Friday, February 10, 2006


[Note: This is an essay that I published in Expatica Spain a few weeks ago.]

Eating in Spain’s central plains region is a vegetarian’s nightmare. If there’s an organization here in Castilla-LaMancha that goes by the acronymn PETA, then it probably stands for “People for the Enjoyment of Tasty Animals.”

Sure, we have wonderful, meatless delicacies like Pisto Manchego, Queso Manchego and Alcárria honey.

But the reason why cookbook author Penelope Casas called central Spain the “Region of the Roasts” is clear. Roasts are the gastonomic celebrities in these here parts. Particularly, the “Three C’s”—cordero (lamb), cochinillo (pig) and cabrito (goat).

Each of these roast dishes have similarities. The animals destined for the dinner table are young—weaned only on mother’s milk and slaughtered at a tender (pun intended) age.

Cooking preparations are likewise similar—not to mention, simple. The animals are rubbed with lard, sprinkled with salt and laid to rest in a shallow, earthenware baking dish. They are then roasted in a wood-burning brick oven until medium-well done. Toward the end of the roasting time, the browned drippings are deglazed with water to make a thin “gravy” and the lot is usually served with roasted, sliced potatoes. There are, of course, variations—with some chefs adding garlic, onions, white wine and other subtle ingredients—but the basic preparation’s basic.

Quite often, restaurants require you to order an animal by the quarter (i.e., half of a half of the carcass). This is where the real fun begins, because it’s a crap-shoot as to which part of the animal the waiter will bring to the table. Sometimes a leg. Sometimes the ribs. Sometimes the [gulp!] head. My personal preference is the rear leg, because there’s a lot of good eatin’ there. But then’s always fun to get the head, because it allows you to gross-out the ladies at the table by eating a hunk of brain.

And in anticipation of your question, brain tastes...OK. But its texture is absolutely disgusting.

The specific region in which I live (“la Alcárria,” near Guadalajara) is famous for its cabrito. I always insist that my visitors from abroad try roast cabrito—a request that is, more often than not, met with howls of protest...if not downright disgust. This is understandable. Most non-Spaniards who’ve eaten goat did so in a curry house—and then paid the price the next morning.

But I’ve been pretty successful in convincing my guests to taste LaMancha’s preparation of the animal, and the end-result is usually the same. They love it. How could they not? Cabrito’s flavor is milder than lamb’s, yet more interesting than pork’s.

Yes, Castilla-LaMancha loves its roast animal flesh—and the US-style girth of many of my fellow townfolk will attest to this.

But then again, what did you expect from a region that considers a glass of beer to be a vegetable side-dish.


At 6:16 PM, Blogger Nyana said...

First comment is mine! Yay, I always end up posting the last one somehow. I'm the winner today. Very informative article - probably wouldn't have read it anywhere else. In the meantime, I wish all vegetarians the best of luck. Cheers Mate!

At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Jo said...

I've always wanted to try goat. I like the way you've described the flavor. I don't care for lamb but I could main line pork! Are you going to try to smoke some in? I make a killer roast pork that I typically serve with Mexican "counter parts". If your interested, I'll send the recipe.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger christina said...

Ah, the Spaniards and their balanced diet! Since our German friend moved down south 20 years ago he's gained at least 50 lbs., I'd say.

Now, I can imagine brains having the mouth feel (I think that's a sophisticated culinary term I saw somewhere once) of either grainy, partially cooked cauliflower or lumpy oatmeal. Am I anywhere close?

As for the goat - haven't tried it in any form but it sounds wonderful cooked that way. I'm afraid I'd make a terrible vegetarian.

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Nyana said...

Actually Jamaican style curried goat makes for a fantastic dinner. Do you know how to cook that or shall I provide the recipe? Sal, what kind of meat is popular in Spain - I polled Christina with this question, now it's your turn.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...

I think, were I wealthy, I would have a Spanish cook based on this post ... with a complete property-wide ban on brains as food.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Jo said...

I'm with you regarding vegetarianism Christina. However; when we first learned about my husbands cholesterol problem, we decided to employ dietary assistance. We would vary weekly between omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan. On Vegetarian and vegan weeks Mike would also fast for one day. He lost 20 lbs right off the bat which he has not regained. It didn't have a huge effect on the cholesterol surprisingly. The best part was that I started learning and implementing a much wider range of cuisines. VERY tasty!

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey Nyana: We have a yin-yang thing going between our blogs today. Mine with the carnivore, and yours with the herbivore.

Granny Jo: I'll take any recipe I'm offered. Especially Mexican ones.

Christina: The mouthfeel of a mouth full of brain isn't cauliflower. It's soft-boiled egg. No pleasant at all.

Nyana II: Curried goat? Yeah! I'll take that recipe too. The most popular meats in Spain are lamb and pork. We eat tons of it. Lamb and pork roasted (as I describe above) are hot stuff in central Spain, whereas roasted goat is a regional delicacy here in Castilla-LaMancha. Pork that is cured (jamon iberico...which is similar to prosciutto) is huge everywhere in Spain. Beef is popular everywhere, but is a specialty of the Galicia region. But yeah...definitely lamb and pork. That's a bit misleading, however, because Spain is definitely a seafood-loving country too. Unfortunately, a goat curry (good, bad or otherwise) is tough to find.

Lady Di: If I were wealthy, I'd have an Indian cook MWF and a Thai cook TThS. On Sunday, they'd both cook.

Jo II: I think I could easily be a vegetarian. But only in between meals.


At 8:31 PM, Blogger Sara said...

I really enjoyed your post, though I have to say I must be one of the weird ones: I like brain but then I guess I've always enjoyed the stranger parts of the animals - comes from growing up in Tunisia, I guess :) I'd make a terrible vegetarian.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey Sara: Welcome to the gang. This is your first Comment, I believe. So tell did you get past the texture of brain? Or perhaps it never bothered you in the first place.

Quite honestly, I've liked every other organ I've tried. I could eat sweetbreads and liver till I drop dead. Kidneys and tripe are way up there, too...provided that they're prepared correctly. I've never tasted "the junk" (as the Big Finn calls them), but they don't scare me either. It's just...brain. I've eaten several times. But that...texture.

Perhaps I need to plan a vacation to Tunisia.


At 10:30 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Okay, if we're going to be serious about this ... I'd have a Turkish cook Tues, Thurs and Sunday and then Spanish on Monday, Wednesday and Satuday, Indian Friday (northern) ... I'd test run it for 3 months then work out what I really want.

But what about alcohol ...?! I'd have to employ someone else for the wine.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

How about an Australian for the wine?


At 2:07 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...


I'm sure you know of NZ wine ... I'm outraged that you would even suggest Australian wine... lol, but for the fact that I often drank Australian wines back home in NZ. My favourite was a little Ozzie red.

These days I'm frightened that I miss my 'teachers little helper' a red Turkish wine called Dikman - sigh 8tl for a litre bottle (which is so little money)

Hmm, to celebrate my divorce I bought a Brunello ... that was a very lovely bottle.

Anyway, with those other horrors lurking in my past, I think it's best if I hire a wine expert ... should I ever find myself so dreadfully wealthy.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said... IS true about the Ozzie/Kiwi rivalry?

And to think...all these years, I thought they were the same country.


[See Sal run. See Sal hide. Run Sal Run! Hide Sal Hide!]

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Nyana said...

I'll take seafood Sal. Not a fan of pork, except pork ribs-which I could eat in heaping quantities. It's always interesting to find out how a country,in general,approaches food. In some parts of Canada, as my friends tell me, lamb ranks at the bottom of the food chain; in other parts, it's an expensive delicacy.
I'll try and find the curried goat recipe for you asap - haven't cooked goat in ages!

At 10:17 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Good lord, what sayeth ye - Ozzie/Kiwi rivalry ...?
I sacrificed my two brothers to a gentle takeover of the Australian territories.

Actually no, I deported them for general insolence ... even though they grew so much taller than me. So don't you go mocking me again, Mr Sal.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Sara said...

It was my first comment - I just discovered your site! (and enjoyed it very much)
I'm not sure how I got over the texture of brains, I think I started eating them at such a young age, I didnt' really care. I generally tend not to have texture issues with foods though - the usual strange texture suspects don't bother me :) I do know plenty of people who hate okra (because it's slimy?) and eggplants and oysters... the list of textural offenders goes on and on.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

Oysters and eggplants ... mana from heaven. It's not about slime it's about taste.

Sigh ... raw oysters, battered oysters ... eggplant in 4 million Turkish variations ... Di drools all over her keyboard writing her list.

Actually ... do you know what my mother did to me when I was a small defenceless child. She told me lambs brains, when battered and fried, were oysters ... and can you imagine, they were so much more edible when I believed her.

At 5:32 AM, Anonymous SP said...

Nice post, Sal.

My grandmother adds brain (minced) to her ravioli. We never tell our guests what is in the ravioli until after they have finished eating. Thus far, this is the only way I have been able to eat brain.


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