Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Andorra

After a break from eating Chivitos al Pan, which was necessary to clear the added cholesterol from my arteries, my culinary adventures take me across the Atlantic Ocean to the little country of Andorra.  I did not select this challenge at random; instead, this is a planned challenge.  I chose Andorra for two reasons. The first reason lies with the cuisine of the country.   Andorra or Principat d' Andorra is a small country nestled in the Pyrennes Mountains between Spain and France.  Despite its location, Andorra is neither Spanish nor French.  Instead, Andorra is Catalan.   The Catalan people have a long history, artistic tradition and cuisine; however, today, the people are split between Catalunya in Spain and Rousillon in France, with the independent country of Andorra in the middle.

Catalan cuisine draws from ingredients found along the Mediterranean coast.  These ingredients include tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, chiles, chickpeas and artichokes, along with poultry, pork, lamb and seafood.  The dishes created by Catalan cooks vary from the seafood-based dishes along the Mediterranean to the heavier, pork dishes found inland.  The inland Catalan cuisine includes, and is sometimes referred to as, "Catalan mountain cuisine."  The cooking in Andorra is a good reflection of the Catalan mountain cuisine.

The second reason for selecting Andorra as my next challenge is the date.  The day, January 17, is St. Anthony's day is Andorra.  Back in the 1970s, some friends got together to prepare the national dish, Escudella, for their neighbors and shopkeepers.  This celebration is a revival of the much older tradition of distributing food amongst the poorest residents.  With every year, more and more Andorrans gathered together to cook and share their national dish.  The celebration was eventually moved to the Village Square in the capital, Andorra La Vella.  And, over time, the Brotherhood of the Escullaires were formed to prepare the stew for each celebration. 


This challenge presents me with the opportunity to "join" the Germandat de Escullaires for a day.  I decided to prepare the national dish for Andorra as part of the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  The first reference to escudella was made by a Franciscan writer, Francesc Eiximenis, who was Catalan, in the fourteenth century.  Brother Eiximenis wrote that the Catalan people eat escudella every day.  After having made this dish, I can see why.  Generally speaking, escudella is a Catalan soup with two primary components: (1) the broth and (2) the meats and vegetables used in making the broth.  The broth is basically a stock, flavored by bones, meats and vegetables.

In making this dish, I had to make a couple of substitutions.  The first substitution involves the bones used for the broth.  The recipe calls for both marrow bones and ham bones.  I could easily find the marrow bones, but not the ham bones.  So, I substituted an additional marrow bone or two for the ham bone.  The second substitution relates to the sausage.  The recipe does not specify the particular type of sausage to be used.  After a little research, I decided to use butifarra (or botifarra), which is a traditional Catalan mild pork sausage.  Butifarra can be difficult to find; however, I did find a recipe for making butifarra sausage.  I got all of the ingredients, except for the cure.  I did not need the cure because I was not curing the sausage.  The raw sausage would be browned and go straight into the escudella.  If you plan to make butifarra sausage, check out Len Poli's website, which has general instructions for making the sausage.  

Adapted from My Hungry Tum
Serves 8

Ingredients (for the Escudella):
2 cups of dry cannellini beans
1 marrow bone
1 ham bone
2 chicken breasts or 3 chicken thighs
8-12 cups of cold water
1/2 head green cabbage
1 large potato, cut into eighths
1/4 cup of rice
1 cup chick peas
1 cup of pasta (such as shells)
6 sausages, removed from casings and rolled into balls
2 slices of prosciutto
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste

Ingredients (for the Butifarra Sausage):
1 pound of ground pork
1 teaspoon of salt
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/8 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 very small pinch (1/16 teaspoon) of nutmeg
1/4 tablespoon of wine vinegar

1.  Make and brown the sausage.  Mix the ground pork with all of the ingredients (salt, garlic, cumin, ground black pepper, nutmeg and wine vinegar.  Form small balls or links. Gently brown sausage in cast iron Dutch Oven or pot/casserole w/vegetable oil over medium heat.

2.  Begin the stew.  Rinse the beans in cold water and tie the bones in cheesecloth.  Put both with the chicken, cooked sausage and ham in the pot or casserole with at least 8 cups of cold water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce flame, and cook gently, covered, about 2 hours or until beans are cooked and chicken very tender.

3.  Remove the meats.  Remove ham and marrow bones and discard them. (I have seen recipes that call to extract and use the marrow, which I did.)  Put chicken aside.

4.  Return the soup to a boil.  If there is only a little liquid left, add a bit of water for the cooking of the remaining ingredients and bring soup to a rapid boil.

5.  Add the remaining ingredients.  When it is boiling, put in cabbage, potatoes, rice, pasta, chick-peas, and pepper to taste.  Continue cooking over medium flame for 30 minutes (or until newly added ingredients are cooked through).

6.  Return the meat to the stew.  A few minutes before serving, put chicken meat, removed from bones and shredded, in the pot to heat.  Season to taste.

7.  Plate the dish.  There are two ways to serve escudella.  One way is to serve the components separately: a bowl of the broth and a plate of the meats and vegetables.  This is known as Escudella i carn d'olla.  The other way is to serve the components together, like a soup or stew.  I chose this second presentation, which is sometimes referred to as Escudella Barrejada.  For this challenge, I plated the escudella using this second presentation. 

*     *     *

Although I was not standing side by side with the actual Brotherhood of Escullaires, this challenge nevertheless offered me the opportunity to cook this amazing Catalan and Andorran stew.  The escudella was great ... the broth was very flavorful, with the beef bones, chicken, ham and sausages making their contributions to the earthy and hearty soup.  The cabbage, potatoes, rice and pasta all added textures that underscored the earthiness of this dish.  Once again, I finish a challenge stuffed, not only with great food, but also with the desire to move on to the next challenge.  Until then, I would like to wish all of the Andorrans out there a very happy St. Anthony's Day, and ...


For more information about Escudella, check out Slavic Nerd's Travel Blog. 
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