Spanish cooking has continued to develop and flourish as one of the premier cuisines in the world. And Spanish food culture has evolved through close to 2500 years of history.
There were distinct stages of development of Spanish culture and cuisine based on which people ruled the Iberian Peninsula at the time. The first such group were the Phoenicians from Carthage, who started focusing on Iberia around 240 BC.
The last mega event before modern times may have been the discovery of the Americas and the food and spices that came from the New World. Through it all, and the later blends of European, Asian, African and New World influences.
Let’s take deep dive into some of the many factors that have helped evolve Spanish food culture to where it is today.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 The Evolution of Spanish Food Culture – Origins, Influences and Traditions
- 0.2 Traditional Spanish Food Culture is Driven by Geography and Regional Cuisine Influences
- 0.3 Spanish Food Influences/Imports from Other Cultures
- 0.4 Spanish Food Festivals
- 0.5 List of 9 Popular Spanish Cooking Styles, Customs and Preparations
- 0.6 List of 15 Spanish Spices, Ingredients, Sauces, and Condiments You May Need
- 1 List of 20 Popular Spanish Dishes Around the World
- 1.1 1. Tortilla Espanola (Potato and Egg Omelet)
- 1.2 2. Chilled Gazpachos (Andalusian Cold Soup)
- 1.3 3. Migas (Bread Crumbs)
- 1.4 4. Croquetas el Jamón (Spanish Ham Croquettes)
- 1.5 5. Caldo Gallego (Galician Soup)
- 1.6 6. Chilindron (Spanish Stew)
- 1.7 7. Cocido Madrileño (Bacon, Sausage and Bean Stew)
- 1.8 8. Albondigas (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)
- 1.9 9. Paella
- 1.10 10. Pescaito Frito (Fried “Little” Fish)
- 1.11 11. Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic)
- 1.12 12. Pulpo a la Gallega (Octopus with Potatoes and Paprika Oil)
- 1.13 13. Bacalao al pil-pil (Salted Cod with Chili Garlic Sauce)
- 1.14 14. Romesco De Pescado (Fish Medley in Roasted Vegetable Sauce)
- 1.15 15. Rabo de Toro (Stewed/Braised Oxtail)
- 1.16 16. Cochinillo Asado (Roast Suckling Baby Pig)
- 1.17 17. Jamon (Cured Ham)
- 1.18 18. Empanada Gallega
- 1.19 19. Leche Frita (Fried Milk)
- 1.20 20. Churros
- 1.21 The Verdict … Spanish Food Culture Has Many Influences
The Evolution of Spanish Food Culture – Origins, Influences and Traditions
The original inhabitants of the area that is now Spain were the Iberians, the Celtics and the Basques – who were distinct in their cultures, behaviors and food habits.
The history of how Spanish cuisines became unified must be seen through the lens of its successive invaders – who stamped their influence on Spanish food culture in the Iberian Peninsulas – but also through cross cultural influences that were later brought to bear by trade and commerce and finally bolstered by Spain’s own aggressive colonial ventures, especially in the New World. The following time periods mark watersheds in the evolution of Spanish history and culture.
- Pre-Carthage: The Greeks had begun to establish contact with Iberia as early as the 7th century BC. This contact remained throughout the period of classical Greece.
- Phoenicians, then Carthaginians, circa 240 B.C.: The Phoenicians had traded with Iberia for a very long time and Carthage had been a flourishing kingdom since the 8th century BC. Their general, Hamilcar Barca, established a presence in Carthage in 237 B.C. after four years of battle. Carthage named the country Ispania (from “Spahn”, meaning rabbit) – this name stuck when the next major group, the Romans, adopted the name and called the land Hispania.
- Roman Occupation, circa 205 BC: The Romans came to the Iberian Peninsula in 206 BC – it took them almost 200 years to conquer the Celts and the Basques, but they finally did so in 19 BC, and ruled Spain for close to 700 years. A number of Roman towns, such as Roman Italia, Roman Cordoba, Roman Merida, Roman Segovia and Roman Toledo show the influences of Rome and Italy to this day.
- The Moors circa 710 A.D.: The Moors ruled all or parts of Spain between 711 and 1492 A.D., till King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella united Spain under their rule, sparking a new age of discovery and colonization.
- The Discovery of the Americas post 1492, conquest of Aztecs in 1520 A.D.: The trips undertaken by Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, and the colonialist expeditions by Cortez et al in Mesoamerica, southern US and South America, all led to a series of foods and spices being “discovered” and brought back to Spain by the conquistadors.
Each of the events or time periods above had a marked impact on the original Celt, Basque and Iberian cooking styles. At one time or the other, Spanish cuisine has been influenced by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, French and Italians – along with influences from trades and exchanges with the Far East, Caribbean and the Americas (after the discovery of the New World).
In modern times, Spain has emerged as a culinary powerhouse due to a blend of powerful styles – the number of Michelin starred chefs in Spain is enviable as a result.
Traditional Spanish Food Culture is Driven by Geography and Regional Cuisine Influences
As discussed, Spanish cuisine is a blend of the traditional and the modern. Some of the traditions are region specific, others have been imparted by centuries of influences from Carthage, Greece, Rome and the Moorish people.
Spain has 17 administrative regions, each of which has its own style and variation of cooking. In general, Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula, which means it’s surrounded by three main bodies of water (Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Biscay).
In addition, Spain is the most mountainous region in Europe after Switzerland, with lush valleys and fertile growing plains in the middle of the country. Many types of foods (e.g. hams) are stored in cool mountain caves that impart signature flavors to the dishes. All in all, an abundance of fresh produce, abundant meat and seafood, along with fruits and nuts, make Spanish cooking memorable as one goes from region to region.
Some of the main cooking regions are listed below:
- Northern Spain (including Galicia and Asturias): Northern Spain has wonderful seafood, especially from Galicia, including scallops still attached to their shells. Galicia has savory empanadas, the hearty Caldo Gallego and wonderful, moist bread. Asturia also has seafood, especially salmon and trout, but also green mountains, and fabada bean stew, Cabrales blue cheese (Cana de Cabra) aged in mountain caves and hard apple cider.
- The Catalonia Region (including the Pyrenees and Barcelona): This region not only includes the Pyrenees mountains and their valleys, it also includes Barcelona, Costa Brava, La Cerdanya and L’Empordà. Catalonia cooks use heavy sauces in sweet and savory combinations, often thickened with almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts, as in the fish medley Romescode pescado, described below. Other signature dishes include Gambas al Ajillo, also described below.
- The Eastern Region (including Valencia): The swampy fields in Valencia are ideal for growing rice. No wonder paella was created here. Another famous dish is Pescaito Frito.
- Andalusia: The olive trees in Spain grown on Andalucian hillsides. Cooking here is strongly flavored by the Moorish spices. Chilled Gazpachos, both red and white, are favorites, along with shellfish drizzled with the superb sherry vinegar from the region. Iberian hams, cured in the cool mountain caves of Jubago, are a specialty.
- Central Spain (including Castilla y Leon, Madrid and Castilla la Mancha): Madrid, being the capital, has produce and seafood from all around the country and its coasts. Chorizo is delicious, along with manchego (cheese from sheep’s milk), garlic soups and bean stews, suckling pigs and baby lamb roasting in wood-burning, brick-vaulted ovens. Cocido Madrieno and Migas are common in the area.
- Basque Country: This is a very patriarchal region where male only gourmet clubs still flourish. Flavors of chilis and paprika are common, as the Basque Style Spicy Chicken. Salted cod is a favorite item, along with the freshest of seafood. Bacalao al pil-pil is a favorite dish from here, as described below.
- Aragon and Navarro: The regions bordering the Ebro River, with the high Pyrenees as a backdrop, are a culturally diverse region – with the running of the bulls being an annual event. Pepper stews and vegetable medleys give way to spicy lamb and chicken dishes, as in the Chilindron stew described below. The region’s signature piquillo peppers, sauteed or stuffed, have lately become a delicacy.
Other regions, such as Cantabria, Extremadura and Murcia, all have their distinctive food style.
Spanish Food Influences/Imports from Other Cultures
As mentioned before, Spanish cuisine was heavily influenced by the cultures of the visitors to the lands. For example, the Phoenicians from Carthage left their sauces, the Greeks introduced olive oil (which has never looked back since) and the Romans, Jewish people and Carthaginians all added their influences.
The Moors added many things during their long stay – including rice and saffron, which now forms the basis of the Spanish paella. The Moors also introduced fruits, nuts and a variety of spices and light seasonings. Besides saffron, they also introduced cinnamon and nutmeg – milder spices that are used in many modern-day dishes such as gazpacho and dessert dishes.
The picture again changed drastically with the arrival of produce from the New World, among them tomatoes, potatoes, various beans, vanilla and chocolate. In later period, Spain continued to be influenced by the spice trades with the Caribbean, India and the Spice Islands, as well as cultural exchanges with Portugal, France, Italy, the Mediterranean countries and North Africa.
Spanish Food Festivals
Every country in the world has traditional foods that are served at festivals such as Christmas, New Years and other special/religious occasions. For Spain, though, we want to look at something unique and much more fun.
While street festivals are also common in many countries, Spain has institutionalized such traditions into major Food Festival events held at different times during the year. Here are some of the best-known Spanish Food Festivals:
- Erizada (Three Urchins Day, usually the weekend after Three King’s Day in January): This three-day festival in Cadiz’s La Vina neighborhood starts with a huge crowd in the street passing pestinos (anise flavored flour pastries) back and forth. The second day sees some 700 kilos of sea urchins being devoured raw, and the third day features hundreds of kilos of oysters and over 2 million liters of beer.
- Water and Jamon Festival (Village of Lanjaron, The Day of Saint John the Baptist, June 23rd): To celebrate the baptism of Christ by Saint John, the villagers engage in a water fight with everyone around, using natural spring water at first, then moving on to beer and finally, the famous cured Jamon or Spanish ham from the region.
- Tomatina (Tomato Fight, last Wednesday in August): Possibly the most famous food fight in the world, this event is held in the village of Bunol – 40 km from Valencia and a 3 to 4-hour drive from Barcelona. The fight features over 100,000 revelers with 40,000 lbs. of tomatoes being hurled at each other. The event is held in honor of the patron saint of Bunol, Saint Luis Beltran.
- Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán (Saffron Rose Festival, held sometime in October: Held amongst the vibrant crocus fields of La Mancha, this festival takes place near the village of Ceonsuegra in the province of Toledo. The crocus blooms overnight, and the next day, the entire population rushes to the fields to harvest the three red stigmas from each flower – the key ingredient of saffron, the costliest spice in the world. After the harvesting, a feast and musical festival awaits at night – replete with traditional dishes and in the Manchega tradition.
List of 9 Popular Spanish Cooking Styles, Customs and Preparations
The Spanish are food connoisseurs, and as such, they have elaborate settings for the main meals of the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is usually a single course with strong coffee, lunch a two to four course meal when the cities shut down for up to three hours, and a late dinner with one to three courses, often followed by a digestif.
The main types of popular food include:
- Tapas Style: This family style presentation is similar to Chinese dim sum, with small signature dishes being served with cold gazpacho, migas, bread and paella. White or Pink Sangria often accompanies the meal.
- Sopas, Caldos and Guisadas (Soup, Cream Soup and Broth and Stew): Due to the homestyle nature of cooking, as well as the cold mountains and abundant seafood, Spain has a dazzling array of soups and stews, including chilled gazpacho, Caldo Gallego, Chilindron, Cocido Madrileno and Albondigas all described below.
- Jamon, Asada and Chorizos (Grilled Dishes, Barbecues and Sausages): Grilled dishes, steaks, sizzlers and barbecue are traditions in Spain, such as Cochinillo Asado and Jamon, described below. A wide variety of Spanish chorizos are used in cooking.
- Frutas and Nueces (Fruits and Nuts): Spain enjoys a vast array of fruits and nuts, especially in the rich central plains and in the areas adjacent to Valencia and Navarro. Pine nuts, almonds, chestnuts and hazelnuts are popular. Among fruits, bananas, peaches, cherries, kaki ribera del Xuquer, apples, oranges, lemons, lime, melons, cantaloupe, pears, and strawberries are common, along with a wide range of citrus fruits. Spanish Olives have been described in the next section.
- Vegetales and Ensalada (Vegetables and Salads): A wide variety of vegetables are commonly used in Spanish dishes – including potatoes, tomatoes, black beans, carrots, zucchini and other squashes, bell peppers, nyora peppers, piquillo peppers, mushrooms and assorted leafy and salad greens. Vegetables can be used as core ingredients or garnish and be served in the broth or on the side. Fresh salads are also common.
- Arroz (Rice): Rice was introduced to Spain by the Moors. The Valencia region developed the famous paella dishes. Saffron rice and plain rice drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil is often served as an accompaniment.
- El Pan (Bread): Bread is served fresh with many Spanish dishes, but stale bread is also used liberally, none more so than in the migas, described below. Empanadas are a favorite street food.
- Queso (Cheeses): Spanish cheeses are famous the world over, given the millennia-old traditions of rearing livestock and producing dairy. Some examples include Queso de Burgos, Caña de Cabra, Queso Tetilla and Queso Zamorano.
- Desserts: The rich desserts from Spain are typical of what you expect to find in a rich mixture of European, Mediterranean and Arabic culture. Besides churros and Leche Friches, described below, some of the famous Spanish desserts include Pestinos, Rosca de Reyes, Tarta de Santiago, Crema Catalana and Creme Caramel.
In addition to the food servings and styles mentioned above, Spain is famous for its beer and wine, some of the most distinctive vintages found in Europe.
List of 15 Spanish Spices, Ingredients, Sauces, and Condiments You May Need
Spanish cuisine thrives on a mix of traditional and newer influences. As described above, the two main influences on food occurred during the reign of the Moors, who introduced rice, saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon among other staples and then the foods from the New World that started to show up in the 16th century. The Greeks introduce olive oil and the Carthaginians a number of delicious sauces. The material below groups the standard spices in one place, pointing out specific spices that are used extensively to create signature dishes.
One major thing to remember is that the Spaniards specialize in creating dishes with very few spices – very similar to the Italians and also French regional cooking. Added to this is the fact that most of the major spices used in Spanish cooking were actually introduced by their overseas visitors as outlined in the last paragraph. As a result, there are not as many standalone spices that are listed below.
Here are some typical ingredients used in Spanish food culture:
- Common herbs, spices and seasonings used in Spanish cooking include saffron, garlic, onions, tomato paste, lemon, lime, pine nuts, cumin, cloves, coriander/cilantro, bay leaves, black pepper or peppercorn, sea-salt, celery, marjoram, (regular) oregano, ginger, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric.
- Pimenton (Smoked Sweet Paprika) and Hot Paprika: The pimenton is a time-honored ingredient in Spanish cooking, used in gazpacho and other dishes. Paprikas are milder versions of chili peppers and smoked or dried paprika has become a staple since reaching the Iberian Peninsula from Mexico in the 16th century. Spanish paprika has a smoky, sweet flavor. Paprikas from Bola Jaranda, Jariza, Tap de Corti and Jeromin are famous.
- Azafran (Saffron): The use of saffron was introduced to the Iberains by the Moors, along with rice. The two have been combined to make the signature paellas from Valencia. Grown in La Mancha valley, for example, Spanish saffron is reputed to be among the finest saffron produced in the world.
- Nyora Pepper (Dried Red Bell Peppers): Nyora peppers are used in Catalonia or other parts of Spain – they are a small, round variety of red bell pepper that is typically sun dried before use.
- Piquillo Peppers: Mild peppers with a sweet flavor grown near the town of Lodosa.
- Guindilla (Cayenne Pepper): These spicy, dried red chilies are an exception to the use of sweet peppers in Spanish cuisine – they definitely pack a punch.
- Perejil (Parsley): Parsley in Spanish cuisine is far more than a garnish. Spaniards love fish, and no fish dish is complete without olive oil, garlic and finely chopped parsley. The famous mojo verde sauce from the Canary Islands is made from parsley.
- Spanish Olives: Spanish olives are among the sweetest and most diverse in the world. There are many varieties of marinated olives found in the market, including Campo Real (Madrid region olives marinated with oregano, marjoram, fennel and garlic), Manzanilla (Southern olives marinated with vinegar, lemon peel and paprika), Jaen (Smashed, bitter olive marinated with garlic, thyme, fennel, bay leaf and orange peel) and Aragon (small black olives marinated with garlic, thyme, laurel and vinegar).
- Pil-pil (Chili Sauce): Pi-pil sauce is a famous pepper sauce from the Basque region, used in signature dishes such as Bacalao al pil-pil.
- Romesco Sauce: This sauce originated from Valls, Tarragona and Catalonia. This tomato-based sauce is meant to be eaten with fish, and contains roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, toasted almonds, pine nuts and/or hazelnuts, olive oil, wine or sherry vinegar, sunflower oil and nyora peppers. Fennel or mint are sometimes added, especially if served with escargot (snails). Flour or ground stale bread can be used as thickening.
- Salsa Brava: Salsa Brava is seen in Central Spain, including Madrid – a blend of extra virgin olive oil, garlic and spicy smoked paprika. Fresh vegetables are sometimes added to this preparation, also called Mediterranean Hot Sauce. It is used in dishes like the Potatoes Brava.
- Sofrito Sauce: An artisan sauce known to be used in family cooking, Sofrito is a traditional tomato-based sauce which is not as sweet or intense as Italian tomato sauce. Made with extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic.
- Tomato Frito Sauce: This is another classic tomato sauce, with fresh tomato, garlic, green peppers and onions, mixed in with fresh vegetables and simmered together so the sauce captures all the flavors.
- Paellero Valenciana Paella Seasoning: This is a readymade spice mix that can be emptied into boiling water as paella is being made. The main ingredients are saffron, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cumin, salt, black peppercorn and other seasonings.
- Cooking Oil and Oleos: Spanish cooking uses olive oil in practically every dish. Spanish Olive Oil is sweeter than Italian and is preferred for preserving taste – especially given the fact that many Spanish dishes do not have a lot of spices. There are a variety of vegetable oils, including Corn Oil, Canola Oil and Sunflower Oil, that is used in some dishes. Butter or Margarine is used in some heavy dishes, as is lard.
The spices and sauces mentioned above are used in very specific preparations, with variations driven by regional influences. What is interesting to note is how often Spanish dishes are prepared with not much more than salt, pepper and olive oil with one or two other condiments.
List of 20 Popular Spanish Dishes Around the World
There are many regional variations in terms of ingredients and preparation styles, the basic recipes mentioned below are the most commonly found forms of Spanish dishes.
1. Tortilla Espanola (Potato and Egg Omelet)
This signature omelet from Spain has nothing in common with the tortilla bread made in Mexico. This is an appetizer but can also be served as a meal – it’s often served at room temperature rather than hot. The basic recipe calls for an open potato and egg omelet cooked in olive oil. Onions or scallions can be substituted for potatoes. Even with the potatoes, onions are used along with salt and ground black pepper.
2. Chilled Gazpachos (Andalusian Cold Soup)
This Andalusian delight is a cold soup made of raw, blended vegetables. The typical ingredients include stale bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, capsicum, garlic, wine (sherry) vinegar, water and salt. Northern region recipes also include cumin and pimenton.
3. Migas (Bread Crumbs)
Usually served as the first course in a traditional lunch or dinner, the main ingredient is stale (usually day-old) bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika and olive oil. It is mixed in with alfalfa or spinach and often served with cuts of meat, which could include chorizo, bacon or pork ribs. Migas Manchegas is one of the more elaborate preparations. Elsewhere in Spain, such as Granada and Murcia, migas is made from flour and water instead of stale bread.
4. Croquetas el Jamón (Spanish Ham Croquettes)
Croquetas fall under those guilty pleasures which everyone must try once. These tasty, fried fritters are served as appetizers. They are the same ilk as French Croquettes. Croquetas are made from Bechamel sauce (butter, flour and milk) mixed with ham, then refrigerated overnight. The next day, the dough is rolled into fritters and fried in olive oil.
5. Caldo Gallego (Galician Soup)
This classic Galician soup is made with meats, beans and greens. The meats used most often are chorizo, bacon and ham. Greens are usually the hearty variety including, cabbage, turnips, potatoes or collard greens. The meat is often cooked with lard. This was a favorite dish for farmers, who cooked it in earthen bowls known as cuncas and served it piping hot during cold months. The soup tastes even better the next day, according to popular legend.
6. Chilindron (Spanish Stew)
This bright, rich hearty stew from Aragon in Central Spain is typically made with lamb or chicken, but it could be made with rabbit, venison, other game and even vegetables or mushrooms. The main feature is the spaghetti red sauce, which is made through the liberal use of paprika – both sweet and hot. Other ingredients used include garlic, onions, roasted sweet red chili peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaves, fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Dried mushrooms may be added as well. A bit of red or white wine is traditionally mixed in before the base is sauteed with olive oil before meat or vegetable stock is added.
7. Cocido Madrileño (Bacon, Sausage and Bean Stew)
Cocido Madrileno is a heavy stew with thick cuts of bacon, veal, ham bone, chorizo, garbanzo beans, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, which is a winter time favorite in Madrid and other areas. One of the unique features of this dish is how it’s served – everything is first boiled together to make the stew. Next, the broth is separated and served as the first course. Next, the chickpeas and vegetables are served, followed by the final entre – the savory meats. The spices are simple – usually garlic, onion and salt, cooked in olive oil. Pasta is sometimes used as a base. Morcilla (blood sausage) may be occasionally used.
8. Albondigas (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)
This dish can be made either thin, like a soup, or gravy style. A simple base is made with garlic, sauteed onions, broth and tomatoes, into which meatballs (made with ground beef, or ground turkey and rice) are dropped in. Carrots, green beans and peas are often added. The distinctive flavor comes from chopped mint used to mix the meatballs. Cilantro or parsley is sometimes substituted, but the flavor is not quite the same.
This signature rice dish, cooked in butter and gravy, is the king of Spanish ornamental cuisine. The signature version, from Valencia, is bursting with mussels and shrimp, with saffron flavoring. Chicken, rabbit or sausage pieces are also included at times, occasionally with black rice produced with squid ink.
10. Pescaito Frito (Fried “Little” Fish)
Pescaito Frito can be made with a lot of different fish and served either as a part of tapas or a standalone dish. It’s the perfect summer dish to be enjoyed with a cold beer. The dish is served across a wide area, including Andalusia, Catalonia, Valencia and the Canary Islands. The dish is made by coating a white fish in flour and deep-frying in olive oi, then sprinkling it with salt as the only seasoning. It is usually served with fresh lemon squeezed over the fish. Here’s a recipe.
11. Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic)
This signature garlic shrimp dish is often served as part of tapas offerings in the south of Spain. The shrimp is sauteed for less than 5 minutes on a mixture of olive oil and butter, heated high. Once taken down, paprika, pepper flakes and lemon juice are added, along with salt and pepper to taste and a splash of dry sherry. Parsley is sprinkled on top – the dish must be served immediately.
12. Pulpo a la Gallega (Octopus with Potatoes and Paprika Oil)
This classic Galician dish combines seafood (octopus). The basic ingredients are simple – octopus, potatoes, toasted paprika, garlic salt and olive oil. The octopus is cooked in boiling water (with a pinch of sea salt or garlic salt added), the potatoes are prepared on the side before being arranged on an open platter with the chopped-up octopus. This dish is traditionally served on the day to honor the patron saint of the city of Lugo.
13. Bacalao al pil-pil (Salted Cod with Chili Garlic Sauce)
This preparation of sauteed, seared salt cod is a delicacy from the Basque heartlands. The ingredients are kept simple, garlic, paprika, salt and olive oil – but the dish comes to life when prepared and cooked carefully. The cod is initially soaked in brine water for a day and a half, then deboned and descaled, but the skin left on. The base is prepared with garlic fried in olive oil over a low flame, adding salt and paprika to taste. The salted cod is added slowly, skin down. After the dish is ready, more garlic and fresh chili pepper are added as garnish.
14. Romesco De Pescado (Fish Medley in Roasted Vegetable Sauce)
This Catalanian dish is made out of a medley of meaty white fish – such as cod, halibut or rockfish. The fish is smothered in romesco sauce, along with fresh ingredients such as garlic, bell pepper, plum tomatoes, onion, blanched almonds, sweet paprika and salt – cooked in sherry vinegar and olive oil. It is typically served with a side of savory rice, such as saffron rice.
15. Rabo de Toro (Stewed/Braised Oxtail)
This dish can be served as a tapas but also as a standalone full dish. The oxtail pieces are served with vegetables such as tomatoes, celery and carrots, spiced with garlic, Spanish onions, bay leaves and black peppercorn, cooked in red wine or sherry and olive oil. The dish may be garnished with fresh pineapple and parsley and served with bread.
16. Cochinillo Asado (Roast Suckling Baby Pig)
This dish is from the Northern regions of Spain – especially Castilla. The outside is crispy but the inside left roast and succulent. The suckling pig, usually slaughtered between two and six weeks of age, cleaned of its entrails and slow roasted for a minimum of three hours. The preparation is simple, involving Spanish olive oil, salt, onions and black pepper. Butter is often used. Carrots and whole fingerling potatoes are sometimes served on the side.
17. Jamon (Cured Ham)
Jamon is one of the most famous Spanish dishes. Ham is cured and stored in high mountain caves through the long winter months. Jamon Serrano (Ham from White Pigs) is a more common variety, while Jamon Iberica (Ham from Black Pigs) is more expensive.
18. Empanada Gallega
The Galician version of the classic meat pies are stuffed with meat or seafood – tuna happens to be a staple, but one could also use seafood, meat, other fish and chorizos, along with vegetables. The fillings are cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers. The top and bottom crust is made with leavened bread, and the square or round pie is often decorated with pieces of dough on top. Other versions of empanadas are found in different regions.
19. Leche Frita (Fried Milk)
This dessert from Northern Spain is made by cooking flour with milk and sugar till it thickens to a firm dough which is then portioned, fried and served with a sugar glaze and cinnamon powder. Egg yolk and lemon zest are sometimes mixed in to hold the batter together.
This fried-dough pastry originally came to Mexico and the US from Spain. Churros resemble a ridged pretzel. Churros found in Spain can be filled with chocolate, vanilla or caramel, then sometimes sprinkled with sugar and served with molten sugar poured on top.
There are regional variations of many of the dishes outlined above, though most of the major recipes are nationalized if not internationally known by now.
The Verdict … Spanish Food Culture Has Many Influences
Spanish cuisine is an ideal conglomerate of Mediterranean, Moorish and European cuisine. Natural flavors of meat and fish, along with vegetables, fruits and nuts are abundant, with very little tendency to overwhelm the dishes with spices or heavy sauces. A lot of rustic, homestyle recipes have now found their way into restaurant menus, and with good reason … Spanish home cooking is simply among the best in the world.