Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year From Spain

Earlier this week I noticed a huge placement of fresh table grapes in the produce section of the local Mercadona (grocery store chain in Spain). I commented to Shirlee that it amazed me that at this time of year Spain had fresh table grapes. They were not cheap at €2.50 per kilo ($1.63 USD per pound). Shirlee pointed out that they may be greenhouse grapes. We've seen massive acreage covered in greenhouses in southern Spain in our past travels and I concurred. Then we went on shopping ignoring the expensive grapes.

Then I found out that in Spain the New Years tradition is to eat 12 grapes. One grape for each month to bring good luck and prosperity. Don't know why, but what the heck I like grapes. So I put the 12 grapes in my New Years traditional glass of sparkling wine. In this case a Spanish Cava. Happy New Year!

Fideuá con Mariscos y Pescados

Fideuá is the pasta version of paella from Valencia on the Mediterranean coast. For my research about this dish I talked with Julia, the Assistant Marina Manager. I asked her about the difference in the way that Italians and Spanish cook pasta. I said, "From what I've read the Italians cook pasta al dente." Julia replied, "Yes, yes, al dente." I continued, "The Spanish..."; she immediately cut me off. "The Spanish over cook it. I like al dente," she said. "Fair enough," I said.

Fideuá is a special pasta that is kind of like macaroni, but it's not. Yes, it's short, bent, and hollow. However, it's longer than macaroni when cooked, bent like a J and not a U, and the hollow part is the width of a hair, making it nearly solid.


  • 120g/4oz Pasta
  • 500ml/16oz Fish Stock
  • pinch of Saffron
  • 60 ml/2oz Olive Oil
  • 1 Garlic (minced)
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 small Red Bell Pepper (Roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips)
  • 350g/12oz Clams (Manila or Little Neck)
  • 120g/4oz Shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • 120g/4oz Monk Fish (cross cut bone in)
  • 120g/4oz Squid (cleaned cut into rings & keep the tentacles)
  • 2 lemon wedges

How To Put It Together

1. Start with the big ugly fish. Skin and fillet, or have your fish monger do it. You must keep the head, skin, and the bones for the stock.

Monk fish with 8" (20 cm) chefs knife

Monk fish meat

2. Then do the prep on the remainder of the seafood. Retain shrimp shells and heads for stock.
3. Make the fish stock per your favorite method.
4. Roast a red bell pepper at 375º F (190º C) for 30 minutes. Seed, peel, and slice.

Mise en place (left to right)
Front Row: Shrimp, fish, and squid
Middle Row: Clams, olive oil, and red pepper with minced garlic
Back Row: Stock with saffron, and pasta

At this point your prep is done. You can take the night off order a pizza, watch a movie, and complete the dish tomorrow. Or you can continue on.

5. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.

6. Add the pasta and saute for 3 minutes or until golden.

7. Remove the pasta, but retain the oil.

8. Add the garlic and red pepper to the hot oil. Saute for one minute.

9. Add the shrimp, fish, and squid rings to the peppers and garlic. Saute until the shrimp are pink.

10. Add stock, saffron and salt. Give it a good stir.

11. Add the pasta and clams. Give it a good stir.

12. At this point you can place the pan in a 450º f (230º c) oven or keep it on the stove and reduce to a simmer and put a lid on the pan.

13. Cook for 10 minutes and serve with lemon wedges.

  • Shirlee - Liked It

  • John - Liked It

  • Do Again - Yes, with modifications

  • Leftovers - None

What I'll Do Next Time

Looking at the geography and history of a region will tell you a lot about a recipe. For me this dish says that seafood is king, cooking fuel is expensive, and cooking utensils are few. So what you get is this big blend of ingredients in a single pot with saffron acting as the soothing blanket of aroma and color. The single ingredients are not allowed to be expressed at their peak. To me the seafood was over cooked, and that can not be avoided to get the pasta done and flavored in a single pot.

I will do this again, but with the following changes:

  1. Cook the pasta separately in stock and saffron until al dente.

  2. Steam the clams and mussels in a separate pot.

  3. Saute the shrimp, fish, and squid in olive oil and garlic until the shrimp are pink.

  4. Drain the pasta reserving the stock.

  5. Combine the pasta, steamed shellfish and sauteed seafood. Add hot stock as needed to lightly sauce.

  6. Then serve. Seafood and pasta will be done to perfection

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My First Spanish Dish - Cured Olives

Three old olive trees grow near the Calle Gisbert gate near the marina and they are bearing fruit.

I picked 1.3 kilos (2.9 pounds) and cured them aboard Solstice.

To cure the olives I did the following steps:
  1. Wash the olives in fresh water.
  2. Slice each olive vertically without cutting into the pit.
  3. Prepare a 10% brine of 4 liters of cold water and 400 grams of non-iodized salt.
  4. Soaked the olives in the brine - with a 10% brine the olives will float to the top. I placed another tub with a weight on top to keep the olives submerged.
  5. Shake the brine tub daily.
  6. Change the brine once a week and begin testing at the end of week three.
As the olives cured the olives lightened in color and became purplish color. At three weeks we tasted a sampling of olives. We discovered that the darker olives tasted less bitter. The greener olives were very bitter.

At the conclusion of week four we repeated the taste test. The dark olives were ready. I rinsed them thoroughly in cold fresh water and now they are stored in white wine vinegar with olive oil.

They taste great, but the skins are tough and the flesh is softer than I prefer. I'll continue to age them and see what changes time will bring.

The greener olives are still in the brine in week six. It may take another six to mellow these out.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yummy Spanish Goodness

Wintering on our 12.5 meter sailboat, Solstice, in Cartagena, Spain, has some great advantages. The weather is mostly dry and mild, the people are friendly, and I get to do the deep dive into a distinctive cuisine. We will be here through April 2010. This provides a great opportunity to not only learn about Spanish cuisine, but how to cook it. All those hard to find Spanish ingredients are mostly within reach. So it's time to find my inner Spaniard and create Spanish dishes that here in Spain they call comida (food).

The numero uno difficulty is that I don't speak Spanish well. I do what Shirlee calls “Tarzan Spanish”—lots of nouns and pointing with too few verbs. So shopping face-to-face with vendors at a mercado can become challenging, but I manage to get what I want and they get money. I don't have a blender or a food processor. To compensate I have a food mill, strainers, and mortar and pestle. My oven only heats to 375º F (190° C), so high heat is only achieved under the broiler with a fixed clearance of 3 inches (7.6 cm). Space is an issue with any cruising sailboat. The galley is 4' x 7' (28 sq. ft. / 9 sq. meters); this includes the counters, refrigerator, stove, and sink. This gives me 2' 6” x 2' 9” (76 cm x 85 cm) to move around in.

My cookbooks are Menú del Día by Rohan Daft and The Cuisines of Spain by Teresa Barrenechea. These books are my Rosette Stone for translating the Spanish names for ingredients. The markets are within walking distance, and there is the customary mercado called Santa Florentina with many meat, seafood, vegetable, and cured olive vendors. The galley is properly equipped for small-scale, hand-crafted dishes. I have a wife who has a sense of adventure and enjoys my cooking. In summary, I have a wonderful wife, Spanish markets, a small kitchen, two cookbooks, and a will to succeed.

Back Story:
This is our 3rd winter staying in a single location waiting for winter to fade. Our first winter solstice was 2006 in Olympia, WA, while Shirlee was recovering from a hip replacement. We mostly stayed with Shirlee's mom in Portland, and I would visit the boat every other week to check on things. We stayed aboard in Olympia in March and April and resumed our travels in May. In Olympia we enjoyed the farmers market within walking distance and did wonderful dishes with the fresh asparagus that comes with spring.

Mexico, Central America, and the Western Caribbean were our next “winter.” Winter 2007 was spent on the move. We transited the Panama Canal from the Pacific and made our way to Florida to begin our Atlantic crossing to Europe. We really miss Mexican food.

The winter of 2008 we stayed at Marina Westerdok, Amsterdam, Netherlands. There we watched the canals freeze around us and snow accumulate on our deck. We struggled to stay warm and learned to appreciate and prepare traditional Dutch dishes. Stamppot with Picallily, smoked eel and mackerel, brauts, beenham, and broodjes all washed down with Grolsch.

Summer 2009 we sailed north to Sweden via the Kiel Canal. Then we sailed south for the winter. Along the way we visited Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, and then into the Mediterranean and Cartagena. Once the winter storms have faded we'll continue cruising and tour the Western Mediterranean. Then it's out into the Atlantic to visit the Azores and Madeira.