Monday, January 7, 2008

Who's Afraid of a Big Pot? Part II

Now that I've gotten over my pressure cooker fear, I can better explain the history and process of making cocido. As I mentioned in the last post, cocido is a slow cooked stew that results in a full meal of anywhere from 2 to 3 courses. The first course is always a broth, followed by either combined, or separate meat and vegetable courses (each family does it their own way). The broth is created by boiling several types of meats, including beef, chicken and pork, with carrots, chickpeas and leaks. Towards the end of the cooking process, potatoes are added along with saffron, which gives the broth it's signature flavor and color. The technique is really very similar to making homemade stock or chicken soup. There's no browning, and hardly any chopping, so it's a great dish to make while you clean the house or do a few loads of laundry at home.

It's believed by some (or possibly just me) that cocido evolved from couscous during the Muslim occupation of Spain. It's rare in this country to get couscous in a kiskis (better known here as a couscousiere), but traditionally in North Africa, couscous is cooked in a two tiered vessel where a stew on the bottom layer steams the couscous layer above it. The stew usually contains carrots and turnips, along with some kind of meat like chicken or lamb. I don't know about you, but replace the couscous with chickpeas and I'm pretty sure you have cocido. It's just a theory, since my research hasn't turned up any actual proof of a connection.

Cocido is usually served with a few condiments, one of which are pickled hot peppers that resemble peperoncini or pickled jalapeños. It may sound like an odd thing to add to a dish that's already fairly heavy and works up quite a sweat, but it's actually there to cool you down. Seriously. Ever wonder why the hottest countries in the world have such spicy food? It's because spicy foods trigger our bodies' natural cool down mechanisms. So the next time you want something refreshing on a hot day, try a nice curry or hot and sour soup. Cabbage is also served along with the dish, but is cooked separately. There is also traditionally a breadcrumb pancake that you add to the broth, but we were unable to make it this time, so I'll just skip it for now (if you'd really like to know about it, let me know).

So that's basically the cocido story. I would recommend skipping the pressure cooker (surprise, surprise) and doing it the old fashioned way, because even though it takes a lot longer, there's very little actual commitment to the kitchen. Just set the pot to boil, run a few errands, and check on it a few hours later. Not to mention, the broth is even better the next day and the leftovers can be used a myriad ways. So, I suggest you give it a try and get a really great traditional taste of Spain. Here's how:

Cocido Madrileño (for 4-6 people)

Soup, Meat & Chickpeas
1 lb (about 2 cups) raw chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight for best results
1/4 lb salt pork
Half a chicken
3-5 unsmoked ham bones (or even a large piece of country ham)
3-5 beef soup bones
2 fresh (raw) chorizo sausages
6 carrots, cut into thirds
1 large leak, washed and cut into thirds
6 potatoes, cut into large chunks

1 small cabbage, shredded
olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp smoked paprika

1. Fill a large heavy pot with 8 cups of cold water. Add all of the meats and bring to a boil on high heat. Add more water if the meats are not fully covered. Skim foam as needed, approximately 2-3 times, or until all foam disappears.

2. Add carrots, leaks and chickpeas to the pot and salt to taste. Bring back to the boil and cook covered on medium low heat, about 3 hours, or until meats and chickpeas are tender. Add water as needed so everything is always fully submerged in liquid--remember, you'll be using the broth as a soup.

3. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shredded cabbage and boil until cooked through. Drain and set aside. Return dry pot to heat and add extra virgin olive oil, garlic and paprika. Add cabbage and sauté until done. Set aside.

4. When the meats and chickpeas are ready, add potatoes and bring back to a boil. Add saffron and cook covered until potatoes are tender and cooked through. Continue adding water as needed.

5. When the potatoes are done, strain broth into a medium sized pot. Add thin noodles to broth if desired and cook until done. Taste soup for salt and keep warm on low heat.

6. Carefully plate chickpeas, cabbage, potatoes, vegetables and meats on a large serving platter (see above photo) and serve alongside the soup, and a bowl of pickled hot peppers. Enjoy!


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