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 the flocks of sheep to roam the hillsides. 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![/br]
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.
Sidra or Cider, made from locally-grown apples in Asturias has been produced here since ancient times and is considered the regional “wine.” The Romans called it “pomaria” and the Arabs called it “siserio.” It is produced under a Denomination of Origin and has a low alcohol content (4-6%). There are over 30 varieties of apples commercially grown in Asturias, but only some of the varieties are suitable for fermenting into sidra. As with winemakers, producers of cider must use their skills to combine sour crab apples with sweeter or more bitter varieties, in order to produce a balanced mix and a pleasant-tasting cider.The process for making cider is a simple one. First, the fruit is washed and chopped. Next, it is softened in water and pressed. The mashed apples are fed to cattle. The apple juice is fermented in barrels until at least a 4.5% alcohol content is obtained. The sidra is left to ferment about 6 months during the fall and winter. The only carbonation in the cider is what occurs naturally during the fermentation of the apples.
Espichas or “first tastings” are a tradition in Asturias where friends, family and neighbors gather to “taste” the sidra while it is still fermenting in barrels. These espichas are a fun gathering where ham, sausage, bread and Cabrales cheese are served while everyone drinks some cider right from the barrel! Around about February or March the cider is then bottled in dark-green glass bottles.
Cider is traditionally sold in establishments called sidrerias, where the bartender serves the cider with drama. Holding a large, rustic glass in one hand and a bottle of cider in the other, he raises the bottle above his head and lets the cider fall into the glass, producing a bit of foam from the carbonation. It is said that this pouring method is necessary in order to produce the best flavor from the sidra. In addition, the glass is never filled, but only an inch or two of cider is poured into the glass. Tradition says it must be drunk immediately and should not be allowed to stand!
Freshly sliced apples are baked in a pastry shell and topped with apricot preserves. Some versions include a cup of local cider, as well.
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!
Other sweets to try from Asturias are tocinillos de cielo, fayules, and carajitos (fritters filled with a hazelnut paste.)