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True Spanish Hospitality

January 31, 2011

No matter where you are, nothing beats a home-cooked meal. In different cities across continents, I’ve found that people go above and beyond to make dinner guests feel at home, and my lunch on Friday was no exception.  One of my co-workers invited all five language assistants to have lunch with her and her husband; while I expected to be warmly welcomed, I had no idea how delicious the food would be.

We started with some appetizers: wine, various nuts, manchego cheese, and jamón ibérico, which is the most expensive cut of cured ham available.

I’ve had people tell me that jamón ibérico doesn’t even qualify as ham because it has a different taste and “melts in your mouth.”  So, even though I usually don’t like ham, I had to try it.  I will agree that it had a surprisingly innocuous flavor.  (But I still don’t think I’ll be buying it any time soon.)

Following the appetizers was the first course: pulpo a la gallega, or Galician octopus.  It was served with potatoes and a copious amount of sweet Spanish paprika.  I highly recommend trying well-prepared octopus at least once; like squid, it can be disgusting and rubbery when prepared incorrectly.  What you see here is octopus at its finest: tender with just a slight fishy flavor that I think comes more from the spices than anything else.

The octopus was followed by salad, which I consider the pièce de résistance of this meal.  Leafy greens were sprinkled with heirloom tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts (where the hell did she find those in Spain?), avocado slices, dried cranberries, green onions, and a beautifully splayed mango.  What you can’t see is the delicious homemade vinaigrette that pushed this dish into the extraordinary.  Really, it’s been three days and I still salivate when I think about it.  Don’t worry; when I asked her how to make it, she quickly rattled off a ratio of olive oil and vinegars that I will certainly be trying soon.

Soup was served alongside the salad, and while I’m tempted to say that anything served next to that salad would be put to shame, the fabes con almejas (beans with clams) held its own.  The name of the dish really doesn’t do it justice, because it was so much more than just beans with clams.  Imagine perfectly prepared clams among the softest beans and a slightly salty, flavorful–but not at all fishy–broth.  I don’t think I can get any closer to explaining it, but you can trust me when I say it was wonderful.

Next came small rounds of lomo, which is a cut of pork, that were roasted alongside prunes and dried apricots and served with a sweet (fig?) sauce.  I didn’t manage a picture, since they were gone almost instantaneously, but perhaps it’s better to leave something to your imagination, no?

Then dessert, which by some strange turn of events was the course that I liked least.  Not that our hostess did a bad job; I just don’t like flan.  However, the presentation was fantastic…

… and we pretty much destroyed it anyway.

And the final course, which was served with little chocolates in case we weren’t already fit to burst, was coffee.  It was well-prepared and in the cutest cups possible, i.e. the perfect way to end a perfect meal.

The best part is that this meal followed the European pace, which allows for chit-chat between courses, slowly enjoying the food placed in front of you, and lots of wine. Say what you want about Spain, people here know how to enjoy good food and good company.  So four hours later, we were all slightly tipsy, very full, and undoubtedly feeling more at home in Spain than ever before.  To our hosts I say, salud.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kari permalink
    January 31, 2011 11:42 PM

    Dearest Jamie,

    I expect the same sort of meal when I come and visit. minus all of the meat. Show me your Spanish hospitality!

  2. Peter permalink
    February 1, 2011 5:18 AM

    I know you dislike hammy hams, but have you tried many of the other variations of ham for comparison? If I recall from my wikipedia procrastination time last year, the animals from which jamon iberico comes from are fed only acorns. Is there really a huge difference between the flavor of ham from acorn-fed pigs vs others? Likewise, is there a difference with where it is cured? I can imagine elevation may play a role.

    • February 1, 2011 11:03 AM

      I can’t say I’m particularly well-versed in the finer points of ham flavor, but I’ve now tried ham from the three main groups: jamón york, which is your typical lunchmeat style ham; jamón serrano, which is cured meat from a different breed of pig; and jamón ibérico, which is pictured above.

      Actually, there are a lot of finer points to be discussed, now that I think about it. Keep an eye out for a full-length post soon!

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