Posted 17 April 2006 - 05:15 AM
Let's see, John. We're not in a macho contest to see which produce from which country is best. The discussion here is on the importance of ingredients for authenticity in Spanish traditional cuisine. I say it's crucial for many dishes, and you say with 'replacement ingredients' the results can be very satisfying, thus agreeing with José Andrés' mantra. They can, but in many cases the dish will be so thoroughly transformed that it will bear no resemblance with the original and therefore should be called something different.
Let's take a reverse example. I've been for many years very fond of a dish that is, nowadays, rather unfashionable (not to mention politically incorrect from a dietary viewpoint): New England clam chowder. Well, I make a pretty tasty chowder here in Spain, but I never call it 'New England clam chowder' even though there are potatoes and smoked bacon and cream in it, because I cannot add what I consider a crucial element: huge, fresh quahog clams, of a size that will allow me to chop them into small morsels, are just not available in Europe. So I cook a very good 'New England-inspired' chowder with nice large Atlantic 'almejas', but the taste and texture are just not the same. I have to go to Boston to taste the real thing again.
You have tasted roast Castilian lamb in Spain, if I remember right. Do you sincerely believe that you can go to any market in New York and purchase a lamb that will enable you to replicate the recipe, the taste, the texture... the whole culinary experience?
(Reminds me of a rather infamous example from way back when Mama Leone's still existed in New York, and a visiting Italian soccer star was taken there for lunch. He later said: "Well, that dish they call lasagna here was not at all like what we call lasagna in Italy"… Of course, Babbo and Il Mulino are much better than Mama Leone's and the whole Italian scene in NYC is so vastly improved now.)
I've thought of some key regional dishes and of their adaptation to US produce availability. For example (a very partial list):
Cargols a la llauna (seared snails on a metal sheet): impossible to replicate because the specific 'bobero' snail, which lives in vineyards, is necessary.
Fricandó de vedella amb moixernons (a stew of milk-fed veal with rehydrated fiairy ring mushrooms, Marasmius oreades): easy to replicate because the dried mushrooms are available in tins
Calçotada (roasted fresh scallions/onions with a spicy romesco sauce): can only be imitated because the necessary type of Tarragona scallion/onion, always kept underground, is not available in the US.
Mandonguilles amb sèpia i pesols (meatballs with cuttlefish and green peas): easy to replicate.
Botifarra amb mongetes (butifarra pork sausage with kidney beans): can only be imitated because Spanish-made butifarra and the small 'ganxet' beans are not usually sold in the US.
Paella valenciana can only be imitated using dried rosemary instead of snails because the small 'vaqueta' snails that imparts the crucial rosemaryish flavor are not available.
Gambas rojas a la plancha (seared red prawns): cannot be replicated because the Denia red prawn is an entirely different
Morteruelo, gazpachos manchegos, perdiz a la toledana: all of these recipes use wild red-legged partridge meat, which is unavailable in the US (unless purchased from Venison America, which rarely carries it), so they can only be imitated.
Castilla y León
Cordero/lechazo asado (roast baby lamb), cochinillo/tostón asado (roast sucling pig), cabrito asado (roast kid): the raw materials are not available in the US, so these roasts can only be imitated, with results that don't resemble the original.
Merluza en salsa verde (hake in a green sauce): impossible to replicate as hake is not usually available in the US. Scrod or codfish can be used for imitations.
Bacalao al pil pil (dried cod in a garlic emulsion): easy to replicate.
Besugo a la espalda (sea bream, split open and grilled): impossible to replicate as sea bream is not available in the US. Porgies and other members of the Sparidae family may be substituted for an imitation.
Angulas en cazuela (baby eels, pre-cooked and briefly reheated in olive oil with garlic and guindilla peppers): impossible to eplicate.
Lacón con grelos y cachelos (pork's fore leg with spicy chorizo sausage, potatoes and turnip flowers): can only be imitated using turnip greens, since turnip flowers are unavailable in the US.
Caldeirada de rape (monkfish stew): easy to replicate if you can find whole fresh monkfish.
Gazpacho: easy to replicate
Secreto, entraña, pluma, engaño, lagarto, carrillera, sorpresa or pestorejo of Ibérico ham: these pork cuts are impossible to replicate, both in grilled dishes and in stews, because Ibérico pork products are not available in the US.