The essence of Spanish cuisine
Author: Sergio Fernández, published with permision of www.eumedia.es
The current success that Spanish cuisine and its pantry are experiencing all over the world is based on the fact that the best raw materials have always been selected in order to achieve a quality traditional gastronomy. Cold cuts are one of its cornerstones, inherited from a long tradition in animal slaughtering, with an ample variety, seeing as, depending on its preservation, they can be presented cured, dry and semidry, cooked or cooked and smoked. Dairy products are also important, be them milk (cow, goat, sheep or a mixture, either raw or pasteurised) or cheese, which de pending on its previous composition, it can be creamy, soft, medium or hard.
Though, olive oil is the brightest star, the “chief of the kitchen”. There are many varieties of olives, but perhaps the best known ones are the Picual, Picuda, Cornicabra, Empeltre, Arbequina, Farga, Blanqueta, Manzanilla and Hojiblanca. Olive oil is used in many ways, as a means of cooking, as a nutrient, to preserve the product of the slaughter as well as for confectionary.
Fertile vegetable plantation
Products from the vegetable garden are also excellent, be them fruits (citrus fruits, melons, apples or strawberries...) which may be marketed fresh or transformed (crystallised, in syrup, as marmalades...); vegetables, either fresh ( tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic) or tinned (asparagus, peppers, artichokes); fresh vegetable pods (peas, broad beans, white “pochas” beans) or dried legumes (chick peas, beans, lentils, rice). The seas (the Atlantic, Cantabrian and Mediterranean) provide a generous variety of fish and shellfish. Though the inland also has its substantial treasures, such as lamb, pork, veal, game, poultry and river fish.
As accompaniments, there are wines from the largest vineyard in the world and of a thriving oenology, spread out over the whole country, and which provide whites, rosés, reds, cava, Sherry and sweets, all of which come from high quality grapes. All these ingredients are the
ground of a Mediterranean Diet, which is mainly based on consuming bread, pasta, rice, cereal, potatoes, fruit, dried nuts, beans and legumes, vegetables, olive oil, yogurt, and wine, in moderation, daily; a weekly intake of chicken, fish, sweets and eggs and a monthly consumption of red meat. This is a normal diet in Spain, which should always use seasonal products and aromatic herbs as an alternative to salt.
Historic contributions mixture
Spanish pantry is a result of the contributions of all the peoples who have visited us throughout history. For instance, the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians introduced olive oil, almonds, grapes and boiled food, genesis of the well known “cocido” (a typical stew, based on boiling legumes, meat and vegetables). We owe the Arabs various other fundamental elements, such as rice, sugar, vegetables, fruits like, oranges and exotic spices such as saffron, cummin or
nutmeg. The use of almonds in many dishes and desserts, as well as in pastry and biscuit making is also part of their legacy. Anything short of unimportant, was the American contribution, seeing as the introduction of some of their products ended up becoming the
base of Spanish cuisine, as is the case of the tomatoes, peppers, beans, pumpkins, avocados, corn or chocolate. All these were also, as time went by, exported to the rest of Europe. If we had to delimit the singularities of traditional Spanish cuisine, we could synthesise them into four points:
1. It is based on a seasonal and survival cuisine.
2. It is very varied and different depending on the geographical situation.
3. It feeds on fresh products.
4. The variety of dishes cooked with a base of legumes, vegetables, olive oil and cold cuts is what stands out the most.
Regarding products and areas, the North of Spain is a land of fish, legumes, stews, vegetables and cured meat; in the centre there is an abundance of dried fish, legumes, stews, roasts, game and honey; on the coastlines, fish, shellfish, rice dishes, vegetables, dairy products and dried nuts; and in the South, vegetables, fish, pastries made with olive oil, shellfish, batter-fried fish and “sofrito” (the base of anything cooked in Spain, consisting of chopped onion and garlic,
sometimes tomatoes and peppers, and fried in olive oil at a low flame). To all that one must add the social importance of “tapas”, which has become a way of eating, informal but tasty, varied and colourful, with a great variety of dishes in a smaller format. As a good travelling companions, a good wine or a good beer will suffice. What is known as the “new Spanish cuisine” has emerged on the surface of this diverse culinary culture, whose international success resides in that it has been able to capture the gastronomic interests of a country with excellent raw materials, without ever forgetting the quality traditional cuisine and the good products, reinventing the already invented and bettering the unsurpassable. In most cases, it is a traditional dish which has evolved in presentation but not in raw materials. The new Spanish cooks are trying to optimise the product by means of techniques, without altering it. For that they turn to modern practises, such as the manufacturing of culinary foam, esferificación” (creating little round balls with liquid inside), freezing with nitrogen, or the mixture of different temperatures.