Finding Asturias

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2009 at 12:41 am

Madrid was the perfect place to end my trip.  Food from every region of Spain is neatly represented in the capital.  As I checked out the menus posted across town, it was like reading a “Best of” Spanish cuisine.

Though I covered a lot of ground in six weeks, I couldn’t go everywhere.  While I passed through it on the long bus ride from San Sebastian to Santiago, I did not get to stop in Asturias, a region on the northern coast of Spain, just east of Galicia.  I was happy, however, to find an amazing Asturian meal at Casa Hortensia (Calle Farmacia 2) in Madrid…

Restaurante Casa Hortensia

I went to Casa Hortensia with Manoj.  (We met a week earlier when I shared that massive Cocida Madrileno at Taberna de la Daniela.)  While they were completely booked with reservations when we met there at 1pm, they said we could come back at 3.  We could tell from the tables, full of large families, that this was a special place for Sunday dinner.  We took the 3pm slot and went out for a coffee to pass the time.

Cabrales Cheese

Asturias is the undisputed dairy capital of Spain.  When we finally sat down at Casa Hortensia, we were immediately brought a plate of cabrales, the region’s renowned blue cheese. It was deliciously pungent, stronger than any gorgonzola I’ve tasted.  Texturally, it was creamy and spreadable, almost like a chunky hummus.  The cabrales paired perfectly with the acidic Asturian apple sidra we were drinking.

White Asparagus
I have heard so much about the white asparagus from Navarre, the region just to the west of Asturias. I hadn’t been able to taste it so we ordered the white asparagus as a starter. It was not my favorite, slightly mushy and faint of flavor.

I came to Casa Hortensia for its fabada, an Asturian white bean stew. It did not disappoint.  Fabada is traditionally made with large, wide white beans called “fabes de la granja.”  These beans were so tender and flavorful, having been cooked long enough to absorb all the meatiness of the other ingredients: chorizo, morcilla, ham, and pork fat.  The paprika from the chorizo had seeped into the broth, making it rust-colored and a little smoky.

Like any great comfort food, the fabada was both simple and soul-satisying.  Even as I sat there, I imagined making fabada on a cold day.  While I loved it in October, it would be the perfect antidote to winter.

Roast Lamb

After the filling fabada, I wasn’t sure that I had room for any more food.  I almost wished that we hadn’t also ordered the roast lamb.  When it arrived, it didn’t look the least bit appealing.  There was a bare bone protruding from some meat and a pile of pale potatoes.  Then, I tasted a little lamb with a little potato and, wow, it skyrocketed to my mental list of best bites in Spain.

The lamb was small and wonderfully tender.  We asked the server if it was a suckling lamb, but he said that it wasn’t.  I was surprised because it had all the mild, delicate flavor of the suckling lamb I had in Salamanca.  It also had great crispy skin.

The potatoes, as unappealingly blah as they looked, almost stole the show from the lamb.  Like the beans in the fabada, these potatoes had sucked in all the flavor from the rest of the dish: lamb jus, onion, garlic and olive oil.  When we gushed about the potatoes the server, he explained that they are sauteed and then added to the roasting pan with the lamb.  While the meat is cooking, the potatoes are basted with the jus.  These potatoes prove that looks aren’t everything; they were beautiful on the inside!

While we were full before the lamb came, Manoj and I miraculously had more stomach for that meat and those potatoes.  We finished every bite.

Casa Hortensia

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One Response to “Finding Asturias”

  1. Alexander7 says:

    Need cheap generic LEVITRA?…

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