Gastronomy in Andalucia
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” –Hippocrates
Food is something Spaniards take very seriously. Any event – whether it’s a business meeting, a social gathering, a family reunion or friends deciding a weekend getaway – is a good excuse to eat and talk about food, recipes, ingredients and ways of preparing a dish. While some of Spain´s best food can be enjoyed throughout the country, each region has its own special way of preparing them and every single one prides itself in serving unique seasonal delicacies that they swear, cannot be found elsewhere.
The word PAELLA actually comes from the name of the black flat pan this popular dish is made and served in. The main ingredient is rice, but what it’s cooked with could include anything from seafood to chicken. The traditional paella valenciana comes with rabbit and garrofón (lima beans) cultivated in the province of Valencia.
JAMON IN SPAIN is so coveted that there is such a thing as a Denominación de Orígen seal which ensures they meet the standards and last year the Spanish government approved a new labeling system that will make it easier for you to distinguish each grade.
By now, you might feel overwhelmed by all the types and qualities of hams you can enjoy, but unless you know your jamón, you probably don´t know where to start. Not only does the taste and quality depend on the breed of the pig, it also depends on what it is fed and how & where it is raised and processed.
There are four different grades, the best being JAMON IBERICO DE BELLOTA or PATA NEGRA (black hoof pigs), which only account for 5% of total ham production. Note that ibérico hams all come from the provinces and towns of Huelva, Teruel and Guijuelo and Iberian pigs can eat up to ten kilos of acorns a day.
Jamón 100% Ibérico or Bellota 100%. These hams are made from ibérico pigs, which spend their lives roaming in the dehesa (pasture) and are raised on grass, herbs, grains and their mother´s milk. They also feast on the nutty sweet holm and cork tree acorns for at least 3 to 4 months, which gives them it´s final distinct flavor. Once they are slaughtered the curing process begins. At this point, the hams are salted and left to dry in secaderos (sheds) for at least 36 to 48 months. The exclusive black label is applied to these only.
Jamón de Bellota Ibérico – These hams come from a cross breed of Jamón Ibérico and Duroc, which roam freely in the dehesa (pasture) and are fattened with grass, aromatic herb and acorns. This type of ham carries the red label.
Cebo de Campo Ibérico. This type of ham also comes from Ibérico pigs but these are also crossbred with Duroc pigs and, unlike the Ibérico de Bellota pigs, they enjoy a shorter free-range period and are ultimately fattened with grains. The label on these cured hams is green.
Jamón de Cebo Ibérico. These Iberian pigs, also half bred with Duroc pigs, are also considered great tasting but are grain fed only. Look for the white label, if you´d like to try the difference.
So, what is JAMON SERRANO? These hams come from the landrace breed of white pigs, which were raised on farms, where they feed on grains alone and are cured for less time than the above and in high altitudes and dry climates. There are also two different types of Jamón Serrano: the gold and the silver.
Sacrificing the pig is a tradition that still remains strong and is a family affair. This is the time of year when everyone gathers to preserve the meat (embutidos) for the entire year. Delicacies such as salchichón (sausage), chorizo, morcilla and sobrasada are made using ancient recipes that date back thousands of years. Below, you will find a brief description of each. Remember, that these meats and cold cuts also depend on the quality of the pig, which are also labeled.
SOBRASADA: Cured sausage made from ground pork, paprika and other spices. Typical of the Balearic Islands.
MORCILLA: These black sausages are filled with cooked or dried pork blood and sometimes mixed with filler such as rice.
CHORIZO: This is a cured and smoked sausage, which can be eaten or added as an extra ingredient to dishes. The reason why it is red is because of the dried smoked red peppers used in the curing process.
BUTIFARRA: A type of sausage made with raw pork and spices. It is prepared on the grill or the BBQ and is typical of Cataluña.
A summer in Spain without a good bowl or cup of cold GAZAPACHO is simply unconceivable. Made with fresh tomatoes, onion, olive oil, cucumber, bread and sometimes, a bit of garlic, this cold soup is a great alternative to a salad and boosts your energy levels.
SALMOREJO is similar to gazpacho. The ingredients are pretty much the same, but this cold soup is denser and has its own personality. Gastronomical experts believe the origin of this dish dates back to Mesopotamia and foodies travel all the way to Córdoba to savor it at its best, served with tiny bits of jamón and huevo duro (hard boiled egg).
AJO BLANCO is another cold soup made with almonds and famous for having all the necessary nutrients your body needs during the hot summer days.
SALPICON DE MARISCO is another summer favorite and varies from one region to the next. It is essentially a seafood salad with the freshest Mediterranean ingredients, mixed with olive oil, onions and sometimes a bit of red pepper. Another wonderful and refreshing salad to try is EMPEDRAT, made with cod and white beans, onions, tomato and black olives.
TORTILLA ESPANOLA. Anywhere you go, you´ll be able to ask for a tapa or ración de tortilla española or Spanish omelet. They say that the first known document that records this dish dates back to 1817 and today is still considered one of the staples of Spanish cuisine. Even Ferrán Adriá, possibly the world’s best chef, created his own “defragmented” version.
TAPAS are small plates of food to be consumed with wine or other alcohol at a drinking establishment. Tapas can literally be any type of food - from nuts, olives, and assorted cheeses to roasted meats and stews - so long as the dish is served on a small plate accompanied by alcohol. The most important thing about “tapeo” (the art of eating tapas) is the gathering of people to socialize as they drink and eat.
If a group of friends “go out for tapas”, the usual is that they do not stay in only one bar, but that they try several locations. It is an effective way of socialization and it distributes the consumption in various establishments. Every inn has its specialties and if you go one by one consuming the drink and the tapa you end up having dinner or lunch without being in a particular place.
TAPAS originated in SPAIN, where according to legend, KING ALFONSO 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food.
A variation on the legend suggests that the decree was actually ordered to prevent peasants, who could often not afford both wine and food, to drink on an empty stomach instead of buying something nourishing to eat. Another legend is that back in the 16th century, when most citizens could not read or write, innkeepers offered guests a small portion of the meals that were cooking under the lids (tapas) back in the kitchen. That way, they knew what to order. Another explanation is that clients, eating while standing, needed to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat.
Other historians believe tapas may have originated with farmers and field workers who consumed small meals accompanied by wine throughout the workday to provide much-needed energy between meals. No matter what their origin, tapas are the perfect way to experience the flavors and rich culture of Spain. Another version is that tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers used to cover their glasses between sips. This was done to ‘tapar’ their glasses to avoid fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry.
A popular myth concerning tapas comes from the times of King Phillip II who wanted to reduce drunken rowdy behavior and passed a law which stated that when a guest bought a drink, bartenders had to place a small portion of food over the mouth of the mug so it would slow the effects of the alcohol.
Whichever story you choose to believe, one thing that holds true is that eating tapas in Spain is synonymous with good food, bar hopping and getting together with friends and family.
TORTILLA DE PATATAS - There are many different versions of this tapa but a favorite is the traditional one made with onions and potatoes and eggs, of course.
PULPO A LA GALLEGA is a traditional Galician dish served as a tapa or a main meal. Boiled al dente, the octopus is trimmed, sprinkled with coarse salt and paprika (pimentón). And, of course drizzled with olive oil.
GAMBAS AL PIL PIL are sautéed prawns with garlic. If you like them spicy, ask for Gambas al pil-pil, with chili peppers.
JAMON IBERICO - Paper-thin slices of the classic Spanish ham. This tapa usually comes with toast and a delicious tomato spread
CALAMARES - fresh fried squid with some lemon juice is an absolute joy.
PATATAS BRAVAS are roasted potato chunks with a lovely spicy sauce. Another classic is PATATAS ALIOLI, which is served with a light warm garlicky mayonnaise sauce.
BOQUERONES EN VINEGRE are delicious anchovy filets marinated in vinegar.
ENSALADILLA RUSA is the Spanish version of the Russian cold potato salad. It comes in many forms but one of the best includes tuna, cooked carrots and peas, boiled egg, and roasted red peppers.
"Wine is bottled poetry"
Spain is famous for its SHERRY. Bodega Osborne in El Puerto de Santa Maria is the largest producer of Spanish brandy, sherry and wine. All it takes is a drive across Spain to see the legendary brandy advertisement that has become a symbol of Spanish culture both here at home and abroad. The OSBORNE BULL is the black silhouette of bull that stands on hilltops and along the roadside in many – but not all – parts of Spain.
The Sandeman Bodega was founded in 1790 and became the world’s most popular firm among Jerez and Porto wines for its stunning wineries. They are regarded as the first company to label and advertise their wines and brandies, thereby offering a guarantee of quality to consumers. By the first quarter of the eighteenth century, Sandeman wines were already exported to various countries in Europe, North and South America and Africa.
The Fundador Pedro Domecq Bodega was founded in 1730 and is considered the oldest in Jerez, situated inside the doors of Rota. A visit to the facilities is a true pleasure to the eye, offering a glimpse of what Jerez looked like in the 18th century. There are five main buildings where the wines are stored. The El Castillo winery is a must see, hosting one of the towers that was once used to protect Jerez. In short, a visit here not only provides wisdom about wine, but local culture as well.
Bodegas Álvaro Domecq winery occupies the buildings of what used to be Bodegas de Pilar Aranda, a construction of the first half of the eighteenth century, purchased by Álvaro Domecq in 1998 with the purpose of selling its wines under his commercial name. From an architecture point of view, the main characteristic of this winery is the pitched tile roof with two slopes, and how these high roofs are supported by pillars.
SHERRY can only be made in one place, the area lying between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and SanLucar de Barrameda in the province of Cadiz, the so-called Sherry Triangle. Like Port, Sherry is a "fortified" wine made from white grapes, the predominant being Palomino, named after the 13th century Knight. Fino is a dry sherry – bone dry – that is often served with fish or as an aperitif with tapas. Other types of Sherry include Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Manzanilla, and sweet Pedro Ximenez.
The most famous Spanish red wine in Spain comes from the regions of La Rioja and Ribera del Duero. And of course everyone has heard of SANGRIA the perfect summer drink to have with tapas. Sangria is an alcoholic wine drink traditionally made with red wine, chopped fruits and brandy or orange juice.