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July 26, 2002
I see myself eating quail at high altitude one day

By Alex Dominguez
from the hold the cream sauce, please dept.
NISERIAS (Peñamellera Alta, Asturias), España (JNS) _ No, dear reader, El Conde hasn’t forgotten your epicurean needs _ here’s a rundown of the best of this year.
While inspecting trout streams in the Picos de Europa, we stopped for a mid-morning snack, hoping to avoid the disaster of the day before, when we stopped at a roadside bar on the way to Cabrales.

We had slices of morcon (a large paprika sausage), queso de cabrales (a strong blue) and a bottle of sidra _ all fine by themselves, but poorly matched.

Casa Julian, el ``solera del Salmon’’ looked more promising _ a two-story stone building in a ravine overlooking the upper reaches of the Cares River.

The small dining room and bar is decorated with memorabilia from the area, old photos, fishing poles, nets, reels, maps, all made more appealing by classical music playing quietly in the background.

After deciding against caviar ericio because the sea urchin eggs were bottled and not fresh (obviously for those who want to say they had something exotic), I ordered pimientos piquin and codornice escabeche (7.50 euros). The quail are cooked in oil, vinegar, onion, pepper, carrots and bayleaf, and then left to soak in the sauce. The cooking left the birds tender and the meat easy to remove from the bone.

The escabeche was mildly acidic, excellent for dipping bread into. The two birds were served on a bed of lettuce along with a few of the carrots with which they were cooked. Even the local bib lettuce was delicious in that sauce.

``An ancient method of food conservation, more frequently served in areas where hunting is common, such as Castilla,’’ the owner said. The night before we had the regional favorite _ fabada (6 euros) in the mountain-top town of Sotres. Big white beans are boiled until tender along with chorizo, morcilla (a blood sausage), and chunks of tocino (a type of bacon).

The French visitors at the next table also had fabada as well as guiso de cerdo a la Gallega, stewed pork with saffron, red pimientos and potatoes, a Galician staple. Finding a Gallega cooking in such a remote location was not surprising because the cuisine is popular throughout Spain.

Back in Galicia, we had tender clams in the tiny port village of Lorbe near Sada, great gambas a la plancha and a mountain of navajas (razor clams). The count, however, was disappointed to see the creeping influence of cream sauces in some restaurants, although not at the stately parador in Tui where two vieiras (whole scallops in the shell) were broiled under a saffron-laced sauteed onions, very traditional. The scallops were preceded by rape soup, fish chunks in a slightly thickened saffron broth, under a pastry cap.

The biggest surprise of all came when I relented and agreed to stay the last night of our trip a stone’s throw from the airport in Porto.

Taking a walk away from the airport, we discovered a mixed neighborhood of poorly maintained streets, and old ramshackle homes mixed in among beautiful small houses and manicured gardens behind high walls.

Among them was O Carlos, a massive long hall with stone walls and a timbered roof where they serve perfectly done suckling pig, which they call leitao, a derivation of the Portuguese word for milk, leite.

Trying to keep us from spending any money on food, meanwhile, are people such as Rosario and my late uncle Leonardo’s brother Juan and his wife.

Whatever we bought in Mera, Rosario would fry, boil or barbecue over wood coals. Two bottles of cider, crab claws and salad for lunch, followed by ribs, chorizo and gambas over a wood fire for dinner.

At Juan’s house near Cangas de Onis, it was fried chorizo, pork tenderloin and potatoes, all served with sidra (bubbly, alcoholic apple cider) _ all made from pigs, potatoes and apples grown on their property.

Posted by Alex at July 26, 2002 06:54 AM
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