10 Authentic Spanish Dishes You’ve Never Heard Of
Today Spanish cuisine is one of the most appreciated in the whole world, and as you think of Spain, you’d probably be seeing colorful trays of bite-size tapas, or as they call them in the North, pintxos – croquettes and sizzling garlic shrimp, stacks of grilled vegetables topped with goat cheese, and shot glasses with silken salmorejo garnished with minced ham, egg and croutons. You’d be thinking of golden, saffron-scented rice in the famous paella, and thick wedges of tortilla española – hefty omelet with potatoes, equally great with coffee for breakfast or a glass of red wine from La Rioja for afternoon snack. And even though some of those dishes have become staples in restaurants and households all over the world, Spanish cuisine can still surprise you. Beneath you will find a list of 10 authentic Spanish dishes – not as popular, and some are really hard to find, but in case you are lucky enough to encounter any of them in local bar – be sure to give it a try; it might be your only chance to experience ultimate Spanish cuisine!
It is no secret, that Spaniards like their food fried. Deep-fried, to be more precise. Huge platters of fried fish and seafood are served to accompany ice-cold beer on the sunny coast of Andalusia. Bar counters in Madrid are bursting with plump croquetas and bombas – croquettes made of potato puree and stuffed with ground meat. Tiny green peppers, pimientos de Padrón, with sea salt flakes on top, were previously nowhere to be found except in their home Galicia – now, on the other hand, they are available all over the country. Tigres most certainly originate from the Basque country, and this is the best place to try them. Flavorsome mixture of boiled and chopped mussels’ meat is mixed with sautéed vegetables and thick béchamel sauce and then fried right inside the mussel shell. And although the name suggests that tigres should be well seasoned with hot pepper, cooks nowadays tend to go light on spices, opting for milder flavor. This, however, does not mean that you should not try them – in fact, since the preparation does require some time (cleaning the mussels, boiling them, chopping vegetables, preparing béchamel, and finally letting the mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight to thicken), and tigres are hard to find these days, if you spot this dish on the menu list, consider yourself lucky and please do order at least one just to try!
Because its location right in the center of the country does not allow a direct access to the sea, traditionally the only fish you could find in Castilla-La Mancha was bacalao, salt cod. Pearl white firm meat was easy to transport from the Northern coast, where the Basques have mastered the process of salting and posterior drying of the fish. Bacalao became a local favorite, it is widely used in pates and salads, as main course or as filling of tortillas and buñuelos – the latter is reminiscent of croquetas, with the only difference that croquetas are traditionally oblong-shaped, whereas buñuelos are round. Normally the fish has to undergo the process of desalting, to be used in cooking, yet in tiznao the process is omitted, and the salt is washed away from the surface by holding the meat under the running cold water. The result is a much more pronounced flavor, which is further paired with char-grilled vegetables, including dried choricero peppers, chiles and garlic. In fact, the name of the dish comes from the use of vegetables – the verb “tiznar” translates as “to blacken” and thus, the vegetables in tiznao should in fact be charred until nicely browned and even have slightly burnt flavor. Mixture of chopped fish meat, vegetables, and olive oil should be refrigerated before use, and served with the crumbled egg on top and bread on side.
8. Patatas a la importancia
In case you are in doubts, whether the word “importancia” means the same in Spanish – yes, it does, and yes, the name of this dish can be roughly translated as “potatoes of importance”. What is so important about them? Well, take, say a pound of your ordinary boiling potatoes. Now boil them until fork-tender, but not mushy (you will soon find out why). Peel your potatoes, cut them in slices (this is why it is so crucial not to overcook the potatoes – you won’t be able to cut dollops of potato puree in even rounds) and generously season with salt. What you are going to do now is… fry them! Yes, that is it, the importance of this potato dish comes from the fact that past-boiling they are coated with a thin layer of flour, dipped into the beaten egg and fried until nicely browned. Of course, you can eat potatoes just like that, fresh from the frying pan, but top those with your favorite hot sauce and you have a nice alternative to less surprising patatas bravas.
Cooking traditions in the northern provinces of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia are shaped by two determining factors – proximity to the sea, and generally cool climate. As the result, their cuisine heavily relies on fishing, and abundant seafood is often used in warming stews and soups. Zurrukutuna is in fact salt cod-based soup, scented with garlic and paprika, and thickened with bread. Over the years the Basques have proven themselves as genuine masters of salting cod – popular and widely used all over the country, bacalao – and in the Basque country itself cod is of exceptional quality. Funnily enough, even though Zurrukutuna translates as “pleasant sip” (“zurrup” is “a sip”, and “kutuna” stands for “pleasant”), the soup is rather eaten with tablespoons than drank straight from the bowl – its texture remains chunky, since aside from the olive oil used for sautéing onion, and garlic, and little water to cover the mixture, it uses no other liquid. Some recipes include raw eggs added shortly before serving, and sometimes additional spices and herbs, like dried chiles, and parsley can be used.
6. Pajaritos fritos
Pajarito stands for “little bird”, and tapa of fried itsy-bitsy fowl species served in earthenware casserole was hugely popular in Spain, especially in Madrid (although the dish originates from Andalusia). In the late 90s, however, hunting was banned, and nowadays if you spot pajaritos fritos in a menu, this can mean only two things: first, that instead of fowl you’d be tasting cultivated quails – not bad at all, but nothing to do with the original; and second, you’d be given a plate of lightly battered and fried… anchovies! Originally though, the dish was prepared with anchovy-like tiny fish which received the name pajarito for peculiar shape of its bill, but since today it is almost impossible to find authentic pajaritos on the market, anchovies are used instead.
A favorite in Alicante province, pericana traditionally uses the mixture of dried choricero peppers combined with extra virgin olive oil. Thick mixture is then complemented by the addition of capellanes – sun-dried fish, which undergoes the obligatory fire-roasting before being added to the pepper sauce – and garlic. Pericana, which is also known as pipes i carasses in Elche (also in Alicante province), has rather strong distinguished flavor, and would be most certainly served on its own, as appetizer, with bread or picos – Spanish tube-shaped crackers – on side.
4. Gazpacho manchego
You surely do know that gazpacho is a cold tomato soup. What you probably don’t know is that in Spain there are numerous dishes under this name – practically every autonomous community can be proud of their own gazpacho. Even in the province of its origin – Andalusia, gazpacho preparations differ from one city to another. Some go heavy on bread, which they soak in water or even extra-virgin olive oil, to make a thicker soup; others omit bread and add a pile of fresh vegetables, sacrificing intense red color from tomatoes yet adding more flavor. White gazpacho, also known, as ajo blanco, has blanched almonds as the main ingredient, and is garnished with grapes. As you observe, these are all cold soups, gazpacho manchego, on the other hand, isn´t; it’s not even a soup! The dish originates in Castilla-La Mancha, a land which cuisine relies heavily on abundant fowl; and typical gazpacho manchego in fact will feature hare, partridge and sometimes even pigeon. The stew is further thickened with pieces of local flatbread – tortas de pastor; and even though the name implies the province of origin, gazpacho manchego have become a staple in neighboring regions of Alicante, Albacete and Murcia.
3. Tocino de cielo
Literally the dish is translated as “bacon from heaven”. I know, you might be already too excited for the recipe, but it is not what you think! Tocino de cielo has nothing to do with bacon – it is a type of custard, traditional in Andalusia, which is made of egg yolk-sugar mixture and coated in caramel. The custard does in fact tastes heavenly delicious, and even though it is rich and flavorsome on its own, sometimes you can see it served with whipped cream or even a scoop of ice-cream.
Don’t freak out if sitting at tapas bar, you would overhear someone ordering “matrimonio”. The word does mean “marriage”, but in this particular case we are talking about a harmonious union of boqueron – marinated anchovy, and anchoa – same fish but canned in oil. Filets are placed side by side, and despite being completely different in terms of flavor – slightly pungent, with subtle vinegar aroma boqueron and pleasantly fatty, flavorsome anchoa – the end result is ubiquitously satisfying. Traditionally anchovy filets are served on top of baguette slice, but some bars complement the fish with strips of pimiento de piquillo – tiny red peppers (not hot!) from Navarra, roasted, peeled and then canned; fresh tomato, or wedges of white cheese. In the north, in La Rioja and the Basque country in particular, “matrimonio” almost always includes roasted green pepper, which provides a delicate sweet touch.
1. Arroz con costra
Paella valenciana may be the most famous rice dish in the whole country, yet the region, sometimes referred to as Levante (Costa Levantina in Spanish), and comprising Valencian community and neighboring Murcia, can be proud of dozens of arroces (just to be clear, even though paella valenciana is the right name of the dish, not everything which has rice in it is called paella; paella is first and foremost the name of large metal pan used solely to cook rice, and thus when talking about rice dishes, the term “arroz” – rice – is preferred). In Murcia one of the region’s emblematic dishes is arroz con costra – “crusty rice” – which receives its name from the layer of baked eggs on top of the rice. Common ingredients include white pork sausage (butifarra blanca), chicken, and pork loin. Unlike traditional paella, which gets a distinctive bright yellow color from the use of saffron threads, in Murcia they insist on using pimentón – made from dried pulp of locally grown and highly regarded ñora peppers.