Patatas a la riojana (+ chorizo) - a lucky dip

"one of the greatest dishes created by man ... it should represent Spain all over the world." Paul Bocuse


I should say at the outset that I am not a fan of Spanish food - well possibly all things Spanish. Unlike millions of Brits, and other Europeans too - particularly the French - I have not spent any holidays on the Costa Brava. I do not speak Spanish, although there are obviously similarities with French and Italian. In fact I have only been to Spain once and this was in a sort of protected bubble.


Years ago now my husband achieved his sales target at work and was rewarded- along with all the other top salesmen and managers - with a trip to Madrid. We stayed in one of Madrid's poshest hotels just across the road from the Prado, which we visited of course. Now that was awe-inspiring. Room after room filled with paintings that you recognised - and not just Spanish ones either. There was also a trip to Toledo. So I'm guessing that we probably ate some of Spain's best food. However I have no memory of the food at all.


I remember those paintings, but I was not impressed overall with the scenery - probably the wrong part of Spain for that - and I was definitely not impressed with the hospitality of the Spanish. On the whole they were only what could be described as sullen and unfriendly. At the one meal we had at a restaurant outside our 'arranged' meals, the waiter did not respond to the sole Spanish speaker's valiant attempts to speak Spanish on behalf of the rest of us. He did not crack a smile the whole time. I accidentally leant on the railing in front of but well back from Picasso's Guernica and was reprimanded severely by the guard. We were there at Mardi Gras, and the crowds were celebrating in that square in Madrid, but nobody invited us to join them in a dance until one of our determinedly friendly Australian friends - a lady - got us invited into a group who explained what it was all about. No I didn't take to the Spanish. The French are a nosy lot and therefore friendly - particularly if they find you are Australian and have two or three words of French. The Italians are just friendly anyway. So this one unfortunate visit has somewhat coloured my vision - probably most unfairly - of Spain and therefore of Spanish food. Yes I have had meals in various Melbourne tapas bars and the food has been tasty but for some reason I have never been tempted to try it at home. The occasional paëlla perhaps, but not much else.


And yet I have Claudia Roden's massive and beautiful The food of Spain on my shelves - hence the lucky dip. Well I'm a fan of Claudia Roden and besides I have always felt guilty about not knowing much about the food of Spain. The closest I have come to it is the food of the Catalan part of France near the Spanish border, which we have visited a couple of times - and never made it over the border to Barcelona.


However, my lucky dip choice of recipe today from Claudia Roden's book is Patatas a la riojana - from Rioja - where Spains's best wine is made. A Basque country province although this particular dish does not appear in The Basque book. And yet it seems that Paul Bocuse made it famous. A website called The Foodoir of a City Girl has a slightly adapted version of Claudia Roden's recipe, and this is a picture of her version. The original is not online, although there are of course several other versions. The two below are from The Foodie's Larder - also I think a variation of Claudia Roden's original and one by a 'hot' Spanish cook Nieves Barragán Mohacho. They both look a little less mushy somehow with the chorizo more clearly defined than in Claudia Roden's version.

It's a fairly simple recipe and one that Nieves Barragán Mohacho says is cooked by every Spanish mum. According to all of them the trick is to cut the potatoes in a particular way. Cut them almost all the way through with a knife and then wrench the last part away with your hands. According to Claudia Roden:


"This is meant to release more starch, which makes the sauce thicker and allows the potatoes to absorb more flavour."


Variations? Add more paprika or smoked paprika, chilli, peppers and maybe even a bit of tomato. Nieves Barragán Mohacho adds a bit of wine. Well you can see how a housewife would add a bit of this and a bit of that to the mix can't you? It's that kind of 'throw in' what you've got in your fridge' type of dish. Claudia Roden seemed to think that some people even added some pork spare ribs to make it more substantial, but I didn't see anybody else do this.


What this lucky dip dish made me think about though was chorizo.

‘Romantic nostalgia in Spain has a smell. It is the smell of chorizos hanging in attics and kitchens. The taste and aroma of a piece of chorizo… evokes powerful ancestral and family memories of the day of the matanza, when the family pig was killed and everyone had a part to play in the preparation of hams and sausages for drying.” Claudia Roden


Chorizo pops up everywhere these days. I had a quick look at the Coles Magazine to see if it was featured in there, but no - not this month. There is a paëlla recipe but it really is a bit inauthentic - no, really inauthentic as it is made with couscous and has no chorizo which, to me seems to be compulsory whatever else you might have in your paëlla. Go figure.


Chorizo is a pork sausage. Way back it was just that. Ground pork, salted and air dried in a skin. Then the Americas were discovered and paprika, specifically pimenton - smoked paprika - was added to the mix and chorizo as we know it was born - sometime in the seventeenth century probably.

The Mexicans, of course, had been doing this for much longer and there are still Mexican chorizos, although I read somewhere that the two are not interchangeable. I do not think we get the Mexican ones here - just the Spanish type.


I rarely buy chorizo because of the danger of mistakenly getting a spicy hot one which would not be the thing for David. However I do occasionally - whether sliced for a charcuterie platter or whole for cooking with something else. Even the mild ones are spicy but not in a hot sense and do add delicious flavour to foods. The dry ones are for eating as they are - sliced of course, and the softer semi-cured ones are for cooking. And curiously there don't seem to be as many of this type in the supermarket.


"A 'boiling' chorizo has transparent skin that is soft to the squeeze. The firmer, more opaque ones are what I use for grilling. The fearsome orange fat that oozes from them in the heat comes as a shock, but it is only pure pork fat coloured by paprika. One feels glad to be rid of it when grilling, but it is just what you want to enrich a casserole for a winter's day." Nigel Slater

And yet there are so many recipes calling for chorizo these days. I don't really know when this happened. I guess one never actually notices a new trend until it is so well established that it is on its way out. Well that's me anyway. It's a bit like buying 'hot' shares when they are no longer 'hot' and are too expensive. I guess I just don't read enough of the right magazines or blogs that tell me what is really hot and new. Coles Magazine, is, after all, just responding to trends, not creating them. Mostly I only buy chorizo if I need it for a particular recipe and if I have leftovers then I use it in the same way that I would have used ham in the past.


"Chorizo, depending on whether you buy it from a specialist shop, a Spanish market stall or a supermarket, will vary enormously in taste, texture and quality, but can be relied on to send waves of vibrant, husky warmth through a cheap bean or dried pea stew." Nigel Slater


Yes Nigel that's how I use it, though in my case I would probably be adding it to a chicken dish. Besides as your colleague Yotam Ottolenghi says:


"Adding something so salty, spicy, smoky and fatty to every dish is not perhaps the best way to clear a guilty conscience" Yotam Ottolenghi


The website Great British Chefs has some rather more interesting ways of using chorizo than the standard ones - particularly that oil that Nigel Slater was talking about. But there are endless other ideas out there. Just google chorizo recipes and perhaps the name of your favourite cook and heaps of them will come up. Or just add some to your next thrown together stew.


POSTSCRIPT

As I was flicking through the latest Coles Magazine I found these two pancake recipes which were interesting in light of yesterday's post.

On the left an advertisement for Queen products - their vanilla essence and their sugar free maple syrup. Surely 'pure' maple syrup is sugar free anyway - well cane or beet sugar anyway. Maple syrup itself is surely not that healthy? Then there's the flour - they may use wholemeal rather than white, but flour is flour isn't it? Mm. Still lots of calories there - but I guess the really interesting thing is the ricotta - basically Bill Granger.


Then there are 'healthier' carrot cake pancakes. At least Coles is saying 'healthier' rather than healthy because we are not looking at a healthy dish here. Yes it's got carrots in it, but tinned crushed pineapple (isn't there sugar in that?) brown sugar - sugar is sugar really even if it is less refined? Ditto for flour even if it's wholemeal. And the dollop of low fat cream cheese may be better than pure cream but not much. Very yummy looking though. It's got nuts in it too - not sure whether nuts are healthy or not really.


But yes pancakes/hotcakes are very, very popular and often make an appearance in the magazine. Thank you Bill Granger.



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