Archive for March, 2011

Flying high with one of Spain’s top chefs

We give Iberia Airlines credit for hiring superchef Sergi Arola to create the menus for its business class customers. Arola has been one of our favorite Spanish chefs since we met him shortly after he opened his first restaurant in the Hotel Michelangelo in Madrid. His great flair with food was matched only by his deep sense of hospitality.

For those of us in coach seats, the airline tortures us every month with an Arola recipe in the inflight magazine, Ronda Iberia. This chicken stew is a great example of a dish that can be reheated and served at 35,000 feet and will still taste good. Arola’s unexpected touch is the addition of a vanilla bean. We’ve adapted it for home use and added an optional roux for diners who like the liquid of a stew to enrobe the solids. And when we eat it, we stretch our legs out at the dining table and allow unlimited refills on the wine—just like business class.


Sergi Arola’s note on this recipe reminds cooks that stews—and especially this one, because it has dried fruits—improve by being left a few hours before reheating and serving. We like to serve it with a mixture of rice and Puy lentils.

Serves 4


1 1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 lb. pearl onions
1 scallion
1 medium carrot
1 clove garlic
2/3 cup red wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Vanilla bean
12 dried apricots
8 large prunes
4 cups chicken stock

Optional roux
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour blended with 2 teaspoons olive oil


Cut thighs into 3/4-inch squares and season with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Heat olive oil in 10-inch diameter deep skillet and quickly fry chicken. Drain in paper towels and reserve.

If using fresh pearl onions, boil in salted water for 4 minutes, peel and put to one side. If using frozen onions, measure and have on reserve.

Peel the scallion, carrot, and garlic, and cut into a fine julienne. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of olive oil from skillet. (Reserve excess oil for future cooking.) Add vegetables to skillet and cook over a low flame until the vegetables are soft but not browned.

Heat wine in a saucepan until it reduces to one-quarter of its volume. Set aside.

Once the vegetables are soft, add the heated red wine and soy sauce. Bring to boil, add the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Pass the sauce through a fine strainer and return to skillet.

Add the vanilla (opened lengthwise), the dried apricots, the prunes, the pearl onions, and finally the squares of chicken thigh. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

Add salt to taste, remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with a sharp pointed knife. Return seeds to stew and discard pod.

If you prefer a thick rather than a thin sauce, thicken by whisking in optional roux and heating until sauce coats the chicken and fruit.


03 2011

Having a blast at Las Fallas in Valencia

Valencia is beginning to rev up for Las Fallas, the festival of fires, fireworks, and managed explosions that culminates on the evening of March 19. The pageantry, sheer noise, and almost giddy sense of celebration is almost unfathomable, and we were not sure how we could possibly write about it. But we gave it a try for the Boston Globe. See it on the Globe‘s web site or check it out on our page of sample articles.

This being Spain, there is of course plenty of time set aside for eating. Paella, the quintessentially Valencian dish, fits the celebratory mood as people gather around a big festive pan. Last year we posted our version of paella valenciana . But we know that a lot of people prefer the shellfish version, paella con mariscos. Here’s our New England adaptation, using small hard-shell clams for the Spanish almejas, and some pieces of cooked lobster tail in place of the monkfish. It remains true to the spirit of a paella you’d find at the beachside chiringuitos, or ”snack bars.”


Serves 4


About 5 cups fish stock or mixed fish and chicken stock
1 large pinch saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, peeled and sliced paper thin
24 large raw shrimp, shells on
1 can diced tomatoes, or two large fresh tomatoes grated and skin discarded
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
1 3/4 cup Bomba rice (or substitute any Valencian rice)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
12 live littleneck clams, or 16 winkles (if available)
12 blue mussels, beards removed
1 cooked lobster tail, cut into 1-inch cubes
lemon wedges for serving


1. Heat stock in saucepan with pouring lip. Crumble saffron into stock and keep hot but not boiling.

2. In large paella pan (16-18 inches) heat olive oil. Add onion and cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and continue cooking until onion is soft. Add shrimp and cook 2 minutes on each side. Remove shrimp to warm plate.

3. Set oven at 425F.

4. Add tomatoes and paprika to pan, using tomatoes to de-glaze. Pour in rice in cross pattern. Add wine and use spatula to swirl rice into wine. Continue cooking until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in hot stock and swirl well to mix rice and stock. Bring to a shivering boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and swirl to distribute well.

5. Stud the rice with pre-cooked shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster pieces. Cook for another 3 minutes on stovetop, then move to preheated oven. Bake 7 minutes until liquid is almost completely absorbed.

6. Remove from oven and cover with foil for 7 minutes. Serve with edges of lemon.


03 2011

Why we are not foodies after all

Ever since the Atlantic Monthly published contributing editor B.R. Myers’ screed ”The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” in the March issue, insults and calumnies have been flying back and forth on the Web like mashed potatoes in a cafeteria food fight.

The gist of Myers’ argument is that to be a foodie is to be a glutton. When he insists that foodies have ”a littleness of soul,” he reminds us of the New Yorker who went deer hunting in Maine, shot a farmer’s cow, and pronounced that he preferred beef anyway. Myers picked some easy targets (Anthony Bourdain’s ”oafishness,” Michael Pollan’s ”sanctimony”) and knocked them over—but so what? Even Bourdain, Pollan, et al. should be pleased. Myers’ excoriation might even sell a few more books.

We actually feel a twinge of sorrow for Myers, a professor of international studies at Donseo University in Busan, South Korea, who has not a word of pleasure or joy to say about eating. Yet we would like to take his ”foodie” target off our backs, lest we too wind up like the farmer’s cow. (We like this metaphor precisely because Myers is a hardcore vegan who finds meat an abomination.)

A few years ago we collaborated on the book version of The Meaning of Food, the amazing PBS television series produced by Sue McLaughlin. We were attracted to the project because we shared her vision of what food means in human culture and relations. In the preface she wrote, ”Like all animals, we eat to survive. But as humans, we transform simple feeding into the ritual art of dining, creating customs and rites that turn out to be as crucial to our well-being as are proteins and carbohydrates.”

Food is culture, and that’s why we like to eat local as we travel. When we try to recreate some of those flavors at home, we’re honoring the people we met and the cultures we visited. It’s all about the experience. Being fluent in food matters doesn’t make us gluttons any more than being fluent in Korean makes Myers Korean, even if he does teach there. So if Myers gets to define ”foodie,” then we’ll happily go without the label.

And we guess we won’t ask him where to go for bulgoki in Busan.


03 2011