February in Galicia is caldo do ósos and sunshine
February in Galicia usually means carnaval – a moveable celebration linked to Easter and the beginning of lent. In our particular small piece of Galicia, the first Sunday in carnaval (or entroido in the Galician language) means A festa do caldo de ósos.
This year will be the 29th edition of the Taboadan festival which, like most Galician festivals I’ve been lucky enough to attend, is quirky, slightly bizarre to ‘foreigners’, and tremendous fun.
Caldo de ósos, despite its translation on Google, has nothing to do with bears. Óso is Galego for bone, hence bone stew. Even this translation does not do justice to a delicious and warming dish made with pork bones (specifically the backbone or spine) cooked long and slow with chickpeas and potatoes in a paprika flavoured sauce. It is claimed by Taboadans that the stew is unique to this locality and would originally have been eaten on the second day of matanza or pig slaughter time.
In the days before freezers a home grown, and home killed, pig would need the meat to be cured or eaten as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage. Matanza would normally take place in the colder months. Traditionally from Martinmas in November when the days are short, nights cool and the number of flies has decreased. On the first day the liver and kidneys would be eaten together with the fillet, the head would be salted, the legs would be cured for jamones and much of the remaining lean meat used for chorizos to be slowly smoked. In Taboada, the second day of matanza meant caldo de ósos. Some older residents say that the caldo is now more widespread due to inter-village marriages where the Taboadan brides would have taken their recipe with them.
In 1991 Taboada decided to celebrate its famous stew by creating a festival dedicated to it. This festival has grown to cover two days, many market stalls selling produce from across the region, a lively evening pub crawl and free tastings or degustación of the stew. At lunchtime on the Sunday around a dozen establishments participate in offering the special festival menu. This consists of the bone stew of course plus a main course of pork ribs roasted in the oven with potatoes and peppers. Dessert for this special day is local fresh cheese with honey and filloas, a delicious thin pancake made traditionally with pigs’ blood. Of course, as ever in Galicia the feast is accompanied by bread, wine and good company.
There is still time to book places for this year’s feast on February 23rd and I would highly recommend the experience.
Recipe for Caldo de ósos
There is fierce competition between establishments to make the best Caldo de ósos each year in Taboada. This is the famous recipe of Mari Luz at Casa Descalzo the oldest restaurant in Taboada. The brains can be omitted but do add a sweet note to the dish.
Take the spine pieces of pork (ham is pretty good too) cut into sections and boil with onions and chickpeas (soaked overnight) for 1-2 hours until the chickpeas are tender. Add potatoes cut into chunks plus a grated parsnip. Once the potatoes are cooked add the pig brains cut small and continue cooking until everything is tender.
Make a refrito of oil, garlic and sweet paprika. Mix into the stew and serve immediately.