Friday, November 20, 2009

I got my eye on you

I walked into the Notso Eroski supermarket and saw the above fish looking at me from the ice slab. I had to buy it. I had never seen one before and if clearness of eye is a sign of freshness, then this brother was still alive.

It is very similar to Rotxa (aka rascasse, scorpion fish) but is easily distinguised by two simple differences – its head is elongated and it costs half the price. And that it is called capracho also helps I suppose.

I cooked it exactly as rotxa but the flesh turned out not to have the meatiness of its snubnosed counterpart so it took half the time. Whilst it was perfectly fine, it just didn’t have the fullness that rotxa has. I guess it is the same with many fish – they command the price and reputation they do because they deserve it. These are the real VIPs (Very Important Pescados) unlike the scum that washes to the top of Ibiza’s bip lists.

I left the UK before the eating of pollack over cod became an issue. Again, whilst I am sure pollack is perfectly nice (I have yet to try it) I am certain it has nothing on cod. Its all in the flesh I guess. Slip sole aint got nothing on dover sole, pollock aint got nothing on cod (I bet) and capracho aint got nothing on rotxa.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Scrambled eggs

The secret to scrambled eggs is butter and then more butter. Just when you think you have put in rather too much butter, put in a little more. If you want to live a reasonably long life don not eat scrambled eggs too often or it will kill you. Some people add milk – VERBOTEN. Totally and utterly verboten. Do that and no one will love you, you will be cast out. Cream is admissable, just, but nothing really does the job like butter.

Start by cutting nobs of butter into the egg mix and then whisk it with a fork. Melt yet more butter, and some thyme if you feel like it, into a pan. Pour in the mix and turn up the heat to medium. Now you have to keep stirring and stirring as the butter melts. After a minute or two the eggs will start to cook and stick to the spoon. The butter will melt into the mixture and help give the eggs the correct creamy texture as they cook.

Draw the spoon across the bottom of and sides of the pan folding ribbons of cooked egg back into the mix. Keep cooking and stirring and scraping until you get the texture you like – which should be soft. . If you don’t like soft eggs, you should. In the same way that if you dont like your steak rare, you should. If you don’t, you must teach yourself to like it. You will be happier for it.

An interesting aside – scrambled eggs were invented during the Battle of Britain. Michael Caine is making eggs in the mess hall. He is about to make an Ipcress Omelette when the order to scramble come down the lines. He realises he must hurry now and quickly ‘scrambles’ his eggs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rossejat de Fideus

It is 11 november and I went swimming today. I jumped into a crystal clear sea that was more like a lake than a sea so flat it was. But I didn’t go to the beach to swim, that was a by-product. I went to the beach cos I had discovered a b.log that I liked. I liked a lot. Discovering a good b.log doesn’t generally mean that I have to rush to the sea but in this case the weather was so good, the recipe looked perfect and I had all the ingredients, so off to the beach I went to make Rossejat de Fideus – a catalan toasted noodle dish. A dish I have heard about, read about, but never eaten.

To my delight I discover that the blog is catalan based, the photography is good and most imortantly – the recipe I first came across is Allioli EXACTLY as I make it. So it had to be good. That sounds big headed cos it is, but I can be forgiven cos the stuff that I see being passed off as allioli is so shit that it beggars belief.

My first experience of allioli in Ibiza was through the ‘chef’ at Sol d’en Serra years ago when I first arrived. That place is now as far removed from what it was then as the allioli she showed me how to make is from real allioli. If someone was to have asked me what I thought was in the pot she put on the table in front of me I would have said without hesitation – Dulux White Emulsion. “Mais madame, qu’est que c’est this shit you put in front of me?” I asked her how on earth she made it and she took me into the kitchen. She put two cloves of peeled garlic, a pinch of salt and ¼ a litre of milk. (YES MILK!!!!!!!!!!!! GODDAMIT MILK), into a whizzer jug and then started pouring VEGETABLE OIL, I SWEAR, VEGETABLE OIL in to make the emulsion. The result? Dulux.

I have almost certainly written about this fiasco before but it pisses me off so much that every time I think about it I start flipping out. Going to a restaurant with yours truly on this island is a depressing thing cos I am invariably in a foul mood before I have even ordered – “ah look, here come some paying customers. Lets piss them of by serving them this travesty.” I go on and on about is cos it is fundamental.

Enough. Sorry. But I mean really….ok ok.

Anyway this b.log does it right. I start to look at other recipes and come across this Arrosejat and think “aha, so that’s how you make it.” I gather the ingredients and the photographer and take off for my favourite beach.

The beach is deserted. We get butt nekkid, set up and start cooking.

300g No2 Fideus – El Gallo brand, this is spanish pasta like broken spaghetti
800 ml fish stock (this is double the volume of the fideus)
4 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
2 medium tomatoes chopped
1 chilli
a nice amount of chopped parsley
A goodly amount of olive oil

Firstly and weirdly, toast the fideus in plenty of olive oil. They will become translucent and go reddish brown. Add the garlic, tomato and parsley and fry till the tomato softens. I say weirdly before cos I would ordinarily make the sofrito first then add the fideus. Add the boiling stock and cook as quickly as possible. Once the liquid has been absorbed keep on cooking it until the pan is making the most enticing crackling sound and you are convinced that if you leave it one second longer it will burn. What you are trying to achieve is soccarat. Soccarat again? What is this goddam soccarat? Hmmm. Socarrat like a little bit of crispy heaven. Yeah.

Take it off the heat and let it rest for five minutes whilst you make the allioli. Properly.

This was good but I gonna try it different next time. Next time gonna make the sofrito primero.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

San Martin continued…….blackout

I am appalled to say that all the rest of the day is a bit of a blur. What I can remember is a lot of sausage making.

Sausage making is odd. The sausage machine is like an enormous syringe. The meat goes into a long cylinder and is then pushed into a long nozzle. The intestine’s length has been rolled onto the nozzle and as the meat is pushed through the nozzle it goes directly into the sausage skin. So far all well and good BUT getting the skin onto the nozzle is like putting on an very lengthy condom. That is still fairly ok but when the plunger forces the meat through the nozzle and into the skin you have to help feed it with your hand and THAT feels like you are helping someone take a crap into a 12ft condom.

In Ibiza 12 inch lengths of intestine are cut and fed onto the nozzle and each one is filled and then tied individually. To my mind it is an excruciatingly painstaking method. If they were to sit down and ponder the most time consuming method of sausage stuffing, then this is what they would have come up with. But that is my northern European hurry-hurry-hurrry-lets-have-sandwiches-for-lunch-instead-of-sitting-down-and-breaking-bread-with-our-companions-and-drinking-some-wine-whilst-we-are-at-it mentality and I realise as I think of how it could be done quicker that it aint about doing it quicker. Its about sharing time together, doing something together.

As I think of this I take yet another long messy gurgle from the porron and pass out on the floor.

I am awoken later to find the job complete – 20 kilos of black pudding and 160 foot long sobrasadas and everyone sitting down to eat the Arroz de Matanzas. It is now dark, especially inside my head.

Monday, November 9, 2009

San Martin continued.…Blowing and Shaving with the Russian Mafia

So here is this dead pig. What next? One of the guys ambles up with a butane bottle and a blow torch. Another comes up with two very old rusty knives. I go get mine and they tell me no, it cant be a sharp blade or it with cut through the skin. The guy lights the blow torch and starts to scorch the hair off the pig. This is frightful. The skin bubbles and bursts and the smell aint pleasant. We get to work scraping all the hair off the pig. The hair seems to only be part of a top layer and left underneath is the skin we are all familiar with. The skin that becomes crackling. This preliminary scraping gets rid of most of the hair but a more thorough cleansing is necessary. A hose is turned on and we are all handed pumice stones with which we scour the skin. It takes off any final hairs and leaves our departed friend smooth.

One of the guys is in charge of the ears and the hoofs. The ears are doused with water and fairly liquid and then wiped and brushed clean. The hoofs are more gruesome. The big black cloven hoof is yanked off revealing a second pinkish hoof beneath. The removed black outer hoofs look like some kind of weird discarded lids lying in the mud. There is something scary about this bit.

The pig is now ready for butchering. We lift the pig onto another table (the third – I am not sure why we keep changing tables) and carry it into the shed where she will be cut up; her bones, flesh, fat and innards all being consigned to one use or another. The first process is the removal of its trotters. I cant help but think of the Russian mafia. Bizarrely this is followed by another their trademark calling cards – the removal of the face. The legs are tucked under its body and it is pushed into an upright prone position a la sphinx. Jesus then cuts the creatures face away in one piece. Very, very full on.

We now set about cutting away its back fat. This is done by sending a knife down to its spine and then along the entire length of its backbone finishing on either side of its tail. The pig, well known for having a lot of fat, does not dispel the notion. Including the skin, the fat is 3 inches deep. When removed we have two pieces about 4 foot long and 1 foot wide.

Next the legs and shoulders are loosened and pushed flat against the table. So far this is going completely opposite to how I expected it to go. The animals intestines are still inside and it is lying down on all fours. I expected it to be hanging and the intestines the first thing to be removed. I also expected boning knives to be used. Not one is present. Jesus comes forward with his tools – a mallet and a hatchet. He places the hatchet on the rib furthest down its back and with one deft blow, chops through it. He does this all up one side and then repeats it with the other side. This now leaves the entire spine separate from the carcasse except for its tail. He very carefully cuts between the anus and the tail and the spine comes away. It is removed and salted to be later served as boiled bones with cabbage. This is what will happen with all the bones.

Jesus carries on with the butchery. It appears to be all him. I am told that the matador, ie the killer, ie Jesus, is in charge of the kill, the butchery, the seasoning of the sobrasada and black pudding and the cooking of lunch and dinner. He is most veritably The Man.

The ribs are pulled open revealing the liver and a hell of a lot of fat. The liver is removed and placed on the table where all the innards will go. The innards and anything that has blood or has come into contact with blood, will all go into black pudding or either of the 2 meals that will be cooked that day – the Frito de Matanzas and the Arroz de Matanza. The Frito is a fry up with potatoes and the Arroz is a stew with rice.

Jesus is a very skilled man and he knows his way around the inside of a pig. He pinpoints exactly the various pieces to be removed, all invisible under a mass of still warm and wobbling fat. He makes a little nick in what looks to me like nothing but blubber and out pops a kidney. He does this again and again.

Eventually everything has been removed except for the bowels and intestines. This he removes, deftly again and gives them to me in a bowl. “Where?” I look. “To the women” he replies. With a smile.

I go out of the shed and walk over to the 3 old women who are washing intestines from another pig (the ibicencos make SO MUCH sobrasada that more that one pig’s miles of intestines is required). There is a blackened, steaming cauldron for cooking the black pudding (morcilla) near them and they are all elbow deep in intestines. Macbeth, I think. I give them the bucket and retreat.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

San Martin continued…..The Knife

8 am and it is already warm. It shouldnt really be so warm but today is the day and that is that. We will just have to work quickly. I arrive and am greeted warmly by some and with open mistrust by others. “What the hell is he doing here? And why the hell has he got a camera?” They got a point but hey….

The shed has been cleared and the preparation tables set out. I was wrong about the chocolate and bunuelos coming as the blood drained. They are first. Nobody does nothing till they full of chocolate and aniseed doughnuts. There is wine circulating but to my surprise it is taken up only moderately. There is a subdued feel to everything perhaps because of what is about to take place. Perhaps, but I doubt it.

We finish our stuff and go out. Jesus, the main man, has got his crook/garrotte to put over the pigs head so he can be pulled. The thing is a stainless steel tube with a handle at one end and a heavy wire snare at the other. Another of the guys takes a grapple. They go round to the pen accompanied by the farmer and his wife. Next thing I know they are coming back round the corner pushing and dragging an enormous and screaming pig. “Quick, hide” says Toni, my friend who invited me and son of the farmer. Everybody retreats into the shed. “It makes him nervous if he sees lots of people.” So everyone is in the shed but we’re all peering round the corner to get a glimpse. I don’t reckon that 14 people stealing glimses calms the pig down in any way. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if it made it worse. You could hear the other one flipping out in the pen round the corner. It too knew exactly what was going on. Both are fully aware that San Martin is in the house. Toni reads my thoughts and says that the pig that is left alive is so traumatised that it wont eat for days. I cant help thinking that perhaps it might have been nicer to send Survivor Pig on a little holiday that day.

Anyway. I can confirm that pigs scream loudly as they are about to die. I don’t think they sound in anyway human but maybe it was just me that made that bit up anyway.

Animal husbandry by its nature has its brutal moments and seeing the pig dragged to its slaughter table is one of them. The guy with the grapple stepped forward and shoved the hook through the pig’s nose increasing its discomfort and distress. He then started pulling with all his might.

Now there was all commotion with the men getting the pig first alongside its death bed and then onto it. To do this the table is lifted up sideways, the pig brought alongside then pushed and pulled onto the table. The table is then righted again. The pig is then tied down, screaming all the while. It is loud and not madly pleasant.

Jesus offers me the knife to kill it but not knowing really how to do it effectively nor wanting to step on anyones tows, I decline. He smiles. If it was right, I would do it. I am a believer in ‘if you gonna eat it, you gotta be able to kill it.’

Jesus slaps the pig’s neck a few times to be sure of his mark and inserts the knife into its neck. He does not slice, cut nor go from ear to ear. He simply sticks the knife into its jugular at a 45º angle and then removes it leaving a neat 3 inch wound. The blood starts to gush forth into the wide plastic washing tubs the women are sticking under the crimson spurt. Crimson? No, burgundy more like. The women immediately start stirring and squeezing the blood in the bucket. There appears to be some sort of fibrous stuff in their hands. I ask what this is and am told it is the nerves within the blood. I had no idea that one could squeeze blood and get fibres out of it. Maybe I just misheard.

The pig is now dead, its huge head hanging off the edge of the table, its huge tongue hanging out of its mouth. These days I can go for weeks, months without anything happening but now as I am stand looking at the dead pig I am in no doubt that something has just happened. Something I have been the benefactor of many times but never witnessed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Smoking Dutch

Edam is the perfect smoking cheese because it is so bland that it takes on the smoke completely.

My father used to smoke edam when I was young. I have very fond memories of it and now I have smoked some myself. It took me straight back to the hotel where I grew up: The Kings Head, circa 1977 - punk, jubilee, the Yorkishire Ripper.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Todos Los Cerdos Tienen Su San Martin

Transliterated it means all pigs have their San Martin. Translated it means that your misdeeds will be revisited on you and it refers to pig slaughter.

In Spain San Martin is traditionally the day the family pig is slaughtered, butchered and turned into hams and other forms of charcuterie. Falling on 11 November it marks the coming of winter and the need to hoard. An Ibicenco told me that when he was growing up (Franco era), it was also the only day of the year when you KNEW you were gonna get enough to eat.

In 2 days time I am going to a Matanza – a Pig Killing. I made a preliminary visit to the farmer this week and there was a lot of winking and nudging going on. He was getting visibly excited at the prospect of a day’s sausage making and more importantly, I get the impression, drinking and eating. He introduced me to the pig. Man, that pig is big. 180 kilos.

The actual killing is to take place at 8am on Saturday morning followed by chocolate and buñuelos (aniseed doughnuts) whilst the blood drains. Then it is a day of butchery and sausage making with unending porrones* of local wine and culminating in a massive Arroz de Matanzas – huge rice dish using some of the best cuts from the departed beast.

A friend of mine used to have nightmares cos of all the screaming of pigs she would hear at this time of year. Apparently their screams are chilling. Once again the comparison between pigs and humans is drawn. Lindsey Anderson got it so right

So anyway, 8am sharp Saturday. With camara and knife.

*A porron is that mad glass jug with a pointy spout that the spanish drink out of. They take great pride pulling it further and further away from their lips without spilling a drop. I am useless at this so will enjoy being the laughing stock again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I’ve started smoking again

And what a joy it is, though it has been trickier than before. Having only used Sabina (very hardwood coniferous, something to do with Juniper) up to this point I have had no problems with keeping the sawdust alight as it has such high oil content. But I have kind of given up on trying to find sabina dust as the wood yards keeps telling me they never have a pure supply, that it is always cut with pine or other unsuitable woods. Annoying, when they had sold me stuff before, but there you go.

So I had to find a supply of hardwood chipping/sawdust unmixed with any resinous woods. A carpinter friend of mine (not Jesus) made a deal with me. If he supplied me with the right stuff I would supply him with my finished product. Wicked. I go round to his workshop and there are 6 big black bin bags bulging bonza bonus beech. Nice.

I take the bags home and excitedly drag the smoker out of the bushes and set it up. I get some 400g salmon trout fillets and salt them for 45 mins by rubbing rock salt into them. Then I wash them and dry them. I pour the beech shavings into my paella smoke pan and light it. Goddam it if it don’t just flare up and burn. Entirely hopeless. I soak the salmon fillets an hour, fry them and eat them.

I tell the carpinter. The carpinter tells me he got some oak sawdust so I go over and pick it up. I try again, this time without any fillets or anything, just to see what will happen with the sawdust. I torch it and it smoulders. Excellent. Then it goes out. Crap.

Both the beech and the oak have low oil content so cannot keep themselves alight without help. I know now that if I am gonna have any luck then I am going to have to get some sort of heat under the chippings and this will have to be in a separate chamber to the item to be smoked or it will cook said item. Annoying cos before I just lit the sabina, stuck it in the bottom of the smoker and that was that

I got a 25 litre paint tin, cut a hole in the top and shoved a pipe in the hole feeding it then into the smoker several feet away. The tin fitted exactly over the paella pan. I put a gas ring under the pan and lit it. A minute or two later the the dust began to smoulder. Dig it. I put in a piece of Edam cheese. Smoked Edam c’est bon.

It worked well except it melted the pipe. Next move - chimney flue pipe. I found it easily enough but they only had stuff that was twice the diametre. What the fuck. It’ll be fine. This time I bought 7 pieces of Edam (the first was excellent). I fuelled up and lit it and then, as is my wont on experiements, left the house to do something else. I came back a while later to find a yellow red gooey mess where the cheese had once been. The dust had caught fire the same as the shaving because of the increased air flow.

By this point I was getting irritated but managed to remain cool and not break my tow by kicking the oil drum smoker. I crimped the end of the flue and tried again. This time with one piece of cheese and by remaining close by to see what happened. I smoked it for 2 hours and it worked tip top. Now I just gotta figure out how to slow it down even more so I can smoke overnight leaving it unmanned