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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cocido Madrileño

I have now made it all around the weather dial in this particular corner of the Mediterranean and I know what lies before me in the coming months. I can still ride my bike in shorts and short sleeves during the warmest part of the sunny afternoons, but a jacket is now required in the late afternoon and evening dress codes. My new apartment has heat, unlike last year’s model, although I haven’t needed to turn it on just yet. I do close the windows when the afternoon sun slips around the side of my building. The sun only seems to inhabit a few streets in the south-by-southwest corner of the city. It drops below the buildings somewhere more south than west this time of year and avoids you like someone who owes you money. Each day it leaves work earlier and earlier and wakes up less vigorously. Winter is coming it would seem, although we don’t really get much of one here in Valencia.

The Spanish, who are so quick to undress almost completely during the hot summer months, will just as quickly resort to their winter wardrobes at the first hint of cooler temperatures. While foreign tourists are still at the beaches trying to milk a few more days of tanning, the locals are bundled up in heavy parkas and complaining about the cold. I don’t want to be the one to tell them that the winters here shouldn’t even qualify as winters. They are more like a six week chilly period between fall and spring, more just dates on the calendar than a meteorological event. I pity any Valencianos who are forced to endure a real winter somewhere.

Along with the change in clothing there is also a marked contrast in what people cook during the winter months. Grilling and cool salads are replaced with baked goods and pots requiring several hours on top on the stove. Longer cooking times also seem a lot more appropriate during the colder months. The processes of cooking are as important as the end product when people are trying to keep warm.

Cocido Madrileño is a hearty meat stew with vegetables and garbanzo beans that, while generally attributed to the capital city, is a traditional winter dish throughout Spain. Like almost every other dish here, you will find as many different recipes for it as there are people cooking it. A few things about this dish seem to be standard: the meats and the garbanzos. Everything else is up to personal interpretation. The meat part of the dish includes pork bones, a boiling hen, bacon, chorizo, and morcilla (blood sausage). I can’t believe that I have yet to make a foray into this traditional dish from Madrid since I am such a fan of beans and stews. I think that I have shied away from it because I have had so many conflicting opinions on just how I should go about putting this dish together.

It’s not only the recipes that vary but also just how to go about eating the dish once you have finished cooking. Some versions call for the broth to be set aside and mixed with pasta noodles. Some people cook the vegetables (cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery) separately along with the chorizo so that they don’t have the life cooked out of them in the stew pot. This will reduce the flavor of the broth so maybe you should add vegetables to both pots. Instead of avoiding this dish because of all of the varying recipes, I will just try to adapt as many different ideas as I can into forging my own variation. It’s not like you can go very wrong with a dish of garbanzos, a couple kilos of various types of meat, and vegetables.

The easiest thing to do, especially for the beginners, is to buy the pre-packaged meat and vegetables called Arreglo de Cocido. The meat package comes with a bit of pork rib, bone, pork tenderloin on the bone, beef, bacon, and chicken. The vegetables come with celery, carrots, beets, leeks, and something called chirivia which I can’t identify or find in a dictionary. I have decided to go for the easy method and just throw all of this into a pot with the garbanzos that I have pre-soaked. The only other ingredient I have added was water, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

The garbanzo beans take forever to cook, even after I pre-boiled and soaked them. After almost two hours of simmering I added some peeled pieces of potato to the pot and seasoned it with saffron.

I don’t even know what cocido is supposed to taste like since I have never had it before. It is something that you won’t find in most restaurants here; I have never seen it on a menu. It is one of those traditional dishes that are made almost exclusively at home. It isn’t a particularly sophisticated dish but I’m sure there are a lot of subtleties that have escaped me on this first attempt.

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