Boys lunch on New Year’s Eve

In Edge & Sons the butchers this morning I was buying four chicken breasts for tonights Vietnamese Noodle Soup and a chicken for roasting for lunch tomorrow. Mt eye was caught by a small pack on top of the fridge containing some dark livery looking meat.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Venison steaks’ I was told.

I was doing lunch for father in law and son.

‘I’ll have those as well’ and they went into the bag.

I fried them quickly in a pan with some hot olive oil. As they cooked I seasoned them with salt and pepper and four crushed juniper berries.

When they were done I took them out to rest for a minute or two. I then sliced them into mouth sized and put them back in the pan with a good tablespoon of Hot Redcurrant Jelly that I found in the back of the fridge and left over from last year and a dash of water to loosen up the sauce.

We ate them stuffed into baguettes with salad and onions.

Iberico ham

On the last  evening in Spain we were invited to tell all what our favourite moment of the week had been. Perhaps somewhat facetiously I suggested that mine had been the half day I had spent in the house by myself feeling too unwell to make the trip to Granada and the Alhambra.

It got a laugh and there was an element of truth there as well. I spent the morning in bed and then had three hours sat outside in the cool sunshine of December. I had access to the internet (no kids taking up the Wi-fi) and ate a couple of ham sandwiches made with good bread looking out over the hills and olive trees that rose up all around the house. I also had a chance to poke round the place and take in some of its nooks and crannies.

But in that last paragraph there is a clue to one of the other highlights of the week because the house came with its own Iberico Ham in its stand.

A start had already been made on it when we arrived. Unfortunately that had resulted in the first few thick layers of fat being fed to the cats when it should have been kept for laying back on the exposed bits of ham to help stop it from drying out.

Over the week we took it in turns to slice at it. I don’t think any of use really did it justice with our cutting techniques. The knives were not sharp enough and the slices we cut were too thick, or misshapen, too small or too big. But whatever we cut it tasted very good. And what was worthwhile was to get a sense of the different flavours that came from the different parts of the ham. Those pieces that were still moist and came off almost like bacon and those pieces that were the most mature and were dark and dry and full of flavour. There was also the fat and how that melted against the warmth in our fingers as we tried to hold it still and the importance of having a bit of fat with each slice.

Since coming home I have watched a couple of videos showing master ham carvers at work and it is clear that we were getting lots of things wrong. I don’t think any of us was able to get a slice as wafer thin as it should be.

But if we had been doing that we would not have finished off the ham in a week.

I brought the bones back home with me together with a packet of fat both tucked into one of the bags. No doubt the results of that will be appearing on here soon.

An uneasy relationship with Pacharan

Over the years I have had an uneasy relationship with Pacharan.

I am not able to remember the first time I drank it but I know that it was with Katie & Simon and the likelihood is that we were in Madrid and it was the first time that we visited them, more than twenty years ago. They lived in the north of the city in the district of Tetuan. We spent Christmas there and burnt the turkey having confused the knobs on the oven and turning the grill on instead of the main oven.

There was a bar near where they lived called The Anchor and we ate there in its comedor or dining room a couple of times. One meal I had there was shoulder of lamb and that is all that arrived on my plate slathered in garlic and olive oil with a couple of token fried pieces of potato on a dish to the side. At the end of the meal a waiter would come over holding a strange square dimpled bottle. Four glasses were produced for the table. Each glass would have in it a single large ice cube and over that he poured a shot of a dark sweet tasting liquour that we soon learnt was called Pacharan.

I think we had just the one or two glasses that evening but the night went on and we went into town and stayed out until late in the morning and so I developed a taste for nights kick started by a dose of Pacharan.

Over the next few years we went back to Madrid three times. Two of those trips were to use it as a stopping off point for trips to the south, to Cadiz and Granada and the final trip was a long weekend in the city.

For the final two visits Katie & Simon had moved into an apartment in the Opera District around the corner from The Plaza Mayor. Each of those visits would feature an evening with us all drinking Pacharan and inevitably we were pulled in by its easy taste and sweetness and would drink too much.

It needs to be drunk cold and on ice so that the sweetness is cut and softened which is why it is important there should be thick cubes of ice in the glass. After the first glass the overwhelming sweetness dissipates  and it becomes easier to drink.

It is basically a form of sloe gin. The spirit is sweetened and flavoured with aniseed and perhaps some coffee beans or cinnamon before being poured over the fruit to steep. There are a number of different brands but the most recognisable and ubiquitous is Zoco.

This is the stuff that comes in the four sided bottle.

With the help of Google translate their web-site tells us that :-

The pacharán longer part of the lives of Navarre in the Middle Ages and was recognized and appreciated by them.

One of the major players in the celebrations of the era, such as royal weddings, drinks also was used by members of the court because of its medicinal properties. The White Queen of Navarre, for example, took this liquor for healing the sick in the Monastery of St. Mary of the Snows in the year 1441.

However it was not until the nineteenth century when it began to be used the term “Pacharán”. At that time, the presence of pacharaneras selling sloes in Pamplona markets became very common.

Currently, it remains a deeply rooted and widespread in these lands drink but is also gaining recognition within and outside our country say Pacharán Navarro is to say Pacharán Souk.

On those visits to Madrid I began to take on an appreciation of morning after Pacharan. Those mornings on waking up after a bottle had been finished by too few of us and we all had to try find ourselves back in the world. There are supposed to be medicinal qualities associated with the stuff but after a good evening all that goes out of the window and the only medicine needed is a head in the sand.

I found that a cure for a Pacharan hangover was a long walk through the Prado with pauses in front Hieronymous Bosch’s Vision of Hell and then at the end Goya’s black paintings. Giants rising from the land and tearing the people apart with their teeth. A fair approximation of the queasiness that swelled through me after a late night out.

We would bring bottles home with us and put in orders with friends going to Spain on their holidays. So there was often a bottle at home to be brought out late in the evening of a dinner party or taken on holiday and drunk on the first night. And always there was the same morning after and the queasiness that went with it.

On our last late afternoon in El Molino we took a walk up to the bar in the hills in Fuente Del Comte where we had had our first unexpected lunch. We sat outside and had a beer and behind us the country and the rows of olive trees bent down with the weight of their fruit stretched out to the horizon. We drank our beer and finished it and someone suggested a glass of Pacharan.

Eight of them were brought out on a tray. They came in their marked up Zoco glasses in which there sat a cube of ice slowly diluting the dark brown liquor. We sat and talked and as the light leaked from the sky we had a second glass and then we talked some more.

When the second glass was finished we went into the bar to pay and I negotiated the purchase of one of the marked Zoco glasses to take home with me. At the same time a bottle was bought for us take back with us to the house and drink through during our last evening in Spain.

Back at home I still have at least three bottles hidden in the basement. I keep them away from sight knowing the temptation to drink more once the bottle is opened.


A belated note on Christmas Day in Spain

In the summer I wrote from Ireland of the Biblical rain we had one day that engorged the streams coming down from the hills and coloured the water a dirty brown. That was nothing compared to the rain we had on Christmas Day last week.

We heard it during the night hammering down on the roof of the house. The rain had quietened in the morning but now we could hear the sound of the stream that ran down the side of the house which had been transformed from a gentle trickle into a thick deep ugly torrent that spilled angrily over its banks and flattened the grass and weeds that ran alongside.

It was Christmas Day and so the rain didn’t matter too much as we were going to be spending the day inside eating and drinking and opening some presents. I had squeezed into one of our bags some packs of Gubbeen bacon from the stash I keep in the freezer at home. We had that for breakfast and it was good to have that reminder of summer and Ireland.

As we moved on from breakfast I started on lunch. The rain abated slightly over the morning and the stream calmed down and it looked as if we were over the worse.

Suckling pig had still been an option until some of the younger members of the group were in the supermarket and saw them on the counter and it dawned on them that suckling pig was baby pig. There was a chorus of complaint and so I went back to my original plan which was to make a vast dish of lamb with honey sauce. The recipe is from Claudia Roden’s book of Spanish cooking and seemed particularly apt given where we were.

It is simple enough to make.

Fry some finely chopped onions in olive oil a heavy dish that will be large enough to take the lamb.

Once the onions are done remove them with a slotted spoon and put to one side. Then brown the lamb in the pan – adding more oil if needed.

I used up two shoulders of lamb which I cut up into large chunks. I kept the bones to throw in as well.

Once the lamb was browned I added the best part of a bottle of wine wine, three tablespoons of runny orange honey, a couple of teaspoons of paprika and salt and pepper. The onions were then tipped back in and the pan was topped with water. All that was left for a couple of hours to simmer quietly whilst we opened some presents.

In the meantime the rain had started up again hammering down in grey droves seemingly boiled up from the hills and mountains that surrounded the house. The stream was rising again and soon is was higher than it had been in the morning. There was a flash of light and a rumble of thunder still some distance away.

There was another flash of light and this time the thunder came straight after and was directly over the house and the noise of it shocked us out of the festival spirit. The lights in the house flickered briefly and then all went off. The electricity had gone.

The male members took charge and there was a frantic scrambling around for candles and fuse boxes. There was nothing to be done with the fuse boxes and it soon became apparent that it was not just us who was without electricity – the power cut was general over the area. Instructions were shouted not to use up the candles until it really got dark.

The rain was coming down more fiercely now and was mixed up with slushy hail. The house was built on a slope with a steep drive that ran down to the front door where there was a step up of about eight inches. Brown water streamed down the drive and gathered down by the front door where is quickly rose so that it was lapping at the top of step to get into the house.

We measured the rising stream and in the meantime I continued to cook. Fortunately the oven was gas fired and the only thing I lacked was light as the kitchen area was in a dark part of the house. There was a door I could open to let it some of the grey light from outside but every time someone passed it and saw it open they closed it again. So my cooking became a small battle between me and the need for light and the door closers.

We started with Padron Peppers which I flash fried in olive oil with a seasoning of salt. They were some of the best Padron Peppers I have had, firm and sweet.

We then had two different types of prawn. First the Galares, the ones that looked as if they had been hit with a frying pan and then normal looking prawns about an inch long, all fried in oil with garlic, salt and plenty of pepper.

Alongside all  that we had plates of Iberico ham, lomo pork and chorizo sausage.

The only things that were not a success were the boquorones which I tried to fry with too little oil so they ended up being boiled.

The electricity came back on after two hours and we ate the lamb at about 4.30. Thirty minutes later than the time I said it would be ready by.

We ate the lamb with patatas bravas and plates of salad. There was a roast chicken as well for those who didn’t eat lamb and a chestnut loaf for those who didn’t eat lamb and chicken.

Then there was dancing.