Friends were due to be joining us for Christmas dinner at about 3:00 PM. We spent the morning quaffing some fizz – I pushed the celebratory boat out: 1.50€ a bottle) – whilst doing some preparations, like making a salsa for some tortilla chips. With time on our hands, we then had a midday wander down our mountainside into Jalón to see if anywhere would be open to sell us a coffee.
It was eerily quiet. It is SO pleasant to have Christmas downplayed. There were a handful of locals wandering about but hardly any of us foreigners. I suspect that most expats were either at or en route to their chosen restaurant for a lazy Christmas lunch out. Most establishments were locked up but we found what is rapidly becoming my favourite cafe open with tables out in the sun. I ordered dos cafes con leche y dos Soberanos, just to keep our merriment levels up.
Time for a word about Spanish brandies. My taste buds had notified me that all was not well with my last batch of 103 bottles (that’s the brand, not the quantity) I had taken home. It tasted different – slightly odd. I read the bottle: 30% alcohol by volume. Arghh! The market leader in Spain is Soberano and I checked a bottle in a supermarket: 30% by volume. Yikes! What’s happening? It appears that a health drive is kicking in and that the Spanish have intentionally reduced the alcohol content of their brandies – some, anyway. Now, look, I don’t drink them to get rat-arsed but I do want them to taste decent when I have a sip. The 103, formerly my preferred brand, is now verging on the unpleasant. Soberano seems to have been less affected but it just doesn’t feel right, somehow. I have found another brand, Carlos III, which s 36% by volume and therefore somewhat better but, oh dear me, this is an unwelcome turn up for the books.
We finished our coffees and brandies and set off to wander back home, which is to say that we struggled, puffed and panted up the mountainside roads, some of which must approach gradients of 1 in 4.
Once I’d got my breath back, I turned the oven on and waited an eon for it to reach the indicated temperature of 150°C to begin cooking our medio cochinillo [half suckling pig] gently. I chose to use just the lower element within the oven – seemed right to me since I didn’t think I wanted direct heat radiating down from the top element on top of piglet. Fortunately we had the foresight to arm ourselves with a Heston Blumenthal oven thermometer which confirmed my fears; the oven had only struggled up to a meagre 125°C. I wound the dial up further and popped piglet into the oven.
Our fellow diners arrived. Gin and tonics were in order. Mercifully, the Bombay Gin I’d bought was not suffering from a sever attack of Spanish health and was still 40% by volume. I kept checking the oven. Every time I did so, I was enveloped in a cloud of steam. Will someone please tell me how an electric oven containing nothing but a dry piglet contrives to billow steam every time I opened the door? I tried moving piglet up and down in the oven, together with Heston’s oven thermometer, and got a face full of steam every time. For the final 30 minutes, I wacked the temperature up to 250°C on the dial; it actually struggled up to 200°C. Piglet browned nicely. What piglet did not do, presumably due to his sauna, was crisp up. Bloody Spanish ovens! Here he or she is – I’m not good at sexing roasted/steamed piglets. It was very tasty but we’d have preferred a nice mouthful or two of crispy, light piglet skin.
I’m batting 33% now. My first attempt at a medio cochinillo was brilliant; the last two have both failed to crisp up. I must investigate.
I hope you all enjoyed your Xmas stuffing. 😉