Today, another edition of my culinary trek around the world — this time, Spain. After making a classic French favorite, Croque Monsieur, I’m moving (figuratively) to Spain for paella!
Spanish cuisine is not one that I’m particularly familiar with (I am a Francophile remember?). I have a very general (maybe stereotypical) view of Spain and it’s food. Over the years, I’ve had some great tapas and even tried my hand at a few dishes — namely tortilla de patates (or Tortilla Espanola) and gambas al ajillo. But, the nuances of Spanish cuisine (something that interests me in all cuisines) eludes me. And so, I wanted to learn more about the country and it’s cuisine. The following list are of dishes native to each region — dishes that I’ve never come across in my little reading of Spanish cuisine and that I’d love to one day try!
(BTW, one of my goals after I finish cooking around the world, in approx. a billion years at this point, is to cook through regional Spanish cooking – among others. The possibilities are endless!).
- The Northern region of Spain includes Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, and Basque country, Navarra and La Rioja. Here, you can enjoy classic dishes such as txangurro relleno (or stuffed crabs), Fabada (or a bean stew), or Chiliandron de cordero (or lamb stew).
- The Eastern region is comprised of Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and Murcia. With Barcelona as it’s hub in the east, regional dishes here include parrillada de mariscos, and cochifrito (among others!). This area is actually the region I’m most familiar with cuisine wise (but more on that in a bit!).
- The Central region of Spain includes Madrid, the capital, Castilla y Leon, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura. Famous or popular dishes here include Sopa de ajo (or a garlic soup), Migas, Hornazo (a meat pie) and callos a la madrileña.
- Finally, the Southern region includes Andalusia and it’s capital city, Seville. This region is known for gazpacho, Cachorrenas (a fish soup), Pinchitos (meat skewers) and Roscones (a kings cake).
I also will admit I wasn’t familiar with Spain’s two “colonies” the Balearics and the Canary Islands.
Fun fact: apparently the concept for mayonnaise was brought to France in the 1800s from the Balearic Islands.
But reading about Spanish cuisine is one thing (though I must say, my source this time was NOT Wikipedia, but rather a travel book so that must count for something), I wanted to get the inside scoop from a true local. (I should note that I hope I do this small overview of Spanish cuisine justice… I’m out of my depths trying to understand it all, but it just makes me want to keep learning more!).
This is where my friend, Albert, comes in. We met while doing a film program in Paris in 2007 when we were in high school and we’ve kept in touch ever since. One night the first summer I met Albert, we had a small feast with friends, laughing and talking and eating good food (including chorizo and a Spanish omelet they had made). It was lovely and a fond memory! He’s one of the most genuine and fun-loving guys I know. He can always put a smile on your face and he’s so passionate about music and life and love!
Albert is from Barcelona and he is half Spanish (or Catalonian) and Danish (I’ll always thought that was a cool mix). He’s also a talented musician, singer and songwriter. Check out his music here! Like his page on Facebook! Follow him on Twitter!
He’s very proud of his Catalan culture and as he’s one of the few Spanish friends I have, my understanding of Spanish cuisine is definitely through this lens. In preparing to cook a Spanish dish, we had a conversaton about Spain’s eating culture and some popular Catalan dishes. For example, he told me some of his favorites (and classic dishes) include fuet, a dry-cured spicy sausage, and butifarra, a boiled pork sausage… Also, escalivada, a dish of roasted vegetables and esqueixada, a salad of shredded salt cod with tomatoes, oil and vinegar with seasonings… And cargols a la llauna, roasted snails, and peus de porc (pig’s feet)…
And there’s still so many Spanish dishes and ingredients I want to try (either at home or in a restaurant.. or even in Spain itself)…. I mean, Jambon Iberico or Patatas Bravas or fried Pimientos de Padron. Barcelaona or Madrid are definitely on my list!
But through all my research on Spanish cuisine and all the many dishes I could make (and still want to make), it felt wrong not making paella! (Plus, it’s a good entry into the world of Spanish home cooking). It’s a favorite of mine and I happened to get lovely scallops from the Mermaid Garden CSF one weekend and decided it would be the perfect dish to utilize them!
Paella is very often thought of as the “national” dish of Spain (at least from the American perspective), but it’s actually a regional dish from Valencia. It’s name comes from the type of pan in which it’s cooked – a paellera, a wide round shallow pan. (I don’t own a paellera, at least yet, but I made due).
There’s many different recipes for paella out there — the more classic ones with a mixture of meats ranging from chorizo and chicken and rabbit and duck, to the more Mediterranean ones with seafood, to the mixed paellas with a combination of meat and seafood! But ultimately one of the most defining characteristics of a paella is the socarrat or layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan. It’s considered a delicacy!
I will admit my paella wasn’t perfect (I have high standards, what can I say?), but it was delicious. The recipe is relatively easy. I also bought chorizo especially to make this dish – you can’t skimp on the chorizo – and I didn’t realize how much I love it!
Mediterranean Paella with Shrimp and Scallops
Adapted from Food Network
3 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4-6 baby bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp Spanish saffron, pistils only
6 oz. Spanish chorizo, sliced
1½ cups white rice
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 pounds raw, peeled large shrimp
1 pound sea scallops
Salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until ready to use.
In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add onion, garlic and peppers. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add saffron and chorizo, stirring until the chorizo is browned, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the rice, tomatoes, and tomato paste until combined cook for 5 minutes. Add the boiling chicken stock little by little, stirring each addition constantly until the stock is almost absorbed.
Cover the paella pan with aluminum foil, and cook for 30 minutes, until rice is tender.
Add the shrimp and the scallops and let cook covered for 5 to 7 minutes more.
As they say in Spanish, buen provecho! Or in Catalan, que aprofiti!
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4-6 baby bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 tsp Spanish saffron, pistils only
- 6 oz. Spanish chorizo, sliced
- 1½ cups white rice
- 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 pounds raw, peeled large shrimp
- 1 pound sea scallops
- Salt and pepper
- In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until ready to use.
- In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add onion, garlic and peppers. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add saffron and chorizo, stirring until the chorizo is browned, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the rice, tomatoes, and tomato paste until combined cook for 5 minutes. Add the boiling chicken stock little by little, stirring each addition constantly until the stock is almost absorbed.
- Cover the paella pan with aluminum foil, and cook for 30 minutes, until rice is tender.
- Add the shrimp and the scallops and let cook covered for 5 to 7 minutes more.