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Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Friday, December 02, 2011

Dinner on the Camino Santiago - Eastern Spain

I thought I'd digress from my Aragones trek for a day or two
and talk to you about what you might expect in the way of dinner options
while walking the Camino Santiago in Eastern Spain. 
For us walking the Camino Frances, that is mostly Navarra. 
But the foods of Cataluña and Aragón can also be seen at the beginning of the Camino.
Probably because of my Portuguese ancestry, 
the cuisine of Spain is one of my favorites. 
The food just feels familiar to me 
and I´m comforted by the aromas and flavors.
Each region has its very own specialties 
and a Menú del Dia or a Pilgrim's Plate might carry any number of variations.

Because we are used to eating dinner 
between 5 pm and 7 pm in the United States, 
it is often a challenge for pilgrims to get into the habit 
of the late dinner hours in Spain. 
So I suggest that you always have a little food in your pack, 
for those times you just can´t wait 
until the restaurant opens 
or for those days you can´t seem to find a place to eat 
on the section your are walking.
As I discussed in the blog on lunch,
you have many wonderful options for a picnic lunch!

Photo by marcp_dmoz

The food of Eastern Spain, which includes Catalonia, Aragón, 
Valencia and Murcia 
has been greatly influenced by both the Romans and the Moors. 
Spices you wouldn´t think of using 
show up in the most interesting combinations of sweet and savory. 
For instance, it is not uncommon to recognize the flavor of cinnamon 
in a meat dish combined with garlic , tomatoes and roasted peppers.  

Below are a few foods you might find at the beginning of your Camino.

I mention this first because I´m in love with it!
Besides being tasty it is beautiful to look at 
and one of my favorite memories is of a hospitalero 
setting a giant pan of paella in front of us for dinner.  

Paella is made from spanish rice,  flavored and colored by saffron, 
giving it a lovely yellow color. 
Any variety of meat is added, but it is generally seafood 
such as clams, mussels, and shrimp, 
along with chicken and sometimes rabbit. 
Tomatoes and herbs give it even more flavor.
It is traditionally cooked over an open fire in a special pan.
Here is a photo of paella being cooked at a fiesta 
we found ourselves a part of in Azofra in 2006:
It is common for the Spanish to take their paella pan with them 
on a picnic or camping trip and cook dinner outdoors.
If you love paella, and want to take something home,
consider purchasing a ´real´ paella pan while in Spain
and having it shipped to your doorstep.

Spanish saffron also makes a wonderful gift
for your favorite family chef.
It is inexpensive, and very lightweight to ship home.
Shop around. You´ll find the same quality saffron 
for much less money in the local stores 
instead of tourist locations.
It often can be found in pretty little tins and boxes,
perfect for gift giving.

Here are photos of some paella varieties I found online. I will show you several, so when you order the paella, you aren't surprised!
This Paella has shrimp, mussels, and peas

This Paella has Catalonian Sausage, mushrooms, and other vegetables

This is a beautiful Paella with mussels, chicken, sausage, and peas

This Paella has mussels, shrimp, and asparagus and is served with lemon

This paella has chicken, tomatoes, and peas
So, as you can see, paella can be made in a variety of ways, 
usually depending on what is fresh at the market that day.  
A pan of paella, a few slices of bread, 
and a glass of wine is all a person needs to make them happy!

Eastern Spain is famous for its sausages. 
There are are several different types you might see.

Chorizo is the most common.
It is nothing like Mexican chorizo. 
It is a smoked, scarlet colored sausage, red with paprika. 
It can be sliced and eaten without cooking.
It does have chunks of fat in it, but they're lovely and savory! 
Try it!

Arroz con pollo y chorizo (rice with chicken and chorizo)
Another famous Cataluña sausage is the butifarra blanca.  
This sausage is white and the skin is full of pork, tripe, and pine nuts,
giving it a very sweet flavor.
It sometimes contains truffles. 
You can eat it at room temperature, fried, or grilled, 
and it is often added to rice or bean dishes.
Butifarra Blanca (White Sausage)
Las judias con butifarra blanca. 
(White beans boiled and drained in a dish and then served with butifarra blanca.)
An assortment of butifarra; white, black, and the yellow one is made with eggs and pork.

Butifarra cooked on the barbecue with lamb. YUM!
Butifarra negra is usually made of pork belly, the pork blood, and spices.
Butifarra negra can be used in any way the other sausages are used,
in rice, in soup, in paella,
or simply grilled with tomatoes and onions 
and served with bread and a glass of wine.

Something you might have the opportunity to try while in Eastern Spain are Calçots. 
These are a variety of green onion that look to me like what I call scallions. 
I'm not sure if they are the same or not.

The most traditional way of eating calçots 
is in a calçotada (plural: calçotades). 
This is a great family and friend affair,
held between the end of winter and March or April (Carnival) 
where calçots are consumed in great quantities. 
They are pulled up, barbecued, then dipped in sauces. 
Pieces of meat and bread slices are roasted in the charcoal 
after cooking the calçots.
Roasting the calçots
Roasted, ready to dip and eat
Fuet is a long, slender all-pork sausage. 
The Pyrenees mountain towns of Osuna and Vic
are especially known for excellent examples of these sausages.
Unlike the Butifarra, another in the family of Catalan sausages, 
fuet is dry cured, like salami.
It is a wonderful ingredient for a bocadillo sandwich on a crusty roll,
but it can also be served grilled or as an ingredient in soup. 
You will often seeing hanging in tiendas.
 Pollo al ajillo is what we would call Garlic Chicken.
A sauce made from the drippings accompanies
it but is not added until the very last minute, 
in order to keep the chicken skin crispy.
That crispy skin is, for me, the secret to a perfect pollo al ajillo. 
This just makes my mouth water!
 Sometimes when you order it, it comes in smaller pieces in the sauce. 
It is still great!

Parrillada de mariscos is any assortment of grilled shellfish. 
It is served with a garlic flavored mayonnaise called allioli.
Photo by Juannypg

Cochifrito is a dish prepared from lamb 
fried with lemon, garlic, and paprika.
It is absolutely delicious!  
If you think you don´t like lamb, be adventurous and try this! 
Here is a recipe I found online:
This cochifrito is served with potatoes
 Cochifrito (Lamb with lemon and garlic)
  • 875g lean boneless lamb, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mild paprika (pimenton dulce)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
  • 100ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • finely grated lemon rind, to garnish
Season the lamb to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.
Add the lamb and cook, turning frequently, 
for 6-8 minutes until browned all over. 

Transfer to a heavy-based flameproof casserole
and add the garlic, onions, pimenton, lemon juice, parsley and stock. 
Cover tightly and simmer gently over a low heat for 1 1/2 hours 
or until the lamb is tender. 

Serve immediately, garnished with finely chopped parsley and grated lemon rind.

Seafood is often married with chicken 
for a typical dish such as Llagosta i pollastre. 
Llagosta i pollaster is is lobster and chicken. 
Shrimp or any seafood can be used.
This particular dish is cooked in a hazelnut and tomato sauce 
and is unbelievably tasty!

Are you hungry yet?

Suquet is one of the famous fish and shellfish stews of Catalonia.
It is shellfish, combined with saffron, wine, tomatoes and potatoes.  
Suquet is the diminutive form of suc, or juice, in Catalan, 
which means that this wonderfully flavored dish is more correctly called 
juicy fish stew.
Suquet de pescado (fish soup)
This is a dish you can prepare if you are staying in an albergue with a kitchen. 
But beware!
Your fellow pilgrims will show up in droves, following the aroma!  

To prepare, first sauté the tomatoes which have been split in half.  
Add garlic and minced parsley small. 
When the garlic is clear (but not browned) ,
put in the fish and some water. 
Cook on low until the fish flakes, 
turning carefully so that it does not crumble. 
When it is almost ready, add the Saffron.  
Salt to taste.

Fideus a la cassola. 
The fideus is a home made noodle like spaghetti, only short. 
When combined with pork chops, beef, fish or sausage, 
it is called a cassola.  
There can be  many variations. 

The last Eastern Spanish dish I'll show you is Pastel de carne. 
This is basically a meat pie.
It was brought to Spain by the Moors and is now claimed as a Murcian delicacy.
It has minced meat, chopped boiled eggs, 
and sometimes has vegetables inside.
It is encased in a nice puff pastry crust.
It might come as a slice from a larger pie, or as an individual serving. 

You can often find these cold in pastry shops 
and they are wonderful to carry in your backpack for picnic lunch.
Some have meat, some have fish, so you must ask if you care.
Individual servings
Cut from a large pie
For your postre, or dessert, you might try fresh fruit, 
which is almost alwaysoffered. 
It will be whatever fruit is in season.
The Spanish oranges are so sweet.
There are many pastries to choose from and we'll talk about those later,
in their very own blog. 

One of the best desserts I can suggest is Crema Catalana. 
This is much like crème brulée.
It is very rich, has a layer of caramelized sugar on top, 
and is served cold. 
They traditionally use a very hot iron to burn the top of the sugar. 

Oh my gosh! Are we there yet?
My stomach is grumbling!

Two treats top off the menu of Eastern Spain. 
Those are sweets made from almonds.
One is like an almond brittle and is called turron guirlache.
Turron can also be a softer almond candy.
This variety is white and very chewy.
Another wonderful almond dessert is called alemendras garrapiñadas. 
These are almonds roasted in a pan with sugar and butter and spices. 
The sugar caramelizes and makes a luscious crunchy coating.
 These are a special treat during Christmas 
but you can find them anytime if you look.

Here is a recipe so you can make your own:
cup of sugar
cup of water
small lemon
cup of almonds without skins
Combine the water, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and boil five or six minutes over low heat.

the almonds and stir slowly with a wooden spoon without stopping. The sugar will gradually be toasted. The fire should be slow so you do not burn the almonds.
Keep stirring until the sugar 
crystallizes on the almonds.
a surface and when almonds are well crystallized, pour them out to cool.
Ok.. that's it.
I'm going to find dinner!
Next time I'll continue on our search for cena.

Bon provecho!

See my AnnieWalkersCamino website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

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