Spanish Cuisine: A glimpse Inside the Spanish Kitchen

by Neil Morris

Food has played an important part in everyday Spanish family life for centuries and little has changed in Spanish cuisine over the years. The traditional cooking methods, utensils and ingredients have also stood the test of time and this is reflected in even the most modern of Spanish kitchens.

The Spanish kitchen is instantly recognizable; from from the pots and pans that hang from the tiled walls, to the tins, bottles and jugs that adorn the shelves. In addition, the cured Serrano ham and Chorizo sausages that act as decorations as well as ingredients, are another sure sign that you have wandered into a Spanish kitchen.

Take a closer look and you will see other ingredients that have become synonymous with Spanish cuisine but in many cases began their journeys centuries ago and thousands of miles away.

Equipment and cooking methods

A simple array of pots and pans, as well as a decent chefs knife can be used to reproduce most of the recipes in Spanish cooking, and indeed those listed on our website.

Many traditional Spanish recipes would have been cooked over open fire using wood or charcoal, and although many Spanish homes and commercial kitchens still have the facilities to cook in this way, these recipes can still be produced and enjoyed using modern kitchen equipment.

If you have been to Spain you will have seen the terra-cotta pots of all different sizes called cazuelas that are very popular in the Spanish kitchen. They are versatile and can be used for cooking and serving all types of dishes; in fact, many tapas bars serve their dishes in cazuelas.

Another classic pan is the paella from Valencia which is used for cooking the famous dish of the same name. Paella pans come in all sizes; from very small dishes to serve a single portion, to enormous pans designed to feed an entire village. A whole array of accessories can be purchased to compliment your paella pan including dedicated stands, burners and spoons.


Olives and olive oil

The single most defining ingredient of Spanish cuisine; the olive has been cultivated in the region for thousands of years and is one of the oldest trees to be cultivated in the Mediterranean or anywhere in the world. Spain is the world’s largest producer and exporter of olives and olive oil.

There are well over 200 varieties of olive grown in Spain; the very best of which are grown for table consumption and to make the finest extra virgin olive oil. Olives are often served simply with herbs, oil and vinegar or stuffed with almonds, peppers, garlic or anchovies. They are served in every bar and restaurant across Spain and are often served as a free tapa alongside a beer or glass of wine.

Popular varieties of Spanish Olives:

Manzanilla (meaning "little apple"), a small green olive from Andalusia popular in tapas dishes and often used in a Martini cocktail; Arbequina, another small brownish green olive which is mainly grown in Catalonia but also in smaller quantities in other regions such as Aragon; Empeltre a versatile medium-size black olive grown in Aragon and the Balearic islands; Picual, the most widely grown olive in Spain from the province of Jaen, its strong and sweet flavour makes it ideal for table oil; Cornicabra, from Toledo, also popular for its suitability for oil and Hojiblanco, from Córdoba, which has a slightly bitter and peppery flavour that gives its oil a much appreciated flavour.

Find out more about Spanish olive oil here


Cheese and dairy produce

Spain produces over 200 varieties of cheeses mostly in regional farmhouse dairies. As a result the different regions produce cheese with very distinctive flavours and textures.

Many of Spain’s cheeses are exported and Manchego is the most popular variety. Cheese does play a large part in Spanish cuisine; however it is not used much in cooking and is more often than not served fresh on its own or combined simply with other ingredients.

A list of popular Spanish cheeses:

Afuega'l pitu (Asturias), Alpujarra (Andalusia), Cabrales (Asturias), Campo de Montalban (La Mancha), Cantabrian queso de nata (Cantabria), Casín (Asturias), Flor de Guía (Canary Islands), Gamonéu (Asturias), Garrotxa (Catalonia), Ibores (Extremadura), Idiazabal (Basque Country), La Serena (Extremadura), Mahón (Balearic Islands), Majorero (Canary Islands), Mallorcan (Balearic Islands), Manchego (La Mancha), Mató (Catalonia), Murcian (Murcia), Palmero (Canary Islands), Picón Bejes-Tresviso (Cantabria), Roncal (Navarra), Tetilla (Galicia), Torta del Casar (Extremadura), Valdeón (Castilla y Leon) and Zamorano (Castilla y Leon).


Spanish vegetables

The climate in Spain makes it the ideal place for growing vegetables and the quality of produce available is impressive. Vegetables are used in abundance in Spanish cuisine and provide many of the health benefits that form an integral part of the typical Mediterranean diet.

Beans, lentils and peas are very popular in Spanish dishes and are often preferred to potatoes to add bulk to dishes. Chickpeas are the most commonly used and are one of the basic staple ingredients of Spanish cuisine.

Dried beans and lentils are easily stored and are soaked in advance ready for cooking. This is not a problem as planning, preparation and patience are all part of the routine in Spanish cooking.

Click here to discover some Spanish vegetable recipes

Herbs, spices and nuts

spices has helped to give identity to many different cooking styles the world over and Spain is no exception; smoked paprika, saffron, oregano, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, cumin and fennel are just some of the distinctive flavours you will encounter on your Spanish cuisine journey.

Although not originally from Spain, Saffron is one of Spains most successful exports. The Moors introduced "az-zafaran" to Spain in the eighteenth century and Spanish Saffron is now regarded as the finest in the world, the majority of which is produced in the region of Castilla-La Mancha. The highly prized Spanish Saffron -which is the red stigma of the purple crocus flower - has its own Denominacion de Origen in La Mancha, which was established in 2001.

As well as herbs and spices; nuts are also used to flavour many dishes with almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts being the most common varieties and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes.

spanish- markets-nuts-spices

Spanish rice and pasta

Think of Spanish rice and you will probably think of paella however rice is used in many different areas of Spanish cuisine including stews, sausages, soups and desserts. Spanish rice is of exceptional flavour and quality and rice-growing is considered very serious business with the rice being exported worldwide.

The Spanish have been enjoying pasta for a long as the Italians and although it does not dominate the menu the way it does in Italy, it is still plays an important part in everyday Spanish cuisine.

Some popular rice varieties in Spanish cuisine:

Bahia (Valencia), Bomba (Valencia, Murcia), Calasparra (Murcia), Senia (Valencia)

Click here to discover some Spanish rice recipes

spanish rice

Fish and shellfish

The Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts provide Spain with some of the finest fish and shellfish in the world and as a result, Spain is undoubtedly the seafood capital of Europe. Globally, only the Japanese consume more fish per head. The health benefits of eating fish are well reported and are recognised by UNESCO as part of the Mediterranean diet.

Some of the biggest fishing ports in Europe are in Spain and Vigo in Galicia has one of the largest in the world and is famed for its quality of seafood.

Preserving fish is also very popular is Spanish cuisine; the most common type is salted cod or Bacalao, which has been eaten for centuries and remains as popular as ever. Other fish such as Anchovies are also preserved and are often canned in oil or brine.

Click here to discover some Spanish seafood recipes


Meat, poultry and game

spanish-jamonThe variety of meat available in Spain is almost as great as the variety of seafood and the Spanish really are spoilt for choice when it comes to ingredients and produce.

The pig plays a major role in Spanish cuisine and has represented Spanish nationality since the unification of the country over five hundred years ago (prior to this, the consumption of pork was forbidden by both the Muslims and the Jews).

Spain’s most famous meat product is ham; Spanish Jamon Serrano is considered a delicacy all over the world. The acorn-fed Black wild pigs (iberico) of Extremadura and Andalusia are native to Spain and the Iberico Serrano ham is highly-regarded in the culinary world and can be very expensive due to its rarity.

Suckling pigs are also popular and the two to three week old piglets are traditionally split and roasted whole in large oak-fired ovens.

Beef is less widely eaten but does make a popular addition to many traditional stews and casseroles. More recently, modern cooking methods have seen beef used in more inventive ways and the Basques in particular are fond of serving their beef cooked very rare or even raw using the carpaccio or tartar cooking methods that are popular in France.

Chickens are eaten less frequently than some other meats but are found in many Spanish homes where they are cherished for their egg production.

Shooting game (Caza mayor) or birds (Caza menor) are both very popular pursuits in Spain due to the large variety of edible wildlife available. Migrating birds use the peninsula as a stop off point on their way to and from Africa and there are enough to ensure that breeding stocks are not depleted by the enthusiastic Spanish hunters. The most popular birds to be hunted are duck, pigeon, pheasant, quail and partridge.

The mountainous terrain in Spain is also rich in game and wild ingredients such as rabbit, hare, goat, boar and deer are all widely hunted and consumed in the rural areas. Delicacies such as snails, lizards and frogs were traditionally eaten in areas where the variety of produce was more limited and hunters would gather whatever they could for the cooking pot. In some rural areas, such as Extremadura, lizards are still eaten; snails and frogs are more popular and are consumed all over Spain.

Click here to discover some Spanish meat recipes


Fruit and desserts

Due to the abundance of fruit eaten in Spain, many desserts simply involve serving fruit in variety of different ways. The choice of fruit is incredible and many rural homes will have their own supply of a particular fruit which can be used for eating or bartering with neighbours for other produce.

Apples are grown all over Spain with arguably the best varieties coming from the Northern areas with the Reineta from El Bierzo deserving particular praise.  The large, firm and extremely juicy Reineta has held PDO status (Protected Denomination of Origin) since 2002 - and deservedly so, as the conditions in the area are so good that the apple cannot be produced at the same quality anywhere else. The apple growers of Girona also take their business very seriously and the region also produces apples of exceptional quality.

Click here to discover some Spanish dessert recipes


Bread and baking

Bread is everywhere in Spain, it is served with nearly every meal and plays a part in all aspects of Spanish cuisine and culture including religious festivals and ceremonies. It appears in all shapes and sizes and the recipes vary from region to region.

Flatbreads are also popular such as the pizza-like cocas which are served with sweet or savoury toppings. Cocas are most commonly found in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

Empanadillas are small pies which are made of pastry or bread dough and are often served as a tapas dish.

Cakes, biscuits and pastries are sold in pastelerias and the window displays can be hard to resist with delicious-looking palmeritas, macarrones, tortas and cookies tempting the hungry passers-by.

spanish bread

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