IberiaNature A guide to the natural history and food of Spain

Meat, poultry and game in Spain

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

Although beef now forms an essential part of many Spaniards' diet, there was apparently a paucity of recipes in much of Spain for beef until recent times. This is no surprise in a land where summer drought made it very difficult to raise more than a few heads of cattle. During the Middle Ages, pork was consumed by Christians and lamb by Christians, Muslims and Jews, but cows and bulls tended to be working animals used in the fields, and were only slaughtered for food when they were old or sick. It probably wasn't until the 1960's when the Spanish en masse began to eat beef, spurring and spurred on by cheaper, industrially produced meat. See also cows and beef in Spain

Spain is still the lowest per capita consumer of beef in the EU, no doubt in part because of the tradition and quality of pork products and lamb, but also because of the inferiority of some of its beef production: most animals are industrially-raised and fed, and have very little opportunity to develop muscle fibre, being confined to cattle shed their whole lives. One of the first things a visitor notices in much of the Spanish countryside is the lack of farm animals in the fields, though this is certainly not the case in the Cordillera Cantábrica and some other mountainous regions, such as parts of Castile y León, where there is a long tradition of beef consumption. Here, cattle tend to roam free and in more recent years, traditional extensive and sometimes "ecological / organic" cattle raising methods have become much more popular and profitable in the Atlantic-Cantabrian strip, Western Castile and the Basque, Navarran and Catalan Pyrenees.

The best Spanish beef and dairy products are said to come from Galicia , which has a climate and greenery like Ireland 's, and the uplands of the Catalan province of Girona , which is also relatively lush. A number of Denominaciones de Origen have been established for Spanish beef.

Beef is usually termed vedella / ternera [calf / veal]. This can be misleading for English-speakers, as the meat is not the meltingly soft pale pink delight sold in Britain and Ireland under that name and produced by torturing calves, but simply the meat from a young(ish) cow or bull. Veal from a milk calf is called by the same name as the young animal itself, lechal . Bou / B uey refers to ox, meaning a castrated bull; the meat can be quite tender, but is usually regarded as more suitable for stewing. Toro de lídia is fighting bull, killed in the bullring, and considered to be a special treat. It does tend to have great flavour, but is often, not very surprisingly, rather tough.

Beef comes in several forms, and the cuts are quite different from those in Britain , Ireland or the USA . Chuletones are massive slabs of steak, served on the bone and often rather fatty. Entrecotes are smaller, more civilised steaks. Solomillo refers to fillet steak, usually small but delicious. A bífstek is a minute steak, more often than not rather bland. A bifstek ruso is a sort of hamburger. Hamburguesas are more akin to British beef-burgers than proper American hamburgers. Cecina is salt cured beef, not unlike beef jerky. Roast beef is called rósbif , served hot or cold, usually if rather oddly accompanied with purée de patatas [mashed potatoes]. Tragically, Yorkshire puddings and horseradish sauce are unknown in Spain , but steak tartare does exist. Medallones are medallions, usually served with gravy. A good fricandó with rovellons and other seasonal mushrooms is delicious. Spanish beef stews are usually good, but Spain has nothing to compare to superb French dishes such as Boeuf Bourginion or Chateau Briand .

Unsurprisingly, consumption has fallen even further since the Mad Cow crisis. While Spain is considered as a low risk area for Mad Cow's disease, there is some cause for concern. Cases increased from 118 in 2002 to 145 in 2003. There is as yet no recorded case of human CJD in Spain . New EU laws to prevent new outbreaks of BSE mean that dead livestock can no longer be left abandoned in the countryside. This appears to have led to increased attacks by Spanish wolves on livestock, which has increased tensions in some areas.

Xai / cordero / lamb is usually pretty good, beaten in my experience only by Irish lamb. I once demanded carnero [mutton] in order to make a proper Irish stew, and got very funny looks in the market. I don't think people here worry too much about the age of the ovella / oveja / sheep, but I have to admit that the "lamb" Is almost always small and usually tender.

A delicious alternative to lamb is agnell / cabrito / kid, the meat and bones usually so tiny that they could only be from a very young animal. I have never seen adult / cabra / goat meat advertised.

Asking for carnero / mutton (e.g. for a proper Irish Stew) in the market is a guaranteed way to get strange looks.

Certain types of wild mountain sheep and goat are hunted and served as exotic game dishes.

Game is very popular, especially porc senglar / jábali / wild boar and cervell / ciervo / venison. The best way to eat these is in a civet, a type of stew with blood.




See also

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

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



Francis Barrett's Deconstruction of Catalan and Spanish Food

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice


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