Five courses and four hours later, we staggered out of my husband’s cousin’s Aquilleno’s house, and I drove us carefully up the mountain home. It was after 6:00 pm and we’d just finished our first family lunch in Spain.
An ordinary, weekday lunch will usually last for an hour or so, from around 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, with time for a nap before returning to work, but when a Spanish family decides to pull out all of the stops, the only way to survive is to pace yourself and plan on staying for a while. I’ll begin by listing, more or less, what exactly we had to eat:
We began with chorizo, jamon, and lomo (the classic Spanish pork trifecta) with sliced cheese and anchovy-stuffed olives. Next came the salad (two kinds actually: a big green salad zinging with sherry vinegar and a tuna/mayonnaise/potato/pea concoction called ensalada rusa), then the fish course followed by a pork course, and finally, the lamb course. Each was heavy with garlic and redolent of smoked paprika and olive oil, yet the different meats remained distinct and each was served in portions as big as a main dish (it was futile to refuse or attempt to ask for less) on an ordinary day. Dessert and coffee came last.
Cake and pastries and a layered ice cream torte were offered but just as I thought we were done, out came the fruit. Although I could tell the conversation was much the same as here (children, work, neighbors) and it doesn’t really matter what language is spoken to understand compliments about your children, for a non-Spanish speaker, this became a very long meal. I hadn’t even factored in the chupitos that took lunch on into the evening.
A chupito is a little (or big, depending) glass of liquor—a shot in a nicer glass, sometimes with ice, sometimes without--and generally not just one, but several chupitos are drunk after coffee. Two or three kinds of whisky were offered (did you know they made bourbon in Mexico?), as well as Cuarenta y Tres, and bottles of home-infused aguardiente (see my post about the fiesta in Crecente) called orujo that had been steeped with things like anise, cinnamon, or coffee beans for over a year. Now the gossip began to flow about the night before and the older men began to nod off at the table.
A recipe and more after the jump . . .
Aquilleno was in charge this year of the fiesta for the village of Xudan (the z is an sh sound) in Galicia where he lives, and although we hadn't made it to the all-night party the night before, we had been invited to next day's festivities and a luncheon after Mass. Fiestas last two or three days, and during one or even all of the days, there’s usually a mass at the local church or chapel (depending on the size of the town).
It was a chilly and lightly raining when we arrived at the church in Xudan. Outside, behind the church, was a big red and white striped tent with a long bar running along the center, and although there was beer and wine and even a shiny coffee machine, most people were drinking tall, skinny glasses of sweet vermouth over lots of ice and cracking peanuts still in their shells. A little ways away, a young girl with an accordion was setting up her sound system in the back of a canvas-covered truck.
All night in Luanco, when we weren’t woken up by dog fights or loud singing or the echoing footsteps of large crowds, we were hourly awakened by a church bell that sounded as if someone were hitting a cast-iron frying pan. It wasn’t particularly picturesque or charming; it was just an unresonant clank that ensured no peace for anyone not born listening to it. Some of the bells in other Spanish churches were less abrasive, but even the bells of Xudan, pitched to echo throughout the entire valley, were not nearly as lovely as those that immediately come to mind for most of us when the phrase “church bells” is uttered. Those clanking bells agitated for our presence in church and we found ourselves almost running through the rain to get inside before they stopped. Such is the power of the Catholic church, that even today when a baby is born, the local priest inserts the name "Mari" in front of the name the girl's parents chose and "Jose" in front of all the boys on each birth certificate.
After Mass, where hymns were sung without hymnals and the wooden planks of the floor were warped and worn with centuries of use (and where a dog unexpectedly walked in and then found a comfy spot to in which to curl up), we all trooped back to the bar for more vermouth and peanuts.
The wind had picked up and the rain started to come down harder, but the women gamely danced with each other until we had to crowd under the very narrow protection of the bar tent. Most of the tent was over the bar, not over the drinkers, and after a cold and shivery half an hour, even the diehards (that would be everyone there) began to give up and drift down the road to their houses and cars. It was finally time for lunch, and we were starving.
Hake with Clams and Parsley (from Jenny Chandler's The Food of Northern Spain)
This is almost exactly the same dish served at Aquilleno's house; however, you'd have to multiply it by a factor of seven to duplicate the amount made that day.
- 4-7 oz. hake fillets, skin left on (ours were thick, hake steaks with a bone running down the middle)
- 2 tablespoons flour seasoned with salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 shallots, finely diced
- 3 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely diced
- 4 tablespoons fish stock (or chicken stock)
- 4 tablespoons dry white wine
- 20 tiny littleneck clams, cleaned and steamed until open
Check the fish for any bones. Spread flour on a plate, add fish and then toss until fish is coated with flour.
In a wide pan, large enough to hold all the hake in a single layer, fry the shallots and the garlic for a moment, until you begin to smell the garlic.
Reduce the heat and add the fish, skin-side up. Sprinkle the pan with any flour you have leftover from the fish and cook for about 3-4 minutes, moving the pan in a circular motion so that the fish doesn't stick.
Turn the fish over and continue moving the pan, helping the oil thicken a little.
Add the wine and stock, giving everything a gentle shake. Cook for a further 1-2 minutes until the fish is just cooked, then sprinkle liberally with parsley. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Top with the cooked clams, spooning a little of the sauce over top of it all.