Caldo Gallego is one of the quintessential dishes of Galicia (northwest tip of Spain) consisting of a broth made with all sorts of meats and leafy greens. It is a proper winter warmer and packed with nutrients!
It is so popular that, as with many traditional dishes in Spain, it has left its mark in the Collection of Traditional Proverbs, Sayings and Folk Music. Here are a few examples in the Galician language:
“A quen caldo non quera, cunca chea.” (Whoever doesn’t want caldo, gets a bowlful). This is used when one bad thing happens after another.
“Miña sogra morreu onte, deixoume o pote a ferver, deixame comer o caldo, que eu tamen eu de morrer.”(Yesterday my mother-in-law died, and left a pot boiling away. Let me eat the caldo, because I too will die someday).
“Se queres ter ao teu home gordiño dispois do caldo dalle un gotiño sempre que sexa de viño.” (If you want your man to be nice and fat, give him a drop after caldo; as long as it’s wine).
There are a few ingredients which are key to this recipe and unfortunately are not easily found if there isn’t a large Galician community where you live. These ingredients are unto and grelos.
Unto is a layer of pig fat which is rolled, salted and cured. It is very potent and therefore you only need a small amount. You can make caldo without it BUT in my eyes it will no longer be authentic caldo gallego.
Grelos are a leafy green from the turnip family. They are also so important that they also have proverbs about them, such as:
“Do nabo sal a nabiza, da nabiza sal o grelo, son tres persoas distintas, e un solo Dios verdadeiro.” (Nabizas come from a turnip, grelos comes from the nabiza, they are 3 distinct things, but one true God).
“Nabo, nabiza e grelo, trindade do galego.” (Turnip, nabiza and grelo: the Galician holy trinity).
If you can’t find grelos you can substitute them for nabizas (which if you can’t find grelos, you probably won’t find nabizas either), collard greens or cabbage. Personally, I only ever make it with grelos and detest the cabbage version even though it is also quite popular in some Galician towns.
Caldo Gallego, like many broths and stews, is best eaten the day after it is made. This is even reflected in another Galician saying:
“O caldo, ben cocido e ben repousado.”(Caldo: well boiled and well rested).
Anyways, enough talk and more action.
Before making caldo gallego there are a few steps which you may need to do in advance. The first is to blanch the grelos to get rid of its bitterness. The second is to make carne salada (salted meat). If you are lucky enough to find carne salada in your area, you don’t have to bother but in the part of Spain where I live it isn’t very traditional so is quite hard to track down. And lastly, you need to soak the dried beans in cold water overnight.
How to prepare grelos:
1 Cut off the root end of the grelos. Roughly chop the grelos and add to a large stockpot with water.
2 Wash the grelos by rubbing them together in the water. Rinse thoroughly.
3 In a large stock pot add grelos and top up with cold water. Once it comes to a rolling boil, drain and rinse with cold water.
4 At this stage you can either pack into freezer bags and freeze or use directly in the recipe.
How to prepare carne salada (salted meat), if using:
500g pork loin/pork shoulder
3 handfuls coarse salt
Coat the pork loin/shoulder in salt and leave in a covered container in the fridge for at least 3 days. It can keep for at least 2 weeks as the salt acts a preservative. After a few days, the meat will release water; it’s best to remove this water from the container.
How to prepare dried white beans
Soak dried white beans in plenty cold water and leave to soak overnight on a countertop.
After time has elapsed, wash in cold water and rinse.
Plenty cold water
6 cooking chorizos
500g carne salada, prepared in advance
½ rack of pork ribs
500g beef chuck
2 pigs ears (optional), washed and whole
2 pig tails (optional), washed and whole
2 slices Spanish cured ham bone (optional)
3 handfuls dried broad beans, soaked overnight in cold water
4 large potatoes, peeled, quartered and sliced medium-thick
1 large potato, thinly sliced
3 bunches grelos, prepared in advance (defrosted if frozen)
Salt, if necessary
1 Fill a large stock pot with cold water and add unto, carne salada, pork ribs, beef chuck, pigs ears, pigs tails, Spanish cured ham bone and soaked beans. Cook on high.
N.B. You can add the chorizos at this stage but depending on the type of chorizo you use it may ruin the characteristic white colour of the liquid. I prefer to boil the chorizos in a separate saucepan towards the final 30 minutes of cooking all the other meats.
2 When the water comes to boil, skim the froth with a slotted spoon. Then add 1 glass of cold water. My mum says that this is so that the beans are “shocked” and will therefore cook better (gotta love the old wives tales). Lower the heat to medium and leave for 1 hour 15/30 minutes.
3 When the time has elapsed and the meat is cooked remove it from the broth and leave it to rest on a serving dish.
4 Add the thinly sliced potatoes (these will disintegrate and help to thicken the broth) and the medium thick potatoes. When the potatoes are nearly cooked (10-15 minutes) add the grelos. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Season with salt if needed; normally the salt that is released from the carne salada, ham bones and chorizos is more than enough.
To serve: ladle the broth into bowls (traditionally in cuncas which are earthenware bowls) and serve alongside the dish with all the meats. You can eat the broth and meats separately or add the meat into the bowl; I prefer the latter, but each to his own.
As they say in the Galician language: “Xa vai sendo hora de xantar, bo proveito.” (It’s about time to eat, bon appetite)