Arroz al Horno…More Than Just Leftovers!


Arrozes from the Cofradia de Arroz.

Arrozes from the Cofradia de Arroz.

We are now well into Autumn and in the canon that constitutes Valencian gastronomy traditional dishes would include Arroz al Horno…oven cooked rice. It does seem to be a little incongruous however to want a dish which is a `rib-sticker´ when the sun is still shining and the temperatures are still in the mid to high 20´s!

Nonetheless it is appearing on the menus of local restaurants and many visitors to Valencia will not be aware of either its history or what a good meal it is.

Historically it is believed to be a dish of leftovers! The base of the dish is the stock left after cooking   `Putxero´ or `Cocido´ ( See my posts of 10 October and 17 February 2012.)  You are left with a big pan of stock full of goodness and flavour and have to find something to do with it!

Today it is a mainstay in  Valencia with regional variations and ingredients depending on which part of the Community you are in. It is particularly popular in and around Xativa and Ontinyent, the Ribeira Baixa and Alta and parts of Castellon as well as the Horta Oeste and Camp de Turia.

The dish has several names  but essentially `Arroz al Horno´ and `Arros al Forn ´ simply reflect the Castellano/Valenciana languages.

In some  areas I have heard it called `Arroz Paseado´ or `Arros Passajet´ no doubt from the tradition of households without ovens walking their dish to the local bakers to have it cooked for them after the bread was finished….something I have seen for myself  in Vilamarxant.

The dish is nearly always cooked in a Cazuela de Barra, the traditional and immensely popular terracotta oven to tableware which is ubiquitous here! I have however seen it cooked in a roasting pan and some of the trendier Pyrex oven pans which are now available.

Ingredients.

So what goes in it? Well, typically my Spanish friends will tell you that it should contain pork ribs, morcilla ( either with onion or `de carne´which are a little more robust in the cooking process) , blanquet ( or white sausage) pancetta ( thick rashers of belly pork) , chickpeas, rice, sliced potato and tomato all crowned with a head of garlic and a good stock.

You may also add pilotas  ( small pork balls with parsley and spices ) around L´Alcudia and  in some cases green beans or artichokes.

Arroz from L´Alcudia, Cooked by Galbis.

Arroz from L´Alcudia, Cooked by Galbis.

I have seen versions that include a whole duck ( La Ribera Alta – Alginet, Carlet ) , rabbit or chicken ( La Marina Alta- Parcent, Pego, Ondara ) and even incorporating pumpkin ( La Plana Alta – around Benissa and Almassora)  . Other friends tell me that there is sufficient flavour in the ingredients and that only water , salt and maybe a little saffron should be used.

What is absolutely clear is that the quality of ingredients is paramount. I have learned that buying mass-produced morcilla or blanquets is a mistake. Going to a traditional, specialist butcher for quality, artisan made products will pay dividends! Valencian gastronomy is after all about the juxtaposition of natural flavours and not about adding flavours to make something taste better! I buy my blanquets and morcilla de carne for the  version I cook from specialist butchers in Carcaixent and Ontinyent. I do not buy prepacked, pre-chopped pork rib from supermarkets, it is too small. The local butcher will chop your `trozos´ to the correct size. pancetta from such a butcher is also likely to be better quality if you wish to use it.

The local greengrocer is also a good source for the individual  ingredients which make up the stock and they generally have a better quality local tomato than the supermarkets who often source theirs from the Canaries or Holland!

Of course you should also soak your dried-chickpeas in water overnight as this is the alternative basis of the stock! Pre-cooked chickpeas work but the stock you use then becomes more important.  There are one or two proprietary brands of pre-prepared stock, or `Caldo´ available and as long as you  buy  the natural ones such as `Aneto´ you will be fine.

Arros Passejat, Casa Ricardo.

Arros Passejat, Casa Ricardo.

Ricardo´s Arros passejat or Arroz al horno.

Ingredients for four People.

400gm Arroz DOP Valencia.

250gm Pork ribs chopped into chunks.

I head of Garlic.

2 Garlic cloves chopped.

4 Morcillas de Carne

3 Tomatos.

2 Potatos

125gm Chickpeas

Stock

Olive Oil and Salt.

Thereafter the method of cooking is straightforward. Commencing in a frying pan with the potatos which are sliced thickly and fried on both sides and  set aside  The chopped pieces of rib come next, which are browned and sealed then removed, then the pancetta or blanquets and finally the morcilla.

The pan will now have a lot of fat and juices in it! You need some of this for flavour and texture! In the cazuela on an open heat, add some of the fat to  one chopped tomato and the diced garlic cloves. These should be cooked until you have a sofrito at which point the drained chickpeas are added and then the rice to absorb the flavours.

Add in the pork ribs and warm through. Then start to heat the stock and add it slowly to the rice. The potatos and the remaining  tomatos which have been sliced thickly  are then arranged on top and the morcilla, pancetta and blanquets are pushed into the dish. ( See pictures) . The head of garlic sits in the centre like a crown!

Adapted for the paella!

Adapted for the paella!

The rest of the stock is then poured in and the dish is put into a preheated oven ( 200ºC ) until all the liquid has been absorbed. This depends very much on the rice used. Round grain D.O.P. Valencia rice such as `Señorial´  will absorb 2-3 times the amount of liquid. Normally you will need up to 3/4 of an hour followed by five minutes resting time but check to see that there is either sufficient stock to completely cook the rice or that it is not already cooked.

Competitions are common place, the best known being in Xativa every year, but Torrente also has a competition for its `Arros Rossejat´and in Utiel at the Gastronomic fair every year there is a competition for amateurs. There is also a cod and cauliflower version!

Judging at the Utiel Fair Competition!

Judging at the Utiel Fair Competition!

 

Whether you try it in a restaurant, at a fair or cook it yourself the plate will not disappoint!

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