One of the selection of dishes, that go by names such as cocidos, guisos, estofados, caldos, etc, that could suffer being counted among ‘tapas’ is Madrid’s signature dish. It’s not paella, it’s not a cold tomato soup, nor is it cured pig meat. Rather it is part of a family of Spanish dishes which is close to my heart, and the more I eat them, worryingly so: platos de cuchara – spoon dishes.
Almost every country has these and they almost always have the best names: Irish stew, Lancashire hotpot, bouillabaisse, booyah, charquicán, goulash, khoresh, pichelsteiner, sancocho, dinuguan. There’s no end. Ingredients + liquid + time = stew.
Spain is a country made up of seventeen regions called autonomous communities; two of which are the island clusters of the Balearics and Canaries. Within the mainland’s fifteen, there are a dazzling array of stews that can be distilled into a few categories. The cocidos are more broth-based, verging on chunky soup. Madrid, a small community, doesn’t have a wealth of unique dishes but it can boast the bulkiest and most ferocious of the cocido family: the legendary cocido madrileño!
For once on Meet the Tapas we are not turning to either the Moors or the Spanish Empire for our culinary heritage. It’s now the time of our Jewish history; Sephardic Jews to be precise.
Jews have been in Spain since around the year 1000, but with the signing of the Alhambra Decree by the Reyes Católicos in the 15th, their comfortable residence in the country was brought to an end with executions, deportations, external migrations and conversion. Yet, some of their food lingered.
The Jews arrived and brought with them adafina, a stew of lamb meat cooked with chickpeas slowly during the night on Friday so that they would have food to eat the following day on the Sabbath; because remember, one thing the Lord hates is people working at the weekend.
Later the Catholics and the converted Jews – marranos – retouched it with the country’s more popular quadruped, the pig, and added chunks of pork, chorizos, blood sausage, fat, etc. Products expressly prohibited by the Talmud.
This is without a doubt the heaviest dish in the region and one of the heftiest dining experiences Spain has to offer; yet I have sat eating, dumbfounded, and watched businessmen in suits eat the whole feast before no doubt heading back to ‘work’.
They call it a stew in three vuelcos, pours or turns. Traditionally the broth came first followed by the vegetables and then the meat. Though, almost always the second two are served together. Without this separation of ingredients, as bizarre as it first seemed to me, it cannot be considered madrileño.
Before I even begin to say what’s in this beast, it is worth noting that there is no definitive recipe. Every restaurant, every home, every mother and granny will have their own version. Though yes, they are all a version on a theme. And that theme is garbanzos, chickpeas. Change the legume, you change the theme and your piece of gastronomical music is no longer a symphony but a concerto: similar but different.
With the garbanzos in place then the theme can vary.
The broth of the stew, with all the accompanying flavours infused through the hours of cooking, served over fideos – angel hair noodles – that have often been cooked with chorizo.
The meat. Pork is essential. Tocino goes in – fat or fatty pancetta/bacon; chorizo – that paprika-filled sausage; morcilla – Spanish black pudding; ham bone or hock; even jamón or salted pig foot can go in. Then there’s beef, classically the morcillo cut – shank, but even things like bone marrow or back meat can be used. Chicken leg, always.
The vegetables bring up the rear. You have the aforementioned chickpeas as the star of the dish, but this is an ensemble piece. Cabbage, carrot, potato, guindillas (sweet chillies), spring onions, are all veggies that I’ve seen accompany a cocido. Having said that, the cabbage is often cooked separately, sometimes slowly with garlic. And the guindillas and spring onions are usually an aside and raw, with the potato and the carrot being the ones allowed to boil with the rest. The whole plate is sometimes accompanied with a lovely homemade tomato sauce.
I’m not going to get into the how-to-cook-it debate, as I don’t want to start a fight. Some people boil things separately, some people put it all in one pot (me); some people seal the chickpeas up in a little bag within the stew to protect them, others couldn’t care less.
If you’re confused, do what I do and look to the big eaters at the Club de Amigos del Cocido for help. And if you’re in Madrid mid-February to the end of March why not eat your way around the city during the Ruta del Cocido Madrileño festival.
To give a real-world historical example, and the subject for this post’s photo, I shall use Madrid’s legendary tavern La Bola. Since 1870 the Verdasco family, now run by great-granddaughter Mara, has been cooking cocido madrileño in a puchero; a clay pot – one pot for one person. Into it goes the simplest of things: potato, chorizo, chunk of beef, chicken leg, ham hock, chickpeas and water. Nothing else. Simplicity and tradition giving way to huge smiles, a sleepy head and an afternoon and evening and following morning of passing wind.
Where I eat it:
Madrid – La Bola (Calle de la Bola, 5), Malacatín (Calle Ruda, 5), La Daniela (Calle Cuchilleros, 9), L’Hardy (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 8).
El Escorial – El Charolés (Calle Floridablanca, 24).
Barcelona – Casa de Madrid en Barcelona (Carrer d’Ausiàs, 37).
Cercedilla – Casa Gómez (Calle Emilio Serrano, 32).
Chinchón – Parador de Chinchón (Calle Huertos, 1).
What I drink with it:
A hearty and heavy stew requires a red wine, there’s no doubt there. This is a classic Madrid dish so I propose pairing it with a lovely bottle of Madrid red (Rioja Reserva will do the job similarly). Try a lovely bottle of Senda 2012 from Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín.
What I listen to:
Black Rabbit – Turin Brakes