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A guide to Asturian food

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

I compiled this brief account of Asturian cuisine after a two-week trip in August 2007, during which I spent much of my time eating and then recovering from the copious dishes they serve. Necessarily, I'm also including Asturian names as these are most often shown on the menu.

The simplicity and excellence of Asturian food is based on first-rate fresh ingredients from the sea, market garden and pasture, and a cuisine as yet untainted by urbane pretensions. A word of warning, helpings here are huge, so you are advised to under order, or pack plenty of Rennies.

The fabada is the archetypical and almost national Asturian dish, today found throughout Spain . The basis of the stew is a variety of large white beans ( Phaseolus vulgaris ) known as fabes in Asturian and fabas in Spanish, accompanied by pork shoulder (lacón), morcilla, chorizo and saffron. As with other Iberian potages (cocido madrileño, escudella) the pork products are taken out after cooking and served up separately. Variations on the theme include fabes con almejas, fabes with game. Fabes are protected by a denominación de origen and are possibly the most expensive pulses in Spain, with the good stuff going for 15 euros or more a kilo in Asturias in 2007. The fabada possibly originated at the end of the 19 th century as a sophistication of the equally delicious pote, a hearty and wetter stew made with your white beans, cabbage, other vegetables and the usual pork fauna.

Seafood and fish are excellent. I particularly enjoyed the hake in cider sauce (merluza a la cidra), and tuna stew. Sardines (parrotaxas in Asturian and anchovies (bocartes Asturian; boquerón Spanish) are everywhere and usually very good. Highly recommended though I didn't try them are caldereta (fish stew), scorpionfish ( tiñosu Asturian - cabracho - Spanish) and monkish (pixín Asturian; rape Spanish).

Meat Beef is unsurprisingly superb and protected by a denominación de origin. I also had a wonderfully tender cabrito (kid-goat) dish, and some delicious wild boar. Free range chicken (pitu de calella) and eggs are widely available.

Tapas/raciones/dishes. As noted above these come in very generous portions. Typical Spanish dishes are remarkably absent. I saw one bravas and no tortilla de patatas in the two weeks I was there. Incidentally, Asturians also do a famous sea urchin omelette which I unfortunately did not chance upon.

  • Patatas con cabrales.
  • Tortu: Maiz cake with a variety of fillings minced meat (picadillo) tuna, cheese and more.
  • Cebollas rellenas con atún. Onions stuffed with tuna.
  • Beef cutlets in a cabrales sauce
  • Chrorizo a la cidra, a classic Asturian dish present throughout Spain , though in my opinion overrated.

Desserts Tarta de queso - wonderful, home-made and varied. Try it and try it again Asturian rice pudding (arroz con leche) is also well worth trying.

Cider is your traditional drink in Asturias with an almost nationalistic culture growing its ritual pouring. This is a very dry cider, and unlike French or English natural ciders, uses predominantly acidic apples, rather than sweet or bittersweet ones, resulting in a low alcohol content of 3º to 5º. The best places to drink cider are the sidrerias (they are also great places to eat) . Here the cider is served by an escanciador, usually a man, a waiter expert in pouring the drink. He moves from table to table pouring a small amount at a time (known as a culín ), The escanciador raises the bottle above his head and expertly pours a thin stream of cider into a slanted glass, usually though not always, not splashing the punter. According to Asturian etiquette, this must be drunk immediately by the drinker before the cider loses its carbonation. Anything you do not drink is thrown into a wooden bucket placed on the woodchip-strewn floor. The glass is then passed back to the pourer who pours out another culín, and passes it to another drinker. As such it serves a social function of sharing. If you want to hold onto you glass and drink you cider in sips you are advised to order your own bottle as hogging in seriously frowned upon.

Asturias is justly famous, in Spain at least, for its cheeses, many of which are almost only available in the small area where they are made, usually with traditional, artisan methods in small family farms. Others such as casin, cabrales and a fuega´l pitu are more widely found. There are claims that Asturias has the widest range of cheeses in the world per square kilometre.

Most widely known is cabrales, simply one of the world' great smelly cheeses, but don't be fooled by the commonly held perception in the rest of Spain that the smellier and fouler the Cabrales the better. Here like good Roquefort or Stilton, its strength is in it mildness. It is used extensively in cooking as a sauce for potatoes, breaded cutlets and steak. Cabrales is made from blended cow's, goat's and sheep's milk - in winter cow's milk, and left to mature for six months in natural limestone caverns. The use of worms in the production of cabrales to improve the taste is a modern myth.

Cheeses from Asturias

Cow's milk cheese

  • Cheese from El Carballo: Taramundi. Without or without walnuts.
  • Cheese from Oscos: Grandas de Salime.
  • Cheese from Abredo: Coaña.
  • Cheese from Xenestoso: Cangas del Narcea. Very small production
  • Cheese from the Valle del Narcea: Salas.
  • Cheese from Fuente: Proaza. Very small production
  • Afuega'l pitu: Spicy cheeses from Grado, Morcín y Riosa.
  • Cheese from La Peral: Illas.
  • Queso Varé ecológico: Siero. Protected ecological cheese.
  • Queso Ovín: Nava. Cow, goat or sheep.
  • Queso Casín: Caso y Sobrescobio. Strong and acidic.
  • Cheese from Los Beyos: Ponga y Amieva. Es candidato a obtener la Denominación de Origen.
  • Cheese from Caxigón: Cabrales.
  • Cheese from Canal de Ciercos: Peñamellera Baja..
  • Queso Monje: Peñamellera Baja. Variedad normal y picante (Queso Monje Picón).
  • Queso Cueva de Llonín: Peñamellera Alta.
  • Cheese from Miranda: El alto de La Miranda
  • Cheese from Los Carriles
  • Cheese from Injestu
  • Cheese from Piedra

Goat's cheese

  • Queso Varé: Siero.
  • Queso Ovín: Nava.
  • Cheese from La Peña: San Martín del Rey Aurelio.
  • Cheese from Collada: Amieva.
  • Queso Cuevas del Mar: Llanes.
  • Cheese from Peña Tú: Llanes.
  • Cheese from Porrúa: Llanes.
  • Cheese from La Chivita: Peñamellera Baja.
  • Cheese from El Boxu:

Sheep's cheese

  • Cheese from Jalón: Cangas del Narcea.
  • Queso Ovín. Nava.
  • Cheese from Collada: Amieva.
  • Queso Oveyeru: Amieva.
  • Cheese from Porrúa: Llanes.

Blends of milk. Unlike elsewhere in Spain , many of the best cheeses in Asturias are blends

  • Cheese from Madelva: Piloña. Cow and sheep.
  • Cheese from Gamonedo: Cangas de Onís Cheese from cow, sheep and goat. Wikipedia claims it to be the most expensive cheeses in the world (Denominación de Origen). See here

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice



A guide to food in Spain



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