Photos, left to right, Cocido, Cocido, Arrós a Banda. (Photo credits: Clifford A. Wright)



Cocido (Olla Podrida)

Andalusian Stew

Difficulty: Medium Difficulty

Yield: Makes 10 servings
Preparation Time: 5:30 hours

Spiced sausage, cumin, saffron, black pepper, and garlic flavor this stew that some call the national dish of Spain. These spices had their culinary roots in Islamic Spain, but the trade in spices itself was coming through Lisbon to the great spice markets of Seville and Barcelona. This chickpea stew is found throughout Spain in hundreds of versions, also by the name olla podrida, a name made famous in Cervantes's Don Quixote, all made with chickpeas as the base and flavored with a ham bone and other ingredients depending on region, such as morcilla, a blood sausage, oreja, pig's ear, rostral, a part of the spinal cord, and lard, beef knuckle, gourd (pumpkin now), and cabbage. In Cervantes time (1547-1616) olla was considered poor people's food. When Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho says "serve me with what they call ollas podridas and the rottener they are the better they smell" he meant it, as it was thought that the dainty food of the rich would upset the stomachs of the poor who could only eat a miserly olla.

Traditionally, cocido is served as two, and even three, courses as the important midday meal, not as the evening repast. The poor typically would not have found meat in their cocida excepting perhaps a ham bone for flavor, nor would they have eaten in two courses. Bourgeois households, on the other hand, would strain the broth and eat the first course with rice or fideos, a typically Spanish pasta form of vermicelli broken into one-inch lengths. The second course consisted of the meat and vegetables, or the vegetables would be saved for yet a third course, served with whatever sausages are in the olla (pot). Beef shoulder would be used by those who could afford it while goat or lamb would be used by poorer people. As for the pig, every part is used, in making sausages, salted, or thrown into a cocido. The chorizo sausage is made with pork, garlic, and pimiento. The vegetables used depend on the local seasonal produce.

The Spanish culinary authority Luis A. de Vega proposed that cocido was invented in the late fifteenth century when the Marranos, converted Jews, in order to convince their Christian neighbors of the sincerity of their conversions, began substituting pork for cooked eggs in a traditional Jewish dish known in Spain as adafina. The adafina/cocido preparation was typical for the night before the Jewish Sabbath, as the pot could remain over a low flame without an attendant, thus avoiding the violation of Jewish religious law. The Jews could still have their adafina, but the pork would show that they were good converts. Nevertheless, Jewish motives were always suspect and Christian authorities wanted to see not only pork in the stew but the smoke from the fire on Saturdays indicating as it would that no Jewish law was being observed. (For a Tunisian Jewish version of cocido, see the recipe for tafīna under Jewish Mediterranean

I also agree with Rudolf Grewe, a researcher of Hispano-Muslim cuisine, in seeing the earlier roots of cocido--that is, olla podrida--perhaps in the dish called ṣinhājī in the anonymous thirteenth-century Hispano-Muslim cookbook the Kitāb al-tabīkh fī al-Maghrib wa'l-Āndalus (Cookery Book of the Maghrib and Andalusia) a preparation cooked slowly in a large pot containing various meats, including meatballs and sausages, root and other vegetables, chickpeas, and spices. The recipe for ṣinhājī is a "royal" one and the author says that the recipe for the common people "will be dealt with in its own proper time, God willing." Some cocidos use meatballs called pilotas that resemble the hard-boiled eggs of the Jewish adafina. They are made with chicken livers, ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, parsley, lemon peel, cinnamon, and pine nuts.

The traditional cocido pot is an earthenware vessel, glazed on the inside and with a tight fitting lid. In Andalusia today, the pressure cooker is often used in place of the traditional method, in which case you would cook the cocido for 45 minutes instead of 4 hours. I am not a fan of the pressure cooker, though. Today cocido is something of a preparation for special occasions, a sign of modern times, as traditionally is was nothing more than daily nourishment.

This recipe from Andalusia is typical of the cocido found around Granada.

3 cups dried chickpeas (about 1 1/2 pounds), picked over, soaked in cold water overnight, and drained

1 1/2 pounds oxtails

1/2 pound jamón serrano, inexpensive domestic prosciutto, or slab Canadian or Irish bacon, cubed

1 ham bone or one 3/4-pound beef shank bone

5 cups water

1 garlic clove

4 black peppercorns

Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, 1 whole and 1 finely chopped

1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed and chopped

4 chicken legs (about 1 pound)

1 pound Spanish-style chorizo sausage (see Note), sliced

1 boiling potato (about 1/2 pound), such as Yukon gold, red or white, peeled and diced

Salt to taste

  1. Put the chickpeas, oxtail, jamón serrano (or bacon or prosciutto), and ham bone or beef shank in a large stew pot with 4 cups of the cold water. Bring to a simmer slowly, about 30 minutes, then cook for 1 hour, skimming the foam off the surface occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a mortar pound the garlic, peppercorns, saffron, and cumin together until mushy. Add the whole tomato and continue pounding until the mixture is homogeneous. This step can also be done in a blender or food processor.
  3. Add the green beans, chicken legs, chorizo, potato, and the chopped tomato to the stew pot along with the remaining cup cold water. Carefully stir the stew and salt lightly. Add the spice mixture to the pot and stir carefully to blend well.
  4. Cook over very low heat for 2 to 4 hours, checking doneness occasionally after 2 hours. The cocido is done when the meat is falling off the chicken legs and the potato has lost its crunch, but before it begins to fall apart. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Note:  A Spanish chorizo sausage is not as hot as the Mexican sausage of the same name. It is best to substitute it with a Portuguese chouriço sausage, a Polish kielbasa, or a mild Italian sausage.


Arrós a Banda

Pan Rice with Seafood

Difficulty: Labor Intensive

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Arrós a banda is a very old preparation from Valencia and really quite simple. Traditionally, arrós a banda was made on the small cabotatge, the coast runners that ran from north to south along the Levante, the Valencian coast. The boatmen would eat the fish with some hollowed out  pieces of bread. Fishermen also made this dish. As with so many dishes, it begins with a sofregit, like the Italian soffritto, a mixture of onions, garlic, and other ingredients sautéed in olive oil before the addition of the remaining ingredients; in this case, a rich fish broth is added to be absorbed by the rice. A banda means "apart" in Valencian, meaning the rice is served first and apart from the fish, which is served as a second course. It is traditionally served with allioli, a pungent garlic mayonnaise.

My first taste of arrós a banda was at the modest seaside Port restaurant on the esplanade of Denía south of Valencia. I later read in Claudia Roden's book Mediterranean Cookery that her first taste of this famous Valencian dish was also in Denía at another small restaurant. I read further and discovered that Penelope Casas, author of The Food and Wines of Spain, describes her "ultimate" rice dish as being an arroz a banda, in Denía, too. I suppose it's safe to say that Dení­a has some extraordinary arrós a banda.

At a local fish market in Denía you would find a variety of shellfish and firm-fleshed fish, so-called soup fish, a category of fish unknown to Americans for the most part. What could be our soup fish are what are considered trash fish by commercial fishermen and retailers and sports fishermen. They are thrown back into the sea as garbage or used for animal feed or bait. For anyone who has seen this form of waste, and who loves fish, it is heart-breaking. In the Dení­a fish market you might see the rata de mar, literally sea rat, but with a more appealing and accurate English name of star-gazer: the eyes of this fish point directly upwards (the Venetians know how to name fish: they call this fish boche in cao, mouth-in-the-sky). The araña (weever) and lluerna (streaked gurnard) are two other small fish found in many Mediterranean fish stews and broths and may be seen along with gallina (red gurnard), salmonetes (red mullet), gallo (fluke), and rape (monkfish) that are used in the broth. As for shellfish, clams, crayfish, crabs, and shrimp are all popular for flavoring the broth, especially in restaurants. In both this arrós a banda recipe and the pasta version, fideuá  al estilo de Gandia, the technique called arrossejat is used, where either the rice or the pasta is sautéed in olive oil before the addition of any liquid.  The resulting burnt crust of rice on the bottom so prized by gourmets is called soccarat.

Read through the recipe several times to understand the steps leading through the process.  If your clams are already well-scrubbed and purged of lingering sand you can skip the soaking instructions.

For the clam and fish broths

12 littleneck clams, scrubbed, purged in cold water to cover with 2 teaspoons baking soda for 1 hour, and drained

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

5 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth, consisting of 1 bay leaf, 6 sprigs each fresh thyme and parsley, and 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or 1 fennel stalk with leaves

1 1/2 pounds soup fish--whole fish and fish heads for broth (for example, 2 porgies (scup) or 2 butterfish, and 5 fresh sardines, 1 mackerel, and 1 bluefish or mahi-mahi head or 1/2-pound bluefish fillet or mahimahi fillet, cut up)

1 pound fresh shrimp, saving the heads and shells (1/2 pound headless defrosted shrimp, shells saved)

For the garlic mixture

2 large garlic cloves

Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled

1 teaspoon hot paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the fish

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, very finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

2 1/4 pounds mixed fish steaks or fillets (consisting of 3/4 pound monkfish, halibut, hake, cod, scrod, or pollack, 3/4 pound striped bass, kingfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, dogfish, yellowtail, mahimahi, or shark and 3/4 pound red snapper, grouper, redfish, or wolffish)

For the rice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed

2 whole dried chiles

2 cups medium-grain rice

  1. Put the drained clams in a small pot with 2 tablespoons water and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the clams have all opened, about 6 minutes, remove. Remove the clams from the shells and set aside in the refrigerator. Strain the clam broth through a fine-mesh strainer and set aside. Discard the shells and any clams that have not opened and remain tightly closed.
  2. In a stockpot or large casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the large onion, garlic, and tomatoes until the mixture looks saucy, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often so the garlic doesn't burn. Pour in the water, wine, and reserved clam broth and season with salt and pepper. Add the bouquet garni, cut-up whole fish and fish heads, and shrimp heads and shells (keep the shrimp and all other fish refrigerated until 15 minutes before needed). Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 2 hours. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer (you should have about 6 cups).
  3. In a mortar, pound the garlic cloves, saffron, paprika, cayenne, and salt with a pestle until completely mashed. Transfer to a 2-cup measuring glass and blend with 1 cup fish broth and reserve until step 5.
  4. In a large casserole or skillet, heat a 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook, stirring, the onion, garlic, tomato, and parsley until the onion is soft, about 6 minutes. Add the fish fillets and coat all sides in the mixture, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the reserved fish broth, bring to a boil, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add the reserved shrimp and cook another 2 minutes at a boil, shaking the pan. Remove the fish and shrimp with a slotted ladle, set aside with the reserved clams, and keep warm with a sheet of aluminum foil covering the fish. Strain the fish broth through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving and setting aside 3 cups of it and storing the rest for another use.
  5. In a 16- to 20-inch paella pan or a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the crushed garlic cloves and dried chiles until the garlic begins to turn light brown. Remove and discard the garlic and chiles. Add the rice and cook, stirring well so the grains are coated with oil, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved fish broth and diluted garlic mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook 30 minutes, uncovered. There will be an enormous temptation to stir the rice but you must be resolute and absolutely not stir the rice. It must cook undisturbed. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid or kitchen towel, and let the rice rest until tender, about 15 minutes. Serve the rice first and then the fish, or place the seafood on top of the rice and serve.

Note:  Make sure your choice of fish are fresh rather than the exact ones I call for as they may not be available.