A Madrilenian stew is to Madrid what a Valencian paella is to Valencia, a national dish that defines an entire region of Spain. Of course, like the paella, the “cocido madrileño” has become ubiquitous, particularly during the winter months.
When I was growing up it wasn’t so popular or fancy. My mother made it often, especially if one of us had a cold, sort of her version of the Jewish chicken soup. Traditionally, it’s served in three courses: the soup, the vegetables with the chickpeas and the meats. Everything else is up to the cook’s imagination. The soup can be rice, vermicelli or any other small pasta; the vegetables consist of potatoes, celery, carrots, parsnips and sometimes cabbage; the meats always mean chicken, sausages and some pork or beef bone, as if the dish needed more flavor…
I’ve read that this dish goes back to Medieval times when it was called “olla podrida” (rotten pot). Originally it only required some vegetables and chicken. But by the XV century, after the Jewish people were expelled from Spain, pork was included by the Conversos, the converted Jews, to show their new faith and save their lives. No wonder, then, that Don Quixote, who like Cervantes himself was probably of Jewish descent, ate lots of pork in his stew.
My mother’s recipe always included rice and saffron for her soup, as a good Valencian woman she was. For the sausages she made sure to have some blood sausages made with onion and a lighter kind in color and substance. She didn’t make a big meatball as trendy Madrilenians do nowadays and tomato sauce was not served with the chickpeas and the vegetables.
Each cocido had a long life in my family. In its second day, the soup became vegetable puree served with croutons and the meats turned into “ropa vieja” (old clothes), cut in bite-size pieces sautéed with some tomato and onion. For me, the best part of this dish were the croquets made with the leftover chicken and some ham in a bechamel sauce.
I don’t make croquets now because they are so messy, but often prepare cocido for my American family and I’m always surprised they like it so much, since it’s so ethnic. Of course, I cheat like crazy and make my own hack substitutions. Blood sausages are out of the question, a pepperoni stick gives color and flavor just the same. Instead of soaking the chickpeas overnight, I get them out of a can, and I throw in a couple of veal shanks, because it’s lighter than pork and my youngest daughter loves the marrow. How is this possible? you may ask, but then, I always thought there was some Jewish blood in my heritage.
Concha’s version of the Madrilenian Stew:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small tomato, chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed
¾ cup rice
Saffron, salt, pepper, parsley, to taste
3 carrots, peeled and cut in half
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in half
3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut
3 potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6-8 chicken pieces, legs and thighs are best
3 veal shanks
1 stick pepperoni or chorizo, cut in two or three large chunks
In a large soup pot cover the meats with water and let them simmer for about 30 minutes. Skim the foam as it forms. Add the vegetables and continue simmering for 15 minutes longer, add the chickpeas last.
For the soup, sauté the tomato and garlic in olive oil. Add the rice until coated. Add spices. Cover with broth from the meat and vegetables pot, about two cups per person. Simmer for 20 minutes, until rice is cooked.
Serve the soup for a first course and then meats and vegetables, family style.
If you are brave, you know what to do with the leftovers!