Thursday, 10 November 2011

Marmitako- Out of the pot onto the plate

Winter is the time for comfort, for
good food and warmth, for the touch
of a friendly hand and for a talk beside
the fire:  it is the time for home.
Edith Sitwell
The temperature drops and up goes our appetite for foods that come in huge steaming pots.Goodbye salads and cold dishes, Hello comfort food ! It is a time to gather friends around a table overflowing with dishes steaming hot from the stove top or oven. When the days get shorter and the going gets tough, the tough need to tuck in. I have been checking out the provenance behind all these piping hot dishes. So Spanish, so Portuguese. Alright lets not argue, recipes vary from place to place but  have similarities both in their cooking method and choice of ingredients. In the Iberian peninsula it is just like looking over a neighbours fence and seeing something identical on the other side. Spain and Portugal are neighbours.To an outsider, not so close sometimes but both nations´ fishermen put out to sea to catch our fish and their survival on board translates into our mainland sustenance.
Marmita translates as 'pot' or 'casserole' in Basque, while the suffix ko is the genitive case, so that marmitako literally means 'from the pot'. Of course, just about everything in Basque cooking comes 'from the pot', but only this venerable dish goes by that name. Originally it was cooked on board fishing boats - and still is - but for decades now it has appeared on restaurant menus in the Basque Country, sometimes even prepared with salmon. The stew is soupy but thick, specially when the potatoes are 'cracked open' to yield more starch. You can prepare a marmitako up to the point at which the tuna, or for that matter any other robust fish is added,( I cooked it with hake on the bone) and then reheat the stew up to a day later and add the fish.

Marmitako, the traditional version 

2 dried choricero or ancho chiles 
1 pound fresh tuna fillet 
Coarse Flor de sal 
4 russet potatoes, about 2 pounds total weight 
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 brown onion, finely chopped 
1 clove garlic , minced 
1/2 green pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise into narrow strips 
1Tablespoon sweet pimentón  or paprika

In a heatproof bowl, combine the dried chilis with boiling water to cover and let stand for 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain the chilis, slit them open, and scrape off the flesh with the edge of a knife, discarding the seeds, skins, and stems, Set the flesh aside.
Cut the tuna into small pieces. Sprinkle the pieces with coarse salt and set aside.
Peel the potatoes. To 'crack' the potatoes into chestnut-sized pieces, make a small cut in each potato and then break it open the rest of the way. Set the potato pieces aside.
In a Marmita, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper, and the flesh from the chilis, stir well, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion and bell pepper have begun to soften and all the ingredients are well blended.
Add the potatoes and pimentón and mix well. Season with a little coarse salt and add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
Add the tuna pieces to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tuna is opaque. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes before serving. If the soup is very clear because the potatoes didn't release enough starch, mash a piece or two against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon and shake the pot a little.
Reheat gently to serving temperature (if your pot retains heat well, the stew may still be piping hot and you won't need to reheat it). Ladle into warmed bowls and serve at once.

Serve with a crisp Portuguese white wine.

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