Asturias is a province in the region known as Green Spain, which includes Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country (El Pais Vasco) and Cantabria. Traditional gastronomical thinking would lump all these regions together and call them the “land of the sauces.” However, each area has its own culinary contributions to make, so it is best to focus on each one individually.
Where is Asturias?
Asturias is sandwiched between the regions of Galicia to the west, Cantabria to the east and Castilla-Leon to the south. Luckily, Asturias has miles of coastline on the Cantabric Sea to the north, which provides Asturian regional cuisine with high quality fish and seafood. Asturians are proud of their history, including the fact that in 722 AD, they helped Prince Pelayo fight off the Moors. For many centuries after that achievement, Asturias was looked upon as a poor region of simple farmers until the end of the 19th century, when the region experienced more prosperous times.
Traditionally, Asturians are farmers, shepherds and fishermen. Even today many shepherds allow their flocks of sheep to roam the beautiful green hillsides, and the native breeds of cattle are prized for their milk. Asturias is the land of cheese, and there are over two dozen varieties of cow, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses produced in Asturias.
The regional cuisine of Asturias is well-known in Spain and Latin America. Here are some of the famous dishes from Asturias:
- Fabada Asturiana – Asturian Bean and Sausage Casserole
Probably one of the most famous Spanish dishes is Fabada Asturiana-Asturian Sausage and Bean Casserole. It is so popular that Spaniards have canned it and exported fabada all over the world. Spanish women brought their recipes with them to Latin America for centuries and so it is very popular there, as well. At present, you can find the sausage, ham and other ingredients for fabada shrink-wrapped in little packages in the meat department of Spanish supermarkets!
Although Fabada Asturiana is the most famous dish using fabas or beans that are grown locally, there are many other dishes that combine the beans with rabbit, mushrooms and even salmon.
- Caldereta – Fish Stew
This fish stew contains not just fish, but lobster and crab as well. Add onion, parsley, fresh tomato and a bit of white wine and cognac and you have the most delicious fish stew you’ve ever tasted!
- Merluza a la Sidra – Hake in Cider
This main course appears on menus in most restaurants in the region. Hake or Merluza of very good quality is available in Asturias and Cantabria, the neighboring region. Merluza a la Sidra is a delicious blend of hake fish, clams, onion, garlic, tomato, potatoes, apples and a bit of cider, cooked in a ceramic dish, then baked.
- Salmón a la Ribereña – Salmon with Cider Asturian Style
Asturias is known for Salmon Rivers named Nalon and Della and it is Spain’s leading salmon producing region. This dish is made with salmon, bacon, ham and cider or white wine.
- Carne Gobernada – Carne Gobernada - Asturian-Style Beef in White Wine
is a typical dish from Oviedo, capital of Asturias. It is a traditional main course, prepared by very slowly cooking the chunks of beef in onions and white wine until they are tender.
Cabrales cheese is the most famous cheese in the region. It is a strongly flavored, blue cheese, aged in caves and is now produced under a Denomination of Origin (D.O.). It is available in gourmet food stores and through web sites. The Regulating Council of this Denomination of Origin recognizes that Cabrales cheese is one of the most well-known products of Asturias and is now promoting the product internationally, as well as through culinary tourism of the Cabrales area.
The region produced other cheeses such as Gamonedo, Penamellera andafuega’l pitu.
Cider and Wine
Sidra or Cider, made from locally-grown apples in Asturias has been produced here since ancient times and has long been considered the regional “wine.” It is a low alcohol drink, which is slightly effervescent, and very refreshing. It is popular all over Spain, and enjoyed during hot summer weather. In addition to sidra, Asturias has a new D.O. or Denominacion de Origen, "Cangas" was recently created, where both red and white wines are produced.
- Asturian Cider - Sidra Asturiana, A Tart, Yet Sweet and Effervescent Drink
The Asturian version is made with rice, butter, sugar, lemon and a cinnamon stick, but has a special addition - a layer of caramelized sugar on top!
These sweet, little empanadillas or turnovers are filled with chopped walnuts that have been soaked overnight in anise liqueur and sugar. They are fried and coated in sugar.
Freshly sliced apples are baked in a pastry shell and topped with apricot preserves. Some versions include a cup of local cider, as well.
This traditional cheesecake is made with fresh goat cheese, decorated with fruit or powdered sugar.
Other sweets to try from Asturias are tocinillos de cielo, fayules, and carajitos (fritters filled with a hazelnut paste.)