Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

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I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

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Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

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(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

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We’re back Up Our Mountain!

Yes, we’re back! Not quite from outer space, but it’s been a long time. It was a long and horrible journey and we arrived late last night. I just wanted to say a quick “hello” to you all, show you one little snap of the kitchen (not quite finished, but nearly there) taken the night before we left.

Forgot to take the protective film off the chimney hood, so it's ot such a funky colour really..oh yes, and we haven't painted the picture rail yet either...
Forgot to take the protective film off the chimney hood, so it’s not such a funky colour really…and the over the counter lights need to be connected…oh yes, and we haven’t painted the picture rail yet either…

We managed to have a little housewarming party for Big Man’s Birthday and to say a proper hello and thank you to all our lovely new Bexhill friends and neighbours.

Toli's Birthday 2013 (29)

Toli's Birthday 2013 (63)

I’m very, very behind on posting, reading and commenting but we now have months and months of catching up, relaxing, cooking, sewing, eating and vegetable growing to look forward to, so once I’ve caught my breath….I’ll be back properly!  Thanks for all your kind words of support over the last few months and for sticking with me.  What good pals you all are, I need to organise another little party….

So…you want to make a Paella?

Finally, I thought it was about time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for this classic recipe. I went to a local expert, he´s called “Chef Colorin” and he makes the paellas for all the local fiestas. Be warned, there are LOADS of photos in this post, but I hope you enjoy seeing the process.

Of course, he wasn´t going to just  sit down with me over a glass of wine and give me the recipe. Much better than that, I was going to join in with the cooking. Fantastic, I thought, how many are we cooking for then Chef? Oh, not too many he told me, only 420 on Sunday. Get there about 11am he said, and we´ll show you the ropes.

Not one to balk at such a challenge, and I even wore the exceedingly unflattering hat (yes, I´ll show you the photos). It was one of the hottest and windiest days we´ve had for a while, so we couldn´t even put a shelter up for shade. Hey ho, the show must go on, and of course, it did.

We used 3 Paella pans which make 140 portions each. Feel free to adapt for smaller groups! The ingredients below are per 140 person pan.

Start with your base stock which is made in large 50 litre pots, sheltered from the wind today with a clever little device which goes round the base of the gas ring.

Into each pot goes 800g of stock cubes to 50 litres of water (at home, you´d probably use home made chicken or fish stock), 5 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of sweet pimentón, 200cl of dry white wine, 500g each of chopped peppers and garlic, 1kg of monkfish, assorted fish bones, 400g of chopped tomato and 4 kilos of prawns with their shells on. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Chef added 14 sachets of paella food colouring to the mix but at home we´d use saffron or turmeric.

Strain out the prawns, fish etc.

Then, wearing your glamorous outfit, count out 280 prawns (that´s so that everyone gets at least 2 each) and pull any meaty bits of fish off the bones. First come, first served on any extra prawns!

Lookin´good Chica, and rockin´that mesh hat look!

Is your fire ready to cook? I hope so, we´re going to begin.

Heat 3 litres of olive oil in your pan and add 8 kilos of chopped pork and season with salt to taste. Fry gently for a few minutes.

Now add a couple of heaped tablespoons of sweet pimentón.

Next comes a kilo each of red and green peppers and 250g of chopped garlic. Don´t forget the seafood – 2 kilos of chopped squid.

Stir gently while making silly faces.

Big Man has a go wearing the “Sherry Server” hat from Jerez!

Time to add 4 kilos of chopped tomatoes and a kilo of sliced roasted peppers.

Open the bags of rice carefully – 14kg for 140 people, which translates to 100g per person at home.

Such concentration – I take my work very seriously!

Add to the pan.

Stir gently into the sofrito with your giant paddle.

Now add30 litres of stock (which is 2 litres of stock per kilo of rice, plus a little extra – at home you would add 200cl plus a dash per 100g of rice…see, not so complicated!).

Keep that rice moving without burning your legs on the fire underneath the pan.

The professionals in action…

It´s much harder than it looks! (And don´t forget to taste).

Rookie cooking….

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over those prawns and the fish you set aside.

Was he trying to sneak one of my carefully counted prawns?!

Phew, job done. Time to show off an enormous loaf of bread baked by a local baker.

While we´re eating, you can enjoy a vaguely arty shot of a clean paella pan (don´t forget to oil it after washing up).

PS. Am off to London tomorrow for a week so will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and comments, but apologies if some have to wait until after 20th June. Hope you enjoyed the paella making as much as I did, sorry it was so long but I really enjoyed putting it together. I do have to admit though, I was quite glad to take my “uniform” off and sit down in the shade of an olive tree with a large glass of tinto de verano.

San Isidro and a little walk around the village

The 15th May is the Feast of San Isidro Labrador, the Patron Saint of Farmers. He´s also the Patron Saint of Madrid, do pop over to BlueJellyBean´s blog and check out her beautiful recipe in celebration of this feast day.

One of the three village bars (and there are only about 250 inhabitants!)

Summer has arrived like an explosion. No gentle easing into gradually warmer days. It turned overnight from Spring to Summer and temperatures in the 30s just a few days ago.

View from the village

The celebration of San Isidro is one of the first big summer celebrations, and is particularly important in villages like ours.  Most of the inhabitants rely on the land to employ and feed them to some degree or another. Things are tough in Spain right now and work is scarce. Today is symbolic for many of these land workers and planting today hopefully carries a blessing from San Isidro for a good crop. Tonight we finished planting the last of our vegetables garden…well, we´ll take help where we can get it!

Main Street!

The statue of the Saint was blessed in the little village church and processed down through the village to our little sports centre which has a large building used for village gatherings.

It´s a Pueblo Blanco, a white village. Perhaps not the quaintest or prettiest, but it has a certain charm. The streets were quiet today as most people were in the church when we arrived.

Obligatory Old Boys sitting on a bench in the square

Although our village celebrations were scaled down from previous years, there was still time to enjoy a plate of rice together and have a few drinks.

The cooks did a great job!

Oh, and a little dance of course.

Little Dancing Queens!

Chicken Paella

Guess who loves black pepper?!

I can´t believe I´ve done so many posts without doing one on the famous Spanish Paella!  Paella traditionally comes from Valencia, up towards the north of Spain, and very good it is too.  People think of prawns and mussels when they talk of paella (which here is pronounced along the lines of pie-eh-ya) but there are meat versions and mixed meat and seafood versions, although not many vegetarian ones.

If you can buy proper paella rice, it does make all the difference.  Use long grain and it won´t be able to soak up all the flavours.  Use risotto rice and it will go creamy.  Paella rice plumps up, absorbs the flavour but the grains stay separate.

In Andalucía they tend to make more Arroz or Arroz Caldoso, which translates as Rice or Brothy Rice.  This is exactly the same as a paella, but with more stock, giving a more soupy dish. Whether you make Arroz or Paella, the technique is the same, it´s just the quantity of liquid that varies.

And now, allow me to let you into a little secret.  The beautiful colour of a Paella?  Saffron? Well, sometimes, but most housewives here use artificial colouring.  I was shocked when I found out – perhaps even more than when I realised how expensive saffron is, but I´m just letting you know.  I try not to use anything artificial in my cooking, and have been known to slip a little turmeric in, which doesn´t really affect the taste but gives a good golden colour.  You can also use paella spice sachets which contain salt, garlic, paprika, saffron and ground cloves….oh, and a little colouring too.  There´s no getting away from it.  I leave it to you…make your own mix with a few strands of saffron, or use a mix.  I won´t judge you!

So, here´s how I made this paella.  I can´t claim my version today is typically Andaluz, it was a ”what have we got in the fridge?” kind of day.  The beauty of this is that you can make it however you fancy.

  • A cup of cooked chicken
  • A quarter cup of diced jamon
  • Two cloves of crushed garlic
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • One long thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A stick of celery finely chopped
  • A cup of chopped tomatoes
  • About 3 cups of chicken stock
  • One and a half cups of rice
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of hot pimentón (optional)
  • Paella spices
  • Lemons to serve

You can make this in a large frying pan if you don´t have a paella pan, or a saucepan if you want to make arroz. The paella pan in the photo is meant to serve four (!).  We ate about two thirds of it between the two of us and there was enough left over for a few tapas portions the next day.

Soften your onion, celery and pepper in olive oil and then add the crushed garlic.  When the garlic has softened, add your pimentón (or chilli powder) and spices and stir in. Now add your tomatoes and cook gently for a minute or two then put your chicken, jamon and stock in and allow to boil.  I find that for a paella I use double the quantity of liquid to rice, 3 times for arroz. 

When the liquid is boiling, add the rice and some seasoning, stir it all around and reduce the heat.  I often partly cover the dish with a large lid.  You don´t need to stir it like a risotto, some will stick on the bottom, but in my house we fight for those bits!  I can´t be more precise about quantities as a lot will depend on how much liquid your rice absorbs. Have a pot of boiling water or stock on the side and if you feel it´s cooking too quickly add a little more.

When the rice is almost cooked, but not quite there, turn it off and cover it.  Use tin foil or a lid.  These last few minutes “resting” are important.  Here they say that arroz can be “mal cocinado, pero bien reposado” which means badly cooked but well rested.  Hopefully yours will be both bien cocindao and bien reposado!

Laid back and rested rice

And that´s it, serve with plenty of lemons to squeeze over and a glass of your favourite wine.

I´ll do a seafood version soon – my two best girlfriends in the world are coming to stay tomorrow, so no doubt we´ll have plenty of cooking, eating and wine drinking sessions together that I can share with you all!

January Seafood Stew

Warms Your Cockles

It´s a grey old Saturday in January here, with no particular plans for the day.  I hear a loud “toot, toot” outside and my heart lifts. Fish Man is here.  Although we live in an isolated part of the mountains, we´re not entirely cut off.  In fact, food-wise we could probably survive without ever going shopping.  We have our chickens and the vegetable garden of course.  We have goatherds who sell us a goat for the freezer, or a lamb too come to think of it.  Bread Man stops daily and leaves me a lovely crusty loaf, the grocery man comes at the weekend with all sorts of exciting things, even the man with gas cylinders stops at my door.  But two or three times a week we have the excitement of Fish Man.

The downside is that we´re pretty much the last stop on his route, so he often doesn´t get to us until about 1pm.  Sometimes he´s sold out of most things, but if I ask him for something specific, he saves it for me.  Usually that´s Pulpo (Octopus) or Raya (Skate) which we love.  The upside is that he´s usually keen to get back to Malaga, where he lives, for his own lunch, so prices come down so that he can shift the last few things, or he throws in a few goodies for free.  He gets up early and heads off to Malaga fish market then sets off up the mountains to the villages around where we live.

Weekends in Spain are not about the weekend roast but about Paella, which we all know and love.  In Andalucia, they just call it an Arroz, a “rice” which is just like Paella but often served with more stock.  A soupy Paella, if you like.  Otherwise it´s a Fideua, which is exactly the same but made with short, thick noodles, called Fideos.  This morning I bought half a kilo of small prawns and eight medium sized squid.  I grabbed a small packet of mussels (removed from the shell and frozen) from my freezer and a couple of small fillets of hake which were also in the freezer.  Because it´s a bit of a trek to the supermarket, and of course there are things that can´t be bought our of the back of a passing van, I tend to keep my freezer pretty well stocked with things I can grab in the morning and defrost quickly.

I asked Big Man what he fancied – Paella, Fideua, Seafood Soup, Stew?  A stew, it was decided, so I started to get things ready.  What you need for four people with “normal” appetites, or three “greedy guts”, or two “greedy guts” with enough leftover to turn into a soup that evening with a drop more stock, is:

  • About 2 cups of peeled prawns (keep those shells, we´re going to make stock)
  • About 500 grams of cleaned squid cut into chunks
  • A cup of mussel meat
  • A medium fillet of white fish, cut into chunks
  • Half a red pepper, finely diced
  • A stick of celery, finely diced
  • Half and medium onion, finely diced
  • A third of a courgette, finely diced (optional)
  • Three fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • About a litre of fish stock.  Either cover the prawn shells with water, add a few bat leaves, a chunk of onion and boil for about 8 minutes or use a cube

You can use any fish or shellfish you like really, and if you don´t have a lot of fish, you can thicken the stew up with a few noodles, or serve it as a soup with plenty of stock. Otherwise you could use rice and turn it into a paella – it´s up to you!

So, you start by sweating the peppers, onion, celery, garlic and courgette. Again, if you have other vegetables you want to use, feel free.  Peas or broad beans are good, but best thrown in at the end with the fish as they don´t need much cooking.

Beautifully Chopped!

Add your tomatoes and continue cooking gently for a few minutes.  I usually cook this in my favourite pan – a large, deep, non stick frying pan.

Now add your stock.  It will look rather dull and unappetizing at this point, rather like watery tomato soup.  Fear not.  Now you´re going to boil it, but not too fiercely, for about ten minutes and reduce it by about a third.  Pour yourself a glass of wine if you don´t already have one in your hand.  If not, why not?  If you want to serve this for guests, prepare it to this point, even the day before (but keep it in the fridge) and forget about it.

...with tomatoes
...with stock

When you´re ready to eat, heat the stock to a simmer and put all your fish in.  Start with the squid as it will take about 30 seconds longer than the rest.  Simmer gently for about 3-4 minutes and then serve.

If you think it´s not going to be enough to go round, or you fancy something a little more “robust” add your noodles before the fish and when it is almost cooked through, add the fish.  About a mug full would be good for this quantity leaving you with some soup and some thickness to the finished dish. The temperature has dropped here, and we´ve lit the fire, so we´re going with some Fideos today for a more filling meal.

If you want to make a paella (although the courgette is not very traditional, but hey, it´s your dish, you can do what you like with it), add the rice before the fish and cook for about 20 minutes.  A mug and half would be good – you want it drier than the soup, but keep an eye on it and add a little boiling water if it looks like it might dry out before the rice is cooked.  Add the seafood, stir, lower the heat and cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Turn the heat off and then leave to “rest” for about 5 minutes.

Action Photo!

Serve in large, deep bowls with plenty of fresh lemon to squeeze over and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.  Crusty bread and a salad are all that you need to go with this.  Delicious.  The Mediterranean in a bowl.