Archive | July, 2013

King Prawns wrapped in Serrano ham (Langostinos con Jamon Serrano) and Mejillones con Ajo

20 Jul

This was todays very impromptu lunch.


We get these huge prawns that cost something like a euro a piece. After removing their heads, shells, and that veiny thing (guts) that run down their back I wrapped them in strips of Jamon Serrano. Streaky bacon would work just as well. We have a ton of rosemary growing in our garden so I used some of the branches (de-rosmaryed) as skewers. After that its just a case of cooking them on a barbecue. Really easy and really tasty. Theres a sweet ozoney crunch from the prawns followed by the crispy saltiness of the ham all finished off with a hint of rosemary from the natural flavouring of the skewer. 

I also bought a bag of mussels at the fish counter (a euro a kilo) so we had these as well. After preparing the mussels (scrub under a running tap, remove beards, throw away those open ones that won’t shut, soak in iced salted water for 90 mins), I sauteed (in local olive oil) a finely chopped onion with three sliced up cloves of garlic, added a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley until soft threw in a small glass of dry white wine, added the drained prepared mussels, and stuck the lid on the pan for 5 minutes (vigorously shaking the pan a few times). That’s all it takes for a deliciously fresh seafood lunch. My drink of choice today was a chilled (icy cold) bottled of San Miguel Selecta beer (6.2% abv). Music was provided by Little Feat. 


Time for another icy cold beer. Salud y buen provecho!


Merluza En Salsa Verde hot off the stove … recipe to follow

19 Jul

Here it is. Easy to make if the prep is all done beforehand. Probably 30 mins prep and less than 10 minutes cooking. The way the garlic and chillies are fried first gives a nice spicy & nutty flavour that gets balanced out nicely by the fish stock, white wine, and parsley. I think the addition of clams or mussels at the end of cooking would make it into a really nice dish.


And then…. just because I was taking about chips (french fries / patatas fritas) earlier I thought I’d go for a touch of fusion and make it into fish & chips …..


Fish Friday …. Merluza en Salsa Verde

19 Jul

Whether it’s to do with fasting from meats and fats or some medieval papal conspiracy with the guild of fishmongers Fridays in christendom have long been associated with eating fish. For me it was usually fish and chips on a Friday before heading into Bolton town centre for a healthy dose of several pints of bitter, a pint or two of Man & Scythe cider and sometimes a cheeky nip of Yates wine (rocket fuel) interspersed with ear splitting riffs down in the Swan cellar (a local pub which had a Heavy Rock club in the basement). 

I love fish and seafood. It’s something I have yearned to be good at cooking but a combination of expense, availability, and cowardice seem to have limited how much fish cooking I do. A favourite get away for me and Liz is Rick Steins Seafood restaurant in the beautiful fishing port of Padstow, Cornwall. Champagne, fruit de mar, langoustines, lobster with fine herbs, and sole a la meuniere all make for a cracking feast. The sole is a real favourite of ours and when we lived near the market town of Berkhamsted near London we did buy a couple of sole from the fish stall on the Saturday market and make a pretty decent job of recreating the dish. One of the more interesting diversions was observing how the eye of the fish popped out when we skinned the fish. 

Fish and Spain seem to go together and one of the things I’m looking forward to is getting down to the fishing ports and eating in the bars and restaurants around them. One of the first fish dishes I had last century in Spain was a wonderfully flavoursome Hake cooked in a parsley sauce. I recall the one I had incorporated a few mussels. I think clams (almejas) would work as an addition to this dish. I’ve got about a half dozen recipes for dishes of the same name.The one I’m going top try today is from “The Food of Spain” by Vicky Harris and published by Murdoch books. This one does not use mussels or clams. Unlike the other recipes it uses a couple of chillies, garlic cooked to a nutty brown, and also incorporates the use of asparagus spears. It does need fish stock but I’ll cheat on this and use some stock cubes although I will now start to save scraps from fish bones, prawn heads, etc to make stock. I make my own chicken stock which keeps well in the freezer so I don’t see why I shouldn’t make fish stock as well. 

Sometime over the weekend I’ll transcribe the recipe and notes from making it to a blog along with some pictures and tasting notes. The book says it works just as well with cod or similar white fish (which I guess would include pollack which is much more sustainable) or monkfish. Hake, or Merluza in Spain, is one of my favorite fish. I prefer it to cod when having fish and chips and have made hake in a deliciously light beer batter back in England with homemade chips and mushy peas. You can take the lad out of Bolton but you can’t take Bolton out of the lad. I also have a way of making chips that produces really good chips … crispy outside, soft & fluffy inside, and not greasy. I will post up my Chip method as well. I think its foolproof. 

Hake is a popular fish in Spain. Almost a half of all the Hake caught in European waters (Atlantic and North Sea) goes to Spain and in Spain it accounts for a third of all fish consumed. Unlike the UK fish is very reasonably priced here. The last time I bought Hake in the UK (last year) I paid about 19pounds a kilo. I bought 500g today for less than 5 euros. 

It’s time to go and start the food prep so I’ll leave you with a generic pic of the dish brought to you by the electronic miracle that is the internet. Image

What food is typically Spanish? What makes Andalusian food Andalusian?

18 Jul

The easy answer from me is “I don’t know”. Earlier today I was down in Nerja, a lovely resort town on the Costa Del Sol. It’s about 25km from my house and a million kilometers away from the western side the Malaga coast. I was there to collect the Spanish registration plates for our 9 year old UK registered BMW and walking from the car park behind Carabeo to my lawyers office I took a look at the dozens of bars and restaurants in between. Pizza, pasta, full English Breakfasts, and international dishes that you can find on almost every resort street between the Turkish coast in the east (of Europe that is … I don’t think Spain has annexed Turkey overnight; the BBC news doesn’t mention it) to Portugal in the west. 

I think we all accept the jet-age has shrunk the world and that along with the positive impacts of migration has helped us all enjoy foods that our grandparents would never have tasted. 

So, being in Nerja for La Merienda, the Spanish tradition of elevenses, I thought I’d sit down at a cafe and see whether I could get something I viewed as “Spanish”. I stopped at one of the 3 star hotels on the Balcon De Europa and scanned a menu. Full English, Eggs on Toast, Croissant, Pan au Chocolat …. whilst probably enjoyed by Spaniards none struck me as immediately “typical Spanish”. So, I ask for a pitufo (small bread roll) with sobrasada. “No we don’t have it”. So I asked if they add anything Spanish. “Tostada con marmalade o miel”. Toast with jam or honey. That’s something I could have anywhere in the world so I declined. I asked if I could have the Pitufo with tomato and olive oil. The way is which he said “Si, es posible” was with a shrug of the shoulders. Almost saying, “yes but why …. ?”. That’s what I had and you know what? It was delicious … fresh ripe tomatoes cooked down with garlic and onions into a spreadable pulp served in a little dish with extra virgin olive oil on the side … and only 1.50 euro. A coffee, water, and my pitufo con tomate y aceite was just 5 euros. However, the tomate y aceite was not on the menu. 

Up in Competa, the village we live just outside of, things are not quite so touristy but the restaurants still lend themselves to “international” (on the whole). The food is usually very good and certainly nothing to complain about … but I think I’d struggle to be able to eat in a traditional Andalusian way. That got me thinking about the foods I’d like to discover. It’s one thing to find a recipe in a cook book (and I have dozens of those), but I think its always better to taste the real thing cooked by someone who knows their local cooking and then go home and try and recreate it. I thank my friend Oscar (of Taberna De Oscar) for a wonderful Moroccan Lamb cooked with red peppers, tomatoes, chickpeas and a bunch of wonderful spices that typify Moroccan food. After eating it there and believing it was one of the most delicious dishes I’ve tasted I went home and recreated it pretty well and it’s now in my repertoire. Liz inevitably takes notes to try and learn herself because I rarely cook the same thing the same way twice. I rely on continual tasting rather than exact measures. A trick I learned from my maternal grandmother who made the most wonderful (usually Irish) food using nothing else but a tea cup to measure things with. 

Back to the point of this blog, if there’s such a thing as a point to a blog. I’ll try and search out typical dishes and ask some of the local people what they cook, how they cook it, or even better find out what their grandmother cooked and how she cooked it. That may mean I’ll be having a go at Tripe (Callos) which Cafe Bar David used to serve up on a Sunday. I hope it’s better than the tripe and vinegar both my grandads used to love. 

What did I have for lunch today …. it was probably more Greek than Spanish. I bought a lovely piece of Solomillo de Cerdo (pork tenderloin) the other day for 3 euros. I made a marinade of olive oil. lemon juice, grated onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. I skewered up the meat after several hours of marinading and cooked it on the barbecue. It was outrageously tender & moist and bursting with summer flavour. However, I don’t think Souvlaki is a Spanish dish. Guilty as charged! I hang my head in shame.  




Sherry …. my grandfathers weekend getaway … or something else?

17 Jul

“Pity about your liver, sir. Unusually fine Solera ’51, I believe” (James Bond)

“There is no year for Sherry, 007.” (M)

(Diamonds Are Forever, Ian Fleming)

Sherry seems to get a mixed reception, especially amongst the British. The cheap, sweet blends at Christmas such as QC or the stuff my grandad liked served by the gallon from a plastic barrel at the Off Licence. I grew up in the ’70s … the days of Cherry B, Babycham, and Snowball for family occasions. A bottle of QC sherry for my gran and my grandad forever happy with his gallon of Amarillo brand sherry from the plastic barrel. 

My impression of sherry from an American perspective comes from the comedy series Frasier. There, Frasier Crane and his just as snobby brother Niles seemed to treat sherry as something quite sophisticated and upper class. Sherry featured throughout the series as their favourite aperitif or nightcap. In one episode the hapless-in-love Frasier thought he met the woman of his dreams at an airport bar when she ordered a chilled sherry. In one episode they used the fact there was no more more sherry in his apartment as a euphemism that everything as they knew it was over and it was time to move on. I learned from a fellow blogger ( that the Cranes drank Harveys Bristol Cream … actually a sherry I would associate with Christmas at my grandparents rather than a sophisticated tipple. 

On to this sherry stuff and why I woke feeling the urge to blog about it. The British have a long association with with the drink going back hundreds of years. The city of Jerez in Spain and the immediate area produces the world supply of Sherry as we know it. Sometime in the 1990’s the name got protected under EU laws although other countries, I believe, do produce something similar. Britain is by far the biggest export market for sherry producers and there is reputed to be an air of the British country elite mixed into the Spanish blood of the producers. Also, I do like the stuff and like to keep a few bottles chilling in the fridge for a glass or two in the evenings or with some tapas. There’s also a few Spanish dishes that just would not be the same without a splash of the stuff. The last recipe I posted, Almejas a la marinera, has a flavoursome broth that gets it’s richness from the addition of Manzanilla sherry. 

In the play Henry IV, William Shakespeare wrote “A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.” Thank you Will, I could not have said it better. 

I haven’t been to Jerez and the towns around it that produce my favourite tipple but it is planned in March next year as part of my 50th birthday grand tour of Andalucia. We’ll see then whether a vast infusion of the nectar improves my wit. 

At 17% alcohol content the outside world views sherry as an aperitif (or a tipple at funerals & Christmas especially for Miss Marple). However, in Spain it is a white wine and seen as a good match for fish or tapas of any sort. It is normally drunk from a copita, a tulip shaped glass, and well chilled. Fino, a type typified by the world famours “Tio Pepe” brand is the lightest & driest sherry. It has a pale straw colour. Quite similar to Fino but more fragrant & aromatic is the Manzanilla. Manzanilla mean camomile. It has a tang that is reminiscent of the sea and that’s because of where it’s produced and matured in the town of Saluncar de Barremeda which is by the sea. Oloroso sherries are nuttier and more robust. They can be sweet or dry but I think the ones we got used to in the UK were sweet and more like a Port. I remember having a wonderful Oloroso style drink from a winery in New South Wales, Australia. It was on the dry side, nutty, robust, and a great late night tipple served chilled to acompany a cheese-board. I was really disappointed when I got back to the UK and tried an Oloroso that was just too sweet. 

I tend to have Fino’s and Manzanilla’s in at home in Spain and the photo shows my current stock. I must make a point of sourcing an Oloroso that matches my preferred palate. 

Other types include Amontillado which is matured until is it a dark tawny colour, Palo Cortado which is a sweet sherry and then the British funeral drink, the Cream Sherry. 

A couple of features of sherry production are (a) the Solera method of making sherry and (b) the addition of brandy to fortify the sherry. Solera refers to a tier of barrels where the bottom barrels are tapped and the upper barrels are made up with younger wine. The wine makers bottle from the lower barrels but constantly top them up with the upper barrel wine and this is supposed to ensure consistency of product from year to year. So, just as M noted to 007 there is no vintage to sherry. However, what seems to be important is the age of the Solera itself and the barrels can be used for up to a century or more. The sherry is fortified with brandy and then exposed to air. This produces a yeast flor which grows on the surface to protect it. The darker the sherry, the more oxidised it has been in the production. 

There, that seems to have satisfied my urge to be geeky, and in good time to. It’s lunch time now. Whilst I’d like to say I’m off to cook something wonderful and Spanish I’m actually going to grill up a couple of British made Cumberland sausages served up on crusty bread with caramelised onions. The saving grace is that I use Sherry Vinegar in caramelising the onions. Image

Almejas a la marinera (Clams in a tomato sauce)

14 Jul

This is a really simple recipe that tastes great and I think is quite healthy. I used clams but I think mussels or even razor clams could be used. I know mussels are much cheaper, but also need more prep. 

The sauce is flavoured with fresh tomatoes, sherry, garlic, and flat leaf parsley. I used Manzanilla sherry which is pale, dry, and aromatic. The alternative would be to use a Fino like Tio Pepe but I don’t think it has the fragrance that the Manzanilla adds. The important thing is to use a dry pale sherry. 

Clams are low in fat and what fat they do conatin is high in Omega-3. Fresh tomatoes are bursting with good stuff, so all in all I think this is a healthy dish. 

This recipe only takes 10 mins or less to cook but needs about 40 mins prep time (of which 30 mins is letting the clams soak in icy water). I thinks there’s enough for two as a light lunch or four as as part of a tapas session. 

I recommend using a large heavy frying pan or saute pan with lid, or as I use, a Le Crueset casserole pan with lid. 


1 kg live clams, prepared as below; 125 ml Manzanilla sherry; 2 or 3 garlic cloves crushed or finely chopped; 2 or three ripe tomatoes finely chopped; small bunch of fresh flat leaf (“Italian”) parsley finely chopped; 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil; Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to season; Crusty bread to mop up the juices


I was lucky that the clams I bought from the fish counter at the local Eroski supermarket were wonderfully fresh and clean from grit. At 8 euros per kg I think the extra service was merited. Mussels sell for at least 60% less per kg but do need more prep. If you use mussels instead (which I bet are equally delicious) then there’ll be more prep. Any good cookbook on seafood will explain the process. 

On to prepping these clam bad boys. In cold running water scrub the clams looking out for any that are broken or open. Throw the broken ones away. Give the open ones a solid tap. If they close keep them, if not then throw the open ones away. Drain then and then plunge them into a bowl of iced water for about 30 minutes. If your using large clams or even razor clams then double this time. Drain and use as directed. 


The actual cooking time is only 8 or so minutes so best to have serving bowls warmed and bread sliced, etc. 

First, heat the oil in the pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped toms and stir through to coat the toms in oil. Add the chopped garlic and stir through for a few minutes until the garlicky aroma hits you. 

Then, add the drained & prepared clams to the pan and shaking it vigorously. Cover tightly and turn heat to high. Cook for about four mins. By then the clams will have opened. Some may remain closed and must be discarded. Some clams will have been freed from their shells and in the broth, and some will be in the open shells. Season with the sea salt and pepper and serve immediately. I think you can also cool them at room temperature and enjoy them tapas bar style later. 



Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow

9 Jul

Procrastination. My biggest weakness. June was a busy month. Missy, our Breton Spaniel, had some health issues and we also adopted another dog. This time a puppy. Like Missy he’s from Tail-Torrox, a rescue centre in Torrox Costa. I also had to go back to Saudi Arabia for two weeks to finalise the exit from my old job and deal with the associated residency issues. The blog took a back seat.

Our new family member is called Barney. He’s a typical Campo mongrel. He’s nearly four months old and I’m happy to report he’s settled in well and in the past two days has taken to having a dip with us in the pool. Missy prefers to stay on the sofa and enjoy the cooling breezes blowing through the valley. She seems very content to catch the smell of the blossom on the wind.

missy and barney 070713