IberiaNature A guide to the natural history and food of Spain

Pork dishes in Spain

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

Lomo [loin] is the most common cut of pork. Lomo adobado is a cured variety with more flavour. Best enjoyed with a Portuguese tomato and garlic sauce, pisto, sofrito, chamfaina or xanfaina [all variations on French ratatoille ]. The same goes for Costillas, which can refer to either pork chops or spare ribs.

Roast pork is not common in Catalunya Galtas or galtes [pigs' cheeks] are usually cooked in the oven with vegetables, and are surprisingly tasty. . Lechón [roast suckling pig] is a highly recommended Castilian speciality. The crackling is usually superb!

Spaniards have no rivals when it comes to eating the meat of the pig. Every conceivable part of the beast is consumed, from the oreja [ear], which often turns up in Galician stews, to the trotters, amusingly called peus de ministre [minister's feet] in Catalunya. There are many regional dishes involving endless varieties on the theme, although pork pies, sadly, are unknown. While modern production is of course on an industrial scale, pigs on Catalan farms are traditionally slaughtered around 11 th November, the feast day of Sant Marti, whose name is also used for the Indian summer [ Estiuet de Sant Marti } which usually occurs for at least a few days around this time. A festive atmosphere prevails for the matança , as the unfortunate animals are hoisted, squealing frantically and often bloodcurdlingly, to have their throats cut. They bleed their last into buckets which are then snatched away by eager cooks for any number of secret recipes, while the meat is cut and classified into constituent parts to be hung, cured, boiled or otherwise treated as appropriate, and its entrails carefully washed and dried. There is a smell of meat and blood and spices as pigfat and paprika are mixed with freshly ground meat, eggs and breadcrumbs, and pagan exhilaration predominates.

Pernil . / Jamón . / Ham & Bacon

For me, jamón [ham] is the jewel in the crown of Spanish cuisine. Madrid has several excellent establishments with names like El Palacio del Jamón or El Museo del Jamón , where eating ham is treated like a sacrament.

Traditional jamón del país is indeed fit for the gods. You can see lots of legs of this type of cured ham hanging, as often as not from any ceiling, in many charcuterias and bar/restaurants all over the country, each with a little inverted cone to collect the drippings. A distinction is made between the quality of the forelegs { paletilla } and the rear legs, which have more fat on them. The most common variety is called jamón serrano , a big leg of which is placed on a stand for cutting behind any decent Spanish bar. Jamón ibérico is considered superior. Jamón de bellota comes from pigs fed with acorns, and has a noticeably less salty taste. The best - and most expensive - jamón of all is called pata negra [black foot], I don't know why. I am not aware of any particularly well known Catalan form of pernil .

Tacos de jamón have got no connection with Mexican tacos , but involve cubes, chunks or slices of one or more types of ham served on a plate or in a bowl. (Note that the word tacos also means swear words or bad language, so be careful how you ask for them!). Tablas are more substantial wooden boards covered with a selection of different sorts of jamón.

Jamón dulce ["sweet" ham], also known as jamón York , is the processed type of ham familiar to most foreigners, and not usually very exciting. It can be enlivened with mustard, but very few Spanish establishments carry anything better than the boring American hotdog variety. Jamón ahumado [smoked ham] is available in supermarkets, but it doesn't seem to be a Spanish tradition.

Jamón cocido [boiled ham] is often served hot with a special, mildly piquant gravy, and accompanied by either boled potatoes or patatas a lo pobre, cookedin a pan in the oven with onions, like Lyonnaise potatoes in Ireland . Served cold, jamón cocido is also known as jamón salado [salted ham]

Jamón canario is similar to good Irish baked ham or bacon, and is normally served hot with boiled potatoes. The name is intriguing, as I have always understood that there were no pigs on the Canary Islands . I suspect it comes from Galicia , and was perhaps once made to send to the ham-starved inhabitants of Tenerife and its neighbours.

Lacon is fatty ham from the inside part of the top rear leg. An Irish friend insists it is belly bacon. Galicians love it served hot with grelos [boiled potatoes] and acelgas [Swiss chard], quite reminiscent of watery overcooked cabbage, just like in Ireland !

Panseta is basically stomach or belly-bacon, and too fatty to really enjoy.

Bacon is another matter. Old-fashioned tocino or cansalada is fine for adding flavour to stews and bean dishes, but looks rather off-puttingly fatty and sometimes even hairy. Modern beicon tend to be a bit insipid, and almost invariably of the streaky variety, with hard inedible nodules in the middle. Supermarkets often sell the Oscar Meyer maple-cured kind. Not a patch on good Irish rashers!

The excellent film Jamón, Jamón , directed by Bigas Luna, featured two jealous lads clubbing each other in neanderthal fashion with legs of ham under the giant testicles of an Osborne toro hoarding.

Jamón de Pato is not really ham at all; it is cured sliced duck. Tasty but rather greasy.

Sausages & Other Pork Derivatives etc. / Embutidos . / Embutits .

Embutidos are sausages and sausage-like pork products, invariably encased in some form of membrane that some people like to eat and others cut off. They vary not only from region to region but even from village to village and farmhouse to farmhouse. Madrid also has Palacios and Museos de Embutidos, but then they even call their GPO el Palacio de Correos . The best embutits in Catalunya are said to be from Vic, a market town in the mountainous zone about 60 km north of Barcelona .

Ordinary Spanish sausages, called salchichas , often served with a thick hot tomato sauce, are rather dull compared to Irish or even English sausages, but they are the only form of embutido of which this complaint can be made.

Salchichón is pink, similar to Italian salami , and is usually eaten cold, although it is also delicious fried. It is particularly nice with bread, in a traditional bocadillo sandwich or otherwise, and features frequently in salads.

The most famous embutidos are the many types of chorizo . This spicy red sausage comes in so many sizes and varieties that an entire mouthwatering book could be written on the subject. Some are served whole; others are sliced either finely or coarsely. Some are best eaten cold, while others are perfect fried or boiled, and yet others are excellent in stews and bean dishes. Some are better than others, but almost all of them are delicious. Chorizo ibérico is very highly regarded. Traditionally, the best chorizo comes from La Rioja, even more famous for its wines. Dishes a la riojana invariably contain chorizo . My Argentinean flatmate Esteban likes cooking chorizos criollos , a spicy South American variety. Chorizo is also the name given to petty thieves, pickpockets and bag-snatchers.

There are several other red embutidos , and I'm not at all clear on the differences between them. Chistorra is quite long and thin, and always fried or grilled. Another member of the same family is morcon (pronounced morkon).

There are also many types of brown chewy embutido called longaniza / llonganissa (a name also used in some circles as a slang word for penis). Longaniza de Aragon is particularly appreciated . Fuet is a smaller, tougher Catalan embutit , often served with olives and crisps as a party snack or aperetif. The best fuet is said to be from La Garrotxa. It varies enormously from place to place, but when it's good, it's delicious!

Morcilla , served hot, is similar to English black pudding, but in my opinion much nicer. It comes in two basic versions, one de arroz [rice] and the other de cebolla [onion]. The best morcilla de cebolla is said to be from Burgos in Old Castile . It is often served with fried eggs, but I particularly like it with rice. My Argentinean flatmate Esteban likes it with chimichurri , a spicy South American sauce. There is a distinctive Catalan version made with breadcrumbs called bull (pronounced bu-ee-lly, cutting the y short), which can be either negre [black] or blanc [white], is usually eaten cold.

In Catalunya, the most important type of embutit is called botifarra ( butifarra , pronounced bootifarrra; the word is also used to refer to a card game, and has several other slang usages, mostly obscene). Botifarra blanca is similar to Cumberland sausage, and the traditional dish of botifarra amb mongetes [with haricot beans, usually mixed with diced bacon] is delicious. I'm not so keen on botifarra negre , though it does make a good omelette filling and is a good addition to stews and bean dishes.

Botifarra d'ou is made with eggs, giving it a strange yellow colour and slightly odd texture, but the flavour remains similar to ordinary botifarra blanca . There is another embutido from Navarra that is made from eggs and bacon, and tastes like an astronaut's English breakfast!

Botifarra dolça [sweet] is very odd indeed! Boiled with sugar and lemon, it makes for an unusual, but not unpleasant dessert. This is the only sweet embutido I've come across in Spain .

Sobresada is a thick bright orange paste in embutido form from Mallorca , absolutely delicious if served hot on toast or on a pizza, but not very nice cold. I once tried a comparable brown paste from La Mancha , but do not remember its name.

The most common cut of pork is lomo / llom (loin, invariably of pork), but I was long mystified by lomo embuchado . Only recently did I realise that in Catalan this is called llom embutit , which explains a lot, though maybe I should have deduced as much from the shape of the slices! It can be very flavoursome.

Catalana is the name given to a local variant on American baloney (presumably originally Italian Bolognesa ), usually with olives incorporated into it. I particularly like this in salads. I would put Catalana at the top end of the cheapo embutidos , but supermarket shelves are full of rubbery sliced luncheon meat, spam, and other flavourless horrors I am shocked to see any self-respecting Spaniard buy. As a general rule, if it's packaged in plastic, it's crap.

Selections of cold embutidos are often served on tablas . Selections of hot embutidos are usually mixed with lamb chops and the like and served as a parillada de carnes [mixed meat grill].

Finally, chicharrones / llardons [pork scratchings] are a lot more robust, not to say hairy, than their English equivalent!


Francis Barrett's Deconstruction of Catalan and Spanish Food

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice


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