Saturday, September 28, 2019


Patatas a lo pobre should have crisp edges,” said my in-house critic. I had made the dish—sliced potatoes baked with onions, peppers and wine—to accompany a roast pargo, an impressive 4-pound sea bream. 

It was a recipe I learned many years ago in pueblo kitchens. Potatoes and vegetables are layered in a roasting pan and fish (or pieces of chicken, lamb or baby goat) is placed on top. Lots of olive oil and a glass of wine and into the oven. The juices from the fish mingle with the potatoes. It’s a delicious dish, but, no, the potatoes don’t have crispy brown edges.

In fact, my potatoes were not true patatas a lo pobre. They were closer to patatas panaderas, “baker’s potatoes.” The verdadero patatas a lo pobre never sees the inside of an oven, but is done entirely in a deep skillet. While it got its name—“poor folks’ potatoes—as an economical family meal with no meat, now it is served as a side dish with fish, meat, chicken, rabbit or fried eggs.

Facing up to the criticism—and my own error in naming—I was determined to make real patatas a lo pobre, with potatoes with browned edges. Here are the results of my testing.

Potatoes first poach in olive oil, then brown in the oven.

Serve the potatoes as a side dish with meat, chicken, fish or fried eggs.

I got some crispy edges!

The oil keeps potatoes juicy. Delicious for breakfast, lunch or supper with fried egg.

Poor Folks’ Potatoes
Patatas a lo Pobre

Poach potatoes and vegetables in lots of olive oil.

The procedure—Cook the sliced potatoes, onions and strips of green peppers in a large quantity of olive oil. Spanish cooks say to “confitar” the potatoes. You will “poach” the potatoes in oil, without letting them brown. No wine or other liquid is added. Use a medium heat.

How much is a large quantity of oil? At least un dedo deep, or about ½ inch. That’s about 2 cups of oil for 2 pounds of potatoes. Don’t freak! Once the potatoes are cooked, you’re going to drain off the oil. (Strained, it can be used for other purposes, such as frying eggs to accompany the potatoes.)

Oil drained off.
I measured the oil drained from the potatoes; it measured 1 2/3 cups. Meaning only 1/3 cup of (flavorful) oil had been absorbed by the potatoes. Mind you, this only works with extra virgin olive oil!

How long to cook the potatoes in oil? That depends on the variety of potato you use. I recommend the Kennebec variety, which gets tender without disintegrating. I used a round white baking potato that was tender in barely 10 minutes. But, when I proceeded to the next step, the potato slices tended to break up. 

The next step is to drain off as much oil as possible. A heat-proof, metal colander or sieve is useful for this. You might want to ladle the potatoes out of the pan, as tipping a heavy skillet full of hot oil and potatoes is tricky. 

Return the potatoes to the skillet and turn up the heat. Let them brown somewhat on the bottom and edges, but don’t try to stir them.

Alternatively, to avoid breaking up the sliced potatoes: after draining off the cooking oil, carefully transfer the potatoes and vegetables to a baking pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF with convection fan or 375ºF conventional setting. Roast the potatoes until the edges begin to brown, 15-20 minutes.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

2 pounds potatoes, such as Kennebec variety
1 medium onion
2 bell peppers, green and/or red
3 cloves garlic
2 cups (approximately) olive oil
1 bay leaf (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Slice potatoes ¼-inch thick.

Peel the potatoes and slice them about ¼-inch thick. Wash the slices in cold water, drain and pat them dry.

Cut the onion into quarters. Slice them, stem to root end, in julienne. Discard seeds from peppers and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Lightly crush the garlic just to split the skins. Don’t peel the garlic.

Put enough oil in a deep skillet or wide pan to measure ½ inch deep. Place on medium heat and add the potatoes. When oil is hot, add the onions, peppers, garlic and bay leaf, if using. Moderate the heat so the potatoes cook slowly, turning them with a wooden spatula, until they are tender when pierced with a knife. Do not allow them to brown. 

Drain off cooking oil.
Place a heat-proof (metal) colander or sieve over a heat-proof bowl. Either carefully tip the potatoes into the colander, allowing the oil to drain into the bowl, or use a slotted spoon to ladle the potatoes out of the pan, then drain off the oil. If desired, discard bay leaf and garlic cloves.

Preheat oven to 375ºF or 350ºF using the convection fan.
If using an oven-proof skillet or pan, return the potatoes to the pan. Otherwise, spread them in an oven pan. Add salt and pepper and carefully mix. 

Place the potatoes in the oven until they begin to brown on the edges, about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven. Scoop potatoes from the pan onto plates or onto a serving platter. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Some similar potato recipes:

More about Kennebec potatoes in Spanish recipes.

Friday, September 20, 2019


For World Paella Day, my non-traditional paella.

Go on, put some sausage in your paella today. Eat it for supper instead of at midday. Scatter peas on top or add mussels, if you like. València gives you permission to break all the rules. But, just for one day, mind you. 

True València paella has no sausage, no chorizo, no seafood. It’s rice (medium-short grain) cooked with chicken/rabbit/duck plus snails (!), flat green beans and plump butter beans. And it’s only ever consumed in the afternoon, never at night.

But on the web page for World Paella Day, Valencianos declare that, on this day, “we put aside our differences and celebrate the internationality of paella,” a dish of humble Valencian origin that, judging by 8 million web searches on paella per year, makes it the fourth most important dish on the planet. One young man goes so far as to say that, just for today, his mom’s paella is not the best paella in the world.

Chef Jeff Weiss stirs up a traditional paella at Valencian Gold Restaurant. in Las Vegas. Read more about Jeff Weiss here. (Photo by Valencian Gold.)

I couldn’t find snails or duck, anyway. So I was ready for some radical paella moves. I turned for inspiration to a friend, Jeffrey Weiss (chef and author of CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN). Jeff and his partner-in-paella, Paras Shah, recently opened a fast-casual restaurant in Las Vegas, USA, called Valencian Gold, featuring “build your own paella bowl.” Choose chicken, seafood, mushroom-chickpea or mixed grains paella. Add greens, i.e., spinach or rucola! Then choose grilled chicken, lamb, steak or shrimp or, vegan, ratatouille or herb-bean to go with the paella base. Add sauce/dip and salads.

“It’s funny about paella here in the US,” says Jeff. “Folks have varying ideas of what it's ‘supposed’ to be. Whereas, if you ask a Valenciano, paella valenciana is and forever will be rabbit, snails, and a few kinds of beans... and all else is arroz con cosas.

“I’m in the camp that Paella Valenciana has specific ingredients and should be respected for the tradition it comes from. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for creativity or paella libre. So for me, as long as the technique of paella cookery is followed then you’ve made paella.”

The technique of paella cookery means real olive oil, real saffron, real paella rice (Bomba or another medium-short grain variety) and sofrito or salmorra or salmorreta, a sauce/base of garlic, ñora peppers and tomatoes that builds flavour.

Because the Valencianos have granted permission to break the rules, I decided to put sausage in my paella plus red chard (green leaves and red stems)! My “secret” ingredient: a spoonful of fat rendered from ibérico pork chops along with the olive oil. The sausage I used was chorizo criollo, a raw pork sausage.

Rabbit and beans are typical in València paella, but sausage and red chard are radical!

Saffron plus a sofrito with tomatoes and pimentón color the rice.

Paella, My Way
Paella a Mi Estilo

Sure, paella is best cooked over a wood fire or on one of those gas burner contraptions designed for big paella pans. But if you're cooking indoors, keep the size to a pan that fits on your stovetop.

Ingredients for flavor.

Serves 4-6.

6 ounces flat (Romano) green beans
1 ¾ pounds rabbit, cut in small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces fresh pork sausage links, such as chorizo criollo
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
4 ñoras (dried peppers), stems and seeds removed, or 1 teaspoon pimentón (sweet paprika)
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup hot water
2 cups medium-short grain rice
4 cups chicken stock
Sprig of rosemary
½ cup cooked red chard, chopped (optional)

Cut tops and tails off the beans and cut them crosswise in 1 ½ -inch pieces. Blanch them in boiling water until crisp-tender (3 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil). Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

Sprinkle the pieces of rabbit with salt and pepper. Use the cut-up liver too, if you like it.

Heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a 14–inch paella pan. Add the whole sausage links and the pieces of rabbit. Sauté on medium-high heat, turning, until sausages and rabbit are browned. Remove them from the pan.

Add the garlic to the pan for 30 seconds, then add the ñora, if using, or the spoonful of pimentón. Stir it briefly in the oil and immediately add the tomatoes. Cook the mixture on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until tomatoes are reduced to a jammy consistency. Scrape the sofrito (tomato mixture) into a blender and blend until smooth.

Cook sofrito until tomatoes are thick and jammy.

Combine the saffron and hot water in a cup.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the paella pan. Stir in the rice and the mixture from the blender. Fry the rice for 2 minutes. Add the saffron and its water and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
Use kitchen shears to cut the sausage links into pieces. Place them in the pan with the rice. Add the rabbit and any accumulated juices. Tuck a sprig of rosemary into the rice. Cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice with a wooden paddle. Remove and discard rosemary.

Add the green beans and chopped chard, if using, to the rice. Lower heat to medium-low and cook until rice is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Don't stir the paella, but, if necessary, rotate the pan on stove so all sides get direct heat.

Let the paella set 10 minutes before serving.

Paella is best on a sunny afternoon. But, sure, serve it at night if you prefer.


More variations on the paella theme:

Saturday, September 14, 2019


As I was making ajo blanco last week with the new crop of almonds (yes, I pick them, shell them, blanch and skin the kernels), I was thinking how unique this cold soup is.  It’s more than the sum of its parts—almonds, bread, garlic and olive oil. Thinned with water and served with sweet grapes, ajo blanco is the original gazpacho. Unthinned, it is mazamorra or porra, a thick cream for spooning or dipping.

Except, as it turns out, it is not so unique. Italians have their agliata, or garlic sauce, made of bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, served with boiled meat or vegetables. The Sephardic community of Turkey has an ajada sauce of bread (or potatoes), garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, sometimes egg yolks too, served on roast beef. And the Greeks make skordalia, a garlic sauce originally made with bread and olive oil. Regional variations of skordalia include one made with potatoes instead of bread and another of bread plus ground almonds. Which is, basically, ajo blanco.

For variety, I decided to make the Greek version of this pan-Mediterranean sauce.

Skordalia is a Greek sauce made with lots of garlic (skordo means "garlic" in Greek), olive oil and bread or potatoes. Serve it as a dip with pita crisps, as salad dressing or as a sauce for fried fish, boiled vegetables or beans.

Skordalia accompanies cooked beets and butter beans (Greek gigantes). Add olives and bright tomatoes. (These are not Greek olives, but Spanish cuquillo olives.)

The sauce is the consistency of thick mayonnaise. It can be thinned to make a pouring sauce.

Skordalia is the centerpiece of a vegetarian lunch plate.

Or, serve skordalia as a party dip with pita crisps.

Skordalia (Greek Garlic Sauce)
Salsa de Ajo a la Griega

This Greek sauce can be served with fried fish or with all kinds of vegetables. I made the version with potatoes, instead of bread.

It's best to mash the potatoes in a bowl or put them through a ricer as pureeing them in a blender makes them gummy. 

1 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Sherry vinegar

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until they are very tender. Drain, saving some of the cooking liquid in case the sauce needs thinning.

Mash the potatoes in a bowl with a potato masher or wooden pestle. Season them with pepper.

Beat garlic oil into mashed potatoes.
Puree the garlic in a blender with some of the oil. Gradually beat in the remaining oil, the vinegar and a spoonful of the mashed potato.

Beat the garlic-oil into the mashed potatoes. Season to taste with salt (1/2- 1 teaspoon). Add additional vinegar for a tangier flavor. If the sauce is too thick, beat in a spoonful of the reserved cooking water. 

Serve the sauce room temperature. It can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Pita Crisps
Pan Árabe Crujiente

Triangles of pita, toasted with olive oil.

Use thin, pocket pitas for making the crisps. Separate them into layers.

Pita breads
Olive oil
Salt or spices such as za´atar or ras el hanout

Split the pita breads open. Use scissors to cut the layers in half crosswise, then in triangular wedges. Place on a baking sheet, rough side up. Brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt or spices.

Bake in 400ºF oven until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Cool the crisps completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Here are recipes for variations on the theme:

Sunday, September 8, 2019


I stared blankly at the usual array of meat at the butcher’s counter. What am I cooking for dinner today? September is such a transitional month. As summer segues into fall, vacation time comes to an end and routines resume. It takes me a while to adjust and I never seem to have enough time to plan and prep for meals.  My usual solution is to roast a big chicken. With leftovers, I avoid the “what’s for dinner” question for a few days. But the leftovers are finished. 

What caught my eye was a tray of chicken livers. Fast food! Livers are quick to cook, don’t need any special treatment. The tag end of an open bottle of Sherry makes for a very tasty sauce.

Chicken livers cook in minutes. Sherry gives the sauce depth of flavour.

Use any variety of Sherry. I combined dry Manzanilla fino and sweet oloroso.

Serve chicken livers in small portions as tapas, accompanied by bread.

Or, with rice and a side of vegetables, make the livers a main dish.

Serve fino Sherry with the meal.

Sautéed Chicken Livers
Higadillos de Pollo 

The classic recipe for chicken livers calls for dry fino Sherry, but any Sherry type (or combination) is fine. Best of all is oloroso seco, which gives the sauce a mellow depth of flavor. No Sherry? Try white wine fortified with just a little brandy. 

Fresh chicken livers and hearts.

1 pound chicken livers
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup julienne-cut onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ounce chopped serrano ham or bacon
2 tablespoons chopped red pimiento
½ cup Sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme
Bay leaf

Chopped parsley, to garnish

Scissors to cut up livers.

If livers come with hearts attached, discard the hearts (cook them for cat food). Use kitchen shears to cut each liver into 5 or 6 pieces. 

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat, 4 minutes. Add the livers and fry them, turning, until they are slightly browned on all sides, 4 minutes.

Add the chopped ham, pimiento, Sherry, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and cover the pan. Cook gently until livers are cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Serve the chicken livers garnished with chopped parsley.

Chicken livers are tender, flavorful and FAST.

More ideas for quick meals: