Catalonian fricandó consists of thin slices of veal sautéed in olive oil and braised. | ARCHIVO


There isn’t a cuisine anywhere in the developed world that hasn’t been shaped to some degree by outside influences. And sometimes a recipe borrowed from another country becomes so entrenched in its new home that people come to think of it as a native dish.

This is the case with the Catalonian fricandó that has its origins in the French fricandeau, a loin of veal larded with fatty bacon and braised.

As always in these cases, the recipe undergoes some changes in its new home, especially with the addition of local ingredients.

Catalonian fricandó consists of thin slices of veal (ternera) coated in flour, sautéed in olive oil and braised with the Catalonian dried mushrooms called moixernons. The hallmark of this dish is very tender meat in a thick reduced sauce that is smooth and extremely tasty.

Fricandeau was already a well known dish in France when Ruperto de Nola published a book in Barcelona in 1520 in which escalopes of ternera were sautéed with bacon and onions. He didn’t call it fricandó but it was very much like today’s dishes that go under that name.

The historian and food writer Nestor Luján wrote that fricandó was first mentioned in a book published in Barcelona in 1767, but a recipe didn’t appear until 1835, in a cookbook called La Cuinera Catalana.

A fricandeau in France is now a cut of meat from the upper part of the leg, larded with bacon or unsalted pork fat and pot-roasted or braised. When braised with milk fed veal, the meat is so tender it can be cut with a spoon.

A fricandeau can also be a thick chunk of tuna treated in the same way as the veal. This is an excellent way of dealing with a nice piece of tuna but great care must be taken to avoid overcooking it. The French now consider fricandeau to be an old-fashioned dish and many current French cookbooks don’t give a recipe.

You are also more likely to come across fricandó in a Barcelona restaurant than to see it on the menu of a restaurant in the French capital or any major French city.

To make a fricandó for six you will need: 1 kilo of thinnish slices of ternera, 2 large onions, 1 big tomato, 2 small packets of moixernons, flour, virgen extra olive oil, glass of brandy, chicken or vegetable stock, salt and pepper to taste and herbs such as thyme, bay leaf or rosemary.

First put the dried moixernons into a cup of cold water to rehydrate them. Coat the ternera slices with flour and sauté them in a good centimetre of olive oil in a biggish frying pan.

When the ternera slices are golden on both sides, transfer them to a flat-bottomed earthenware dish such as a Majorcan greixonera or a cazuela. In the same oil sauté the finely chopped onions over a low heat until soft and golden. Then add the finely chopped tomato and cook very slowly until onion and tomato are of a jam-like consistency.

Add this mixture to the meat in the greixonera, pour in the glass of brandy and let it bubble and reduce before adding salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the moixernons and the strained water in which they were soaked. Add enough hot stock to cover the meat by about two centimetres.

Stir in the herbs of your choice (most Cataláns use bay leaf and either thyme or rosemary) cover the greixonera and simmer slowly until the sauce is thick and the meat tender.

This is the kind of dish that should be made at least several hours before it is needed. It is even better when made the day before and gently reheated in the oven when needed. Some cooks add a little flour to the onion and tomato mixture before stirring in the soaking liquid and stock, as this gives a thicker sauce to start with. It is better, however, to get the necessary thickness by letting the sauce reduce slowly.

The fricandó can be served on its own with soft country bread to mop up the sauce. Wedges of parboiled potato sautéed to a crisp golden colour also make a good accompaniment, as do creamy mashed potatoes.

Moixernons in small packets are on sale at many supermarkets. If you cannot find them you could use dried Chinese mushrooms cut into slivers after rehydration. You could also use any of the fresh mushrooms that are always available at the big Montiel stall at the Mercat d’Olivar. These include the shiitake and the large portobello, both of which are reasonably priced.

The Montiel stall is easy to find: entering the fruit and veg section directly from the fish market, it is the big one on the corner, to the right. It sells mainly high class fruit and has the market’s most varied selection of cultivated and wild mushrooms.

Another possibility for the fricandó are the fresh girgolas on sale at most supermarkets. Mercadona also has them pre-sliced in packs. Even the sliced common mushroom works nicely with this dish.

The flat greixonera that is best for this dish can be bought at the hardware sections of some supermarkets and also on the fifth floor of El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas. Specialist shops in Palma and inland villages sell them and you can also get them at weekly markets all over the island.

If you’re shopping at Mercat d’Olivar you can find a nice choice of greixoneras without leaving the market. As you enter the fruit and veg section from the fish market, there’s a big stall on the right that sells ceramic dishes and earthenware kitchen utensils including greixoneras.

An Italian pasta dish that is popular all over Spain is canelones (to give the Italian word its Spanish spelling) which made a second home for itself in Catalonia towards the end of the 18th century.

Although you will find canelones on the menus of Spanish restaurants in every Community, the dish is a speciality only in Catalonia. There are two good reasons for this.

Towards the end of the 18th century Barcelona received an influx of Italian cooks. The eventually found jobs in taverns and restaurants in the city and other big towns. At that time a type of spaghetti called fideos was already well known in Spain.

But these immigrant cooks introduced another dish that was to become a favourite in Catalonia and was later to travel to other parts of Spain. That dish was canelones and that was how it got to Catalonia. But there was another reason why the dish became a favourite there.

In those days the most popular dish in every Catalonian home, and almost on a daily basis, was escudella i carn d’olla, a kind of hot pot, called cocido in other parts of Spain. It is made with cheap cuts of meat and plenty of vegetables that made an economical meal. The stock was served as a soup with the meats and vegetables as the main course.

There was always plenty of meat left over from this hot pot and the economically minded Italian cooks minced it up and used it as a filling for canelones. The idea caught on and it wasn’t long before canelones were being made in just about every home in Catalonia.

Nowadays the dish is so popular in that part of the country that they have made it very much their own and we are inclined to forget its Italian origins. Catalonians are creative and inventive cooks and they didn’t simply copy the original.

They were soon adding their own distinct touches to the fillings and the Catalonian versions of canelones were eventually much more interesting than those eaten in different parts of Italy.

Canelones in Spain are invariably served in a bechamel sauce and often with a minced meat filling, usually a mixture of veal, chicken breast, lamb’s brains and chicken livers.

In coastal areas, however, you will find canelones with shellfish fillings or perhaps flaked monkfish combined with chopped spinach. Another favourite is salt cod with mushrooms. And when wild mushrooms are in season, Catalonians make some very tasty fillings with them.

Fillings with a spinach base are also very popular, one of them including anchovies, pinenuts and raisins that is quite sensational.

When you have made canelones a few times, the ideal next step is to forget about recipes and invent your own fillings. There is no end to the mixtures you can concoct, so let your imagination run wild and see what you can come up with.

There is one rule you must heed at all times: the filling must always be light and loose. Dense compact fillings are a huge no-no.

The pasta for canelones couldn’t be easier: it comes in packets of 15 square sheets and is most reasonably priced.

They sometimes don’t need cooking and are simply soaked in water to soften them before being filled.

I have never found them very satisfactory mainly because the texture isn’t right. I suggest you first try those that have to be pre-boiled before filling them.

As always with pasta, boil them in plenty of well salted water — and you’ll get better results if you use a wide saucepan rather than a tall narrow one. When boiling pasta of any kind, whether long or short, always use a pan with plenty of width.

I use four litres of water in a very wide pan and boil 10 sheets at a time for no more than 10 minutes. I scoop them out with a wire Chinese drainer and transfer them to a biggish basin filled with ice-cold water.

When I’m ready to fill the sheets of canelones I first let them drain on a couple of fresh tea towels. Spread some of the filling on the half nearest you and roll them up firmly but without squashing the filling: you must avoid a dense compact effect.

Have ready a well butter rectangular oven dish, spread some bechamel sauce over the base, put the canelones on top and cover them with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle the surface with grated cheese of your choice, generously dot with butter, and pop the dish into a hot oven until the surface starts to bubble and the grated cheese becomes crisp and golden.

Like lasagna and similar dishes, the preparatory work can be done hours beforehand, with the dish going into a hot oven half an hour before you need it.

I used the canelones sheets to make lasagna in the days before I had an electric pasta maker and they gave most satisfactory results. El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas sometimes has rectangular sheets of fresh lasagna and they can be cut down in size for making canelones. As the pasta is fresh it doesn’t need any pre-boiling and that makes it very easy to work with, both for lasagna and for canelones.