Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Fabada Asturianas

I've been enjoying the Vuelta a Espana this year and it has been a much more open race than either this year's Giro or Tour. Given my painting project at the moment I was also amused to see that two stages this years started in the sites of Peninsula War Battles: Talavera and Salamanca. One of the best stages was Sunday's Stage 15 which took place in the northern region of Asturias. I decided to assemble the ingredients for that most typically Asturian dish, Fabada, to have while I was watching it, as my final Grand Tour recipe of the year.

Only the podium girl on the right looks like she could take on Fabada!

Watching the Vuelta this year, I was conscious of how arid much of Spain is, in comparison to Italy and France.  Just as the Vuelta is lacking in visible podium girls (they are there (see above) just not really seen on TV) in comparison to the other two Tours, so much of Spain seems to be lacking in green vegetation. It's a parched looking landscape of dusty soil and small, stunted trees.  Going north to Asturias, however, saw thickly wooded mountain slopes, dotted with some truly spectacular castles and abbeys.  It's a part of Spain I would like to visit, although the weather can be wet, given how close to the ocean it is.

As is well known, olive oil which has pictures of girls on the label tastes better

Fabada is very much in the same cross-Pyrenean tradition as Cassoulet and Alubias rojas de Tolosa,  It is what food writers would call a 'hearty' dish, meaning that is it is hugely calorific.  Like Cassoulet and Alubias, there are many different variations and my version is an amalgam of various recipes. Basically, though, it's about beans and meat and as such is really a winter dish in Spain, often served in small portions as a starter.  To begin, I fried some red (which is often specified) onion and garlic (from the Isle of Wight!) in a little Spanish olive oil, which I think is, on the whole, better than Italian, French and Greek oils anyway (there is also really excellent olive oil on Malta but they don't really export it).  I used two small cloves as I was chopping it but if you are using whole cloves to cook in the dish then up to six is suggested.

The next key ingredient is Serrano ham, ideally in one piece so you can cut it into chunks but, given how difficult it is to get it in any way other than sliced I used a pack of sliced Serrano and chopped it into pieces to add to the garlic and onion.

Next is sausages and I grilled some Waitrose chorizo, as it should be the variety that needs cooking first, but also added a cured chorizo and a black pudding in lieu of morcilla Spanish blood sausage, which you can get in the UK, mail order, if you want to be authentic. 

Peel the black pudding and cured chorizo and chop into chunks with the grilled sausages too.  I only used three of the grilled sausages, keeping the others for another meal.  Add the black pudding to the pan  first and cook on  a low heat for about five minutes with the onion, garlic and Serrano ham.  Then add the two types of chorizo. In Spain they are likely to put the sausages in whole but I chopped them all into pieces about an inch long , mainly because my pan isn't that big.

While this is going on, grill a small steak and a small gammon steak in lieu of salt pork.  'You can't use a picture of Tesco meat!' squawked a horrified Old Bat, in true John Lewis partner style.

Add all the meat, chopped into pieces about an inch and a half square, into the pan and add some seasoning.  I had a ready made bouquet garni pouch but, at least, it should be a bay leaf.  Some paprika, and I prefer the smoked version, plus some strands of Saffron (this is not an economy dish).  I remember, when I was small, that you could buy saffron powder in supermarkets but as it became more and more expensive it disappeared.  You can still get it but it costs about £5 per gramme. A bottle containing a few strands costs about £4 in the supermarket but fortunately one of my lady friends had brought me some back from India. Add some black pepper but you don't need salt because of the gammon.

Now add a glass or two of stock, a glass or red wine and some passata.  I don't measure this out, just do it by feel, so that you have enough liquid to enable the dish to simmer for an hour without drying up.  If it starts to look a bit dry just add more stock (or wine).  They do make wine in Asturias but it is very difficult to get in most shops, which are Rioja fixated. Given I was (mostly) cooking with it I used a CariƱena red from Aragon.

Now it's time to add the beans. Traditionally, you would use dried beans and soak them overnight and then cook them the next day but I can't be bothered with that!  Most UK adaptions of the dish suggest haricot or cannellini beans but Asturian fabes are larger than this and so butter beans are a better substitute.  Put two cans into the pan with all the other ingredients and stir them in.

Simmer gently on top of the stove for around an hour, stirring and checking the liquid, occasionally. In Spain, this would be served without an accompaniment, other than bread, and often is a soup bowl.   I had it with rice but Savoy cabbage would also be a good alternative.   I've got enough left over for three more servings at least!

Ingredients (for four)

2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 small red onion (chopped)
1 pack of Serrano ham (chopped)

1 black pudding ring (peeled and cut into chunks)
1 chorizo ring (peeled and cut into chunks)
4 paprika flavoured sausages for grilling (cut into chunks)
1 small rump steak (cut into pieces)
1 unsmoked gammon steak (cut into pieces)
1 glass of Spanish red wine
2 tins of butter beans

Olive oil
Saffron strands
Black pepper


  1. I will do this one with most of the ingredients and with either cabbage or English spinach, briefly wiltered.