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Canarian gastronomy: products of the sea and the land

The gastronomy of any culture is, without doubt, a reflection of its history and identity. In the Canaries, the original ways of preparing food used by the aboriginal people have been transformed through a series of encounters with different cultures that have taken place in the archipelago. Nowadays our gastronomy reflects contributions from European cuisine -- mainly that of Spain and Portugal -- as well as Latin American and African cooking, and all these influences come together to create the special, unique identity of Canarian food. The mild climate of the islands means local cooking can benefit from the luxury of fresh, healthy products that come straight from the surrounding countryside and sea. At the same time the warm temperatures found here are reflected in the local taste for tasty, well seasoned dishes. A gastronomic tour through the Archipelago is full of pleasant surprises, as in each island we can try out excellent local dishes and interesting variants on common recipes. The special geography of this island territory, along with its own particular style, means that in the greenest areas we can enjoy products from the lush countryside (all kinds of vegetables and tropical fruit) while in other parts of the archipelago we can savour the remarkable produce that comes from productive farming methods that have converted dry, sterile volcanic lava fields into fertile land.

Ropa vieja

Vegetables and pulses

Soups and stews When it comes to soups and stews, two recipes stand out in the islands: puchero canario and rancho canario. The former, a wholesome unique dish similar to the Spanish cocido, includes various types of meat cooked with other products such as corn-on-the-cob, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pulses and root vegetables. The latter dish, rancho, is a thick stew made from chickpeas, thick noodles, potatoes and meat. Vegetable potajes or thick soups are an essential first course in all the Canary Islands. Whether they are enriched with meat and spices, it is easy to find a range of variations depending on the location. The most famous version is made with watercress, but equally tasty are the version in Tenerife made with bubango (a small courgette) and the version in Gran Canaria made with millo or maize. Pulses are also very important to the local cuisine: the very popular ropa vieja is made with chickpeas and any meat left over from a stew, combined with potatoes. In Tenerife, chickpea stew is famous while in Lanzarote stew made from lentils is more popular.

From America: “Millo� Maize (known as millo in the Archipelago) was brought from America and quickly became an important part of the local gastronomy. Corn-on-the-cob can often be found in Canarian dishes as an accompaniment to stews and meat dishes. Flour from this maize, as well as from other sources, is used to make gofio.

Lentils, chickpeas and watercress potaje (thick soup)

“Papas” Potatoes, called papas in the islands, were brought here from America shortly after the Conquest, and soon became an indispensable part of the Canarian cuisine, to the extent that they have become the most characteristic culinary product of the archipelago: papas arrugadas or “wrinkly potatoes”. These are eaten in their skin, either alone or accompanied with a range of sauces, of which the most famous is mojo picón or spicy mojo.

In every dish The Canarian papa or local potato, in any one of its many varieties, is present in practically all the dishes of the island gastronomy, either as the main ingredient or as a side dish. A traditional meal in all the islands is the tasty potato broth or caldo de papas, a delicious dish flavoured with coriander, which as the name suggests uses potatoes as its main ingredient. Potato broth

“Papas arrugadas” with coriander mojo sauce

The original “papa” The archipelago is the only place in Europe where we can find the papa andina, or Andean potato, which has been cultivated for between 300 and 400 years and is known in the islands as the oldest variety of potato in the Canaries. In fact there are more than 100 different varieties of Canarian potatoes.

Our fish

The Canarian archipelago has a long tradition of seafishing, which is why fish and seafood are standard dishes in local menus. This land, made up of seven islands and five islets, offers a wide range of sea products and local species of fish. These combine with the originality of the recipes used in the cooking of these products to produce a fusion of flavours. Whether we are talking about soups, cooked dishes, or fish dried traditionally in the sun, each island has its own special recipe for the preparation of fish dishes which reveals how important fishing is to the local culture. Similarly distinctive are the different techniques used to catch the fish and the local stories related to the sea, which are an important part of the identity of the Canarian people.

Local species The seas around the Canary Islands are brimming with fresh fish, as well as offering a wide range of local species. Among the most popular, and suitable either for a first course or a second course, we can mention parrotfish or vieja, combers or cabrillas, moray eels or morenas, tuna or different types of sea bream or sama. All these fish can be cooked in a variety of ways: in the oven, fried, marinated, or in sauces.

A sea of flavours Using produce from the sea, Canarians cook starters, first and second courses which offer a delicious range of flavours. As a starter, the sea produce which is most often served in the Canaries are mussels, usually cooked in a pan and accompanied with green mojo sauce. Also occupying a place of honour is the burgado, a highly prized sea snail. Similarly, we can’t forget octopus cooked in various ways, as well as different types of anchovies and sardines which can be fried or eaten when dried. Parrotfish cooked with onions and sweet potatoes

Octopus salad

In fact, dried fish is another of the culinary specialities of the islands. The climate of the archipelago has favoured the two traditional methods of preservation: jareas, which is simply a way of drying the fish by cutting it open and letting the wind dry it: the fish is then cooked in the oven; or tollos, which are strips of dogfish dried in the sun which are subsequently cooked in sauce. In both cases, the drying process is done in accordance with all the relevant health and safety regulations. In terms of soups and stews, those based on fish vary from one island to another in terms of their ingredients although the main component is usually grouper or mero, sea bream or sama, or stone bass or cherne. Also worth trying are the tasty fish casseroles or cazuelas. Another important dish is the Canarian sancocho, which is made from boiled salted fish and accompanied by potatoes, sweet potatoes, gofio and mojo.

With “mojo” and “gofio” The many varied fish and seafood products of the Canarian archipelago are flavoured with two ingredients that are typically Canarian: gofio and mojo. Gofio escaldado is the perfect complement to fresh fish, and in each island there are restaurants that are famous for the skill with which they prepare it, as the chefs thicken the flour - normally made from maize - with fish broth. Similarly, the special dough that is made to go with the Canarian sancocho is more solid and is called pella de gofio. The typical Canarian sauce known as mojo, which can be spicy or not, is another of the local ingredients which can be used to flavour recipes made with produce of the sea; the green mojo is especially popular for this purpose.

Scalded ‘gofio’

Our meat

Meat was an important part of the diet of the Canarian aborigines. Centuries later, there are still many recipes in the islands based on meat, always cooked with herbs or spices to bring out particular flavours. Whether they are characterised by their simplicity, or whether they are the result of a fusion of the culinary traditions of a range of cultures, all the meat recipes here have one thing in common: a distinctive taste.

An aboriginal inheritance. The earliest occupants of the Canary Islands ate the meat of the goats, sheep and pigs that they bred. Nowadays, pork, known in the Canaries as de cochino, as well as goat meat or kid (baifo), remain essential elements of Canarian cuisine along with the meat from other animals introduced later on to the islands, such as rabbit, chicken or veal.

A “flock” of dishes. In the Canaries there are a whole series of recipes whose principal ingredient is meat: from cold meats to traditional stews, as well as a range of main dishes with distinctive flavours. Pork, or de cochino, occupies a popular spot in the culinary tastes of the Canarian people, and can be boiled, fried or marinated. Ribs served with potatoes are a typical dish eaten during the religious processions held in Tenerife; in fact, one particular kind of marinated pork is named “fiesta meat” in this island. Another exquisite dish is roast leg of lamb, typical of Gran Canaria, which is eaten as an appetizer or starter, or in a thick bread roll as a snack.

Rabbit in tomato sauce with papas arrugadas

In terms of cold meats, the Canarian chorizos or sausages are of particular interest; though they have many different names, they all have the consistency of a soft paste which is easy to spread. Generally they are coloured orange or red by the paprika they are seasoned with, and among the most famous are the chorizo from Teror, in Gran Canaria, the chorizo from Chac贸n, in Lanzarote, and the chorizo palmero, from La Palma. Another local recipe is a kind of sweet black pudding, whose flavour comes from the sweet potatoes, raisins and almonds with which it is made. Of the wide variety of meat recipes offered by the Canaries, those involving goat meat are of particular interest, as this was one of the traditional food sources from the pre-Hispanic period. The baifo, the aboriginal term for baby goat or kid in the Canaries, is especially popular in important celebrations such as Christmas.

Ribs with potatoes

Another very common dish in the local island gastronomy is rabbit, prepared in different ways including conejo en salmorejo. Also very popular are carajacas, which is a tasty dish made from veal, lamb or pork liver.

Seasoned spice The addition of aromatic herbs and spices to recipes is one of the characteristics of Canarian gastronomy. They are used both to season certain dishes and in the preparation of sauces, marinades and mojos. Some people believe that they do not just add flavour and taste to the dish, but that their consumption is also beneficial to our health. The most commonly used herbs and spices include cumin, thyme, mint, anise, bay leaf, paprika, saffron, oregano, parsley and fennel.

Rolls with Canarian chorizo, sweet black pudding and roast lamb

Our desserts

When it comes to desserts we can choose between traditional puddings made with local ingredients, or more recent recipes that have become popular since the introduction of the cultivation of tropical fruit. Traditional puddings in the islands are very rich and varied and their main ingredients – almonds, honey (bees honey or Palm honey), gofio, milk, eggs, cheese or figs - combine to make tasty desserts. Leche asada, huevos moles or bienmesabe are some important examples of local puddings, as are mimos or suspiros, frangollo, quesillo and rapaduras from La Palma or quesadillas from El Hierro. In the same way that there are some recipes for desserts that are famous in a particular island, others are associated with certain festivals or times of the year. The meat pies of Gran Canaria are typical of the celebrations there at Christmas, while in La Palma people traditionally prefer almond cheese; and in all the islands people eat sweet potato pasties or truchas at this time of the year. At carnival time a typical delicacy is pancakes with Palm honey, and milk bread in La Palma; in the religious processions held throughout the year it is common to eat nougat and pellitas de gofio with honey and almonds.

Quesillo. On the left, bananas flambĂŠ with palm honey.

Banana, orange and biscuit dessert. Top left-hand corner: ‘suspiros’ and almond biscuits. On the right, almond cheese.

The climate in the islands means it is possible to grow delicious tropical fruit. Papaya, pineapples, avocados, mangoes, guavas and of course the famous Canarian banana or plátano have all been used in desserts and salads.

The Canarian banana The cultivation of this exquisite fruit began at the end of the 19th century. The Canarian banana is characterised by golden yellow skin flecked with brown, which reveals a soft aromatic interior with a sweet flavour, which clearly distinguishes it from the dry, hard texture of American bananas.

More than a fruit As well as being consumed as a simple fruit all year round, the Canarian banana is used in many recipes and in fact is now a favourite in the innovative cuisine of the islands. As a dessert, we can find a wide range of possibilities in its preparation: fried banana, banana mashed with gofio, as a complement to mousse, crème brûlée or ice cream, and so on. We can also find it in the main course of our meal as it is used to flavour an omelette, in salads, or as an accompaniment to rice or meat.


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