El Botin – Madrid, Spain – a quick tour: See the Cochinillo Asado

The oven at El Botin with suckling pigs

The oven at El Botin with suckling pigs

Order up. Cochinillo Asado ready to go.

Order up. Cochinillo Asado ready to go.

The tag on the ear - Authentic suckling pig.

The tag on the ear – Authentic suckling pig.

The tour guide organized a tour of the facilities in El Botin, oldest working restaurant located in Madrid, Spain for me the chef…I’m blushing like pink sea salt. I met chefs going about their morning business prepping for the start of lunch service. I feel as if I’m in a candy store tagged with bundled energy, I miss that sometimes. In this epicenter, pots are boiling, oven doors are clanking, meat is getting butchered, vegetables being peeled, monk fish is being expertly fabricated…and oh yes, suckling pigs are getting seasoned and roasted. Roasted in an oven that has been lit and operating since 1725 having never been extinguished… I touched the worn granite, it was so surreal. In this kitchen and in Spain the pig is king. 50 -60 suckling pigs get roasted here daily. The little 35 pounders each take about 2 – 3 hours to get done. Seasoned simply with Thyme, Bay leaf, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, salt and Spanish Paprika – prepared so differently than in Jose Maria in Segovia, Spain. No authentic suckling pig seal on the ears of every pig, it doesn’t get purchased. I chatted a bit with Chef Michael, a Filipino national that has worked at El Botin now for 10 years, roasting suckling pigs. With that smile, I know he enjoys his work.

Chef Irie, Chef Michael & suckling pig in El Botin - Madrid, Spain

Chef Irie, Chef Michael & suckling pig in El Botin – Madrid, Spain

One of the dining rooms in El Botin

One of the dining rooms in El Botin

El Botin is a charming place with multilevel dining rooms, both above and below the kitchen. This was the favorite restaurant for Earnest Hemingway as he mentions in his book “The Sun also rises”. They said he wrote that novel while dining there at the restaurant. The building is even more fascinating when you understand that the many hallways, rooms, hidden stairways were used not just means of egress but were used to hide people during perilous times. One of which lead down to a wine cellar housing priceless bottles of wines. The dust was so thick on some I was expecting Christ to come out and pour me a drink. Of course you know I had to take a closer look. Squeezing my way between racks of wines. Upon leaving this cellar I began to think of the craziness of what I just did. Break a bottle and I might still be in Spain roasting suckling pigs to pay my debt. Hey, no risk no glory. I enjoyed this tour because as a chef it truly allowed me to feel connected to Spain. I never got to try the pig there but maybe they can ship me one of these little suckers. Food on Fiyah!!!

Chef Irie at El Botin - Madrid, Spain

Chef Irie at El Botin – Madrid, Spain

Rows of wine that I walked through. Clearance- less than 3ft.

Rows of wine that I walked through. Clearance – less than 3ft.

Passageways that  reveal sub-chambers and other hallways

Passageways that reveal sub-chambers and other hallways

Old & EXPENSIVE!!! bottles of wines in cellar at El Botin

Old & EXPENSIVE!!! bottles of wines in cellar at El Botin

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Cochinillo, Oh gosh I’m in Chef’s Heaven – Jose Maria in Segovia, Spain

Chef Jose Maria with Chef Irie in Segovia, Spain

Chef Jose Maria with Chef Irie in Segovia, Spain

Jose Maria – the Meal
There have been a few times since becoming a chef that I can truly say I have had an enjoyable and memorable meal

The suckling pig

The suckling pig

from start to finish, the kind that make you say…Great Meal!!! Two of which are birthday dinner a few years ago at Normans in Coral Gables, they are closed now another would be from a dinner I attended on a recent trip to Spain. It was in Segovia, Spain at the dinner reception for Law without Walls at famed restaurant Jose Maria owned by chef of the same name. This was an evening I most certainly won’t forget anytime soon. I was excited about this dinner because I was going to be having Cochinillo, the roast suckling pig. It is said that the roast suckling pig here is on par to that which is served in Botin, the oldest working restaurant which I visited during my stay in Madrid. Some even have said it could be better. Well, seeing as I didn’t get to have Botin’s suckling pig the jury is out eh.

Lamb salad w/ apple jam

Lamb salad w/ apple jam

After having an appetizing glass of rose and sample tapas of fried pork ribs at the bar I joined the table to meet and enjoy the company of new friends. Yep, a few more glasses of wine, reds this time from Ribera del Duergo (pago de Carraovejas). I was starting to feel…Nice. Then the meal started, I’m sorry the onslaught of yummy goodness began with a series of tapas served family style. First up was roasted lamb marinated salad with apple jam. I had forgone any large meals earlier in the day anticipating this dinner so that salad got sucked up in the vortex of hunger. It was good; I think…yes it was good. That apple jam lingers on the palette in a nice way. Before I knew it more platters of new Tapas was on the table for us to share. There were platters of Iberian Ham croquettes with glass of beet and potato chips, Picadillo – three type of pork; lean pork, bacon and cured ham – that’s pan fried and simmered until tender with onions,garlic, tomatoes and pimento (Paprika) with Morcilla and peppers; Iberian cured meats and there was that damn pork soup with butter beans, oh slap me and call me Django. It was insane I tell you. After this righteous savory indulgence one would think the belly would be full and the mouth tired…Not at all.

Picadillo w/ Morcilla

Picadillo w/ Morcilla

pork soup

pork soup

dinner has arrived

dinner has arrived

Main course of Cochinillo was to come. If baby pig was not your choice, grilled pork and salmon with a vegetarian option were also available. Sorry, I left my vegetarian passport at the door this night. For me, what came next was quite frankly the highlight of my day. I will exclaim right here right now, in Spain the pig is king!  Chef Jose Maria is now decreeing the sacredness of the Cochinillo. I’m so busy videotaping that I’m not even listening. The Long and short, the pig is proclaimed to be authentic then a chosen woman is asked to test the doneness and tenderness of the pig by poking in several places then cutting the pig in  half length wise, head and all…with a PLATE!!! Shut up I said!!!

There is a certain violence attached to this feat so definitely not meant for the weak hearted. As if that was not

My Cochinillo, dinner is served.

My Cochinillo, dinner is served.

enough, Chef Jose Maria proceeded after this to expertly carve and dissect the suckling pig for serving…with the said PLATE!!! I watched in awe, I wanted to hug him after this I tell you. It’s okay, the chef was most gracious to have his picture taken with me earlier, even remarked that he made a concession in allowing someone taller than he was to take a picture with him. He’s a comedian i tell ya. I was in Chef’s Heaven. No time for frolicking now as I had Cochinillo to devour. A piece of pork on a plate with sauce made from defatted cooking juice from the roasting process served from a clay jar. I felt like a reformed caveman who had gone through etiquette training. I had to enjoy every taste across my tongue, my lips, my teeth, damn, what else is in my mouth. So succulent with an amazing taste seeing as the pig is only seasoned with salt, olive oil and water. Scintillating it was. So satisfied I was that even a secondary flair of flambé, fiery chocolate with Cardomom ice cream was just extra fill stop. For more on Jose Maria click HERE. Tonight, truly…
It was Food on Fiyah!!!

Eating my way through Madrid… It’s Tapas Y’all.

tapas Asturia

Apple cider with olives, Tuna Empananda, Cabrales Cheese, Chorizo with Paprika Sprinkled Potatoes, Potato salad

You know, I hadn’t realized how difficult it can be to blog while you are travelling. At the present time, I’m here in Madrid, Spain. Yes, that’s where I have journeyed to and have been for the last four days. I’ve been walking, drinking and eating Tapas every chance I get. Any place or persons that can offer me pig from appetizer to dessert, you are my friend. I have been hoodwinked and lead astray. Time to be reeducated, time to set my sails straight. Spanish tapas, you are a joy, you are a delight… hot damn you are a beloved inspiration. They say tapas provide you with small “plates” but that’s not where the origins came from. I took a tapas tour in and around Madrid and as told by the guide, the taverns in the old days would put pieces of bread over the beer or sherry to keep the flies out. This graduated to them putting meats on the bread and this was given as a free sample when drinks were ordered. It is now customary here in Spain to be served a small tapas offering when you order drinks at the bar. You see my friends, Tapas comes from the verb Tapar which means to cover, not small plates.

tapas peppers and morcilla

Fried peppers from Padron, Morcilla with rice, Jamon Croquetas with Bechamel, Lentil stew, Leeks and Mushrooms from Padron with roast pork

The tapas tour was great, libations varied from Apple Cider fused with olive to cheap Sangria to beer to the Riojas of Spain. Free Tapas were often simple and sometimes more complex in flavors. The first samplings I had on the tour were that of potato salad, warm Chorizo with potatoes sprinkled with Spanish Paprika, Empanada with – tuna, roasted onions, peppers, garlic , salt and of course olive oil. This Empanada not the half-moon shape you typically see from South America is from Asturias in the North of Spain. It is made like a square tart with a light flaky pastry dough. Being from the islands you realize quite quickly that Spain is not the place for spicy flavors. My friends, I almost went into an orgasmic spasm when I was given Callos con Garbanzo, simply tripe with chickpeas. That one dish made my night damn it. So tender it was, hint of spicy, gooey, flavors of paprika and other spices covering my tongue, it was delish. Jesus, I would lick myself if I had it drizzled all over me. I also sampled fried peppers from Padron – delicately sweet, moderate heat with a hint of sea salt; Morcilla with rice – blood Sausage – this tasted nothing like the ones I’ve had in Miami from the Columbian markets, this was creamy and tasted like butter. The end of the tour had me sampling garlic Langoustines and Pulpo Gallego – Octopus cooked with garlic, olive oil and sweet paprika and served with potatoes. This was the tenderest octopus I’ve ever eaten. Each thin slice seemed to just melt in my mouth. My tour guide joked that they slapped the Octopus against the wall in the back, but she did say that the tenderness comes from how it was cooked: Frozen then boiled for an hour and cooled after
Most tapas bars will have the daily tapas written on chalkboards for you so making your selections will not be difficult at all. It is also customary to drop your litter – napkins, toothpicks etc. on the floor when done eating your tapas. This was indeed a weird sensation, reminds me of breaking plates in a Greek restaurant. Hey, when in Spain right?
The education about tapas will now continue in my kitchen, stay tuned. My stomach allowed me to write this bloody blog after all…Jesus I need some Callos..NOW!!!
Food on Fiyah!!!