Last week, I was in La Rioja where I spent one night in the little town of Haro. Always a favorite stops for me, it makes you feel like you stepped back in history as you wander about the stone buildings and ancient roads. Not to mention the chance to taste some of the best Spanish wine available in the myriad bars and restaurants.
Arriving quite late, I found myself tired and hungry. So I quickly found myself a room to stay and sped off in search of something to kill my appetite. Bar after bar wafted aromas towards me beckoning me to enter and see what was within it wasn’t long before I found myself wandering into the back of a small bar to peruse what the fixed price, menu of the day had to offer. This night, as I’m sure is the case on most nights, Cordero Asado was on the menu, which simply put translates to Roasted Lamb, though that makes it sound less interesting than it really is. Cordero Asado is about the most simple and delicious take on lamb that there is.
After doing a little research online, I found this recipe for it, though I think it might be a bit too complex. If you read the recipe you’ll see it has 6 ingredients and I know 6 ingredients is not much, but I bet you don’t need all those extra spices if you had a lamb shank from La Rioja. You see the lamb is so good here that you don’t need much more than a splash of salt water, a wood fired oven and a pot to put it in. In fact that’s about all most people use.
Here’s how I was told it is made the first time I asked a someone:
First, take a lamb still sucking from the teat and kill it, remove all wool and organs. Second, sprinkle with salt water and set in a ceramic crock. Third, sunburn said animal at high temperature in a wood fired oven. Fourth, slowly cook it to perfection at a slightly lower temperature till done. Finally, serve on a plate making sure to sprinkle the juices over the top and adorn with a salt shaker.
That’s it and the end result is basically a crispy lamb shank on a plate with a potato or two.
Not much to look at and really not what I expected to find the first time I ordered it. Coming from the USA where we always feel a need to dress up anything that makes it to our plate so as to hide the fact that it may have been alive at one time, this bare expression was a jolt to the system, until I tasted it.
The skin is crisp and tastes, as a friend explained it to me the first time he had it, “like the best turkey skin you can imagine and then a bit better”. Pooled around it are it’s own juices glistening with sweet fat. As you crack into the crisp skin the aroma floods your nostrils as tender sweet meat unveils itself dripping with flavor. The hardest part is trying to go slow as you find yourself trying to extract every last morsel from the lightly charred bone.
So far I haven’t talked a lot about the food in Spain or Portugal, and I hope to change that some. Not with the hopes of making this into a Iberian food blog but more to show how the food and wine need each other to shine. That night I had a simple Rioja with dinner: 2000 Rioja Bikaña Crianza. The part that got me is that while the wine was tasty enough on it’s own, when married with the lamb I was left in gluttonous heaven. The strong acidity of this Rioja cut like a knife through the rich fat helping to bring out the subtle earthiness of the meat. While leaving the palate in a position to accept more of this culinary treasure. Needless to say I left that night having killed my appetite thoroughly.
In this way I hope to bring more food to this blog. When I travel I have to eat, right? Might as well tell you what I had.
Till soon, Ryan Opaz
- 2000 Rioja Bikaña Crianza – Spain, La Rioja (12/6/2005)
Cherry cinnamon nose with light anise. Very light burgundy color.
In the mouth the tannins are light and it shows a medium to light acidity. Refreshingly crisp flavors of cherry, light chocolate and light wood all mingle on the palate.