

More recipes for meatballs and fish balls.