Spanish cooking is filled with traditional favorites that are comprised of flavorful spices and decadent meats, fish, and cheeses. Many of the flavors are unique to Spain, but some are adopted from the surrounding countries, often centuries ago. Some flavors are more popular in certain regions of Spain than others, usually depending on the primary source of food in a given region. For example, the coastal areas focus more on fish and the agricultural areas focus more on vegetables.
The Central Plains of Spain is overwhelmingly dominated by lentils, beans, chickpeas, garlic, saffron and paprika. Spanish dried lentils, beans, and chickpeas are amazingly creamy and flavorful after they are cooked. Smoked paprika has a special color and an unforgettable flavor - it can be sweet, bittersweet, or hot. Saffron is expensive; but can be worth the price, as a little goes a long way. Saffron comes in threads that can be pulverized into a powder.
Spanish cooking based off of the ingredients from the Northern Coast of Spain focuses on fish, cheese, vegetables. The dishes are often hearty and very straightforward. Sometimes smoked pork and anchovies are used. Manchego cheese, made from the milk of the Manchego sheep, reigns supreme in Spanish cooking. It can be found at most upscale supermarkets.
Anchovies are a kind of fish that are usually cured in salt. However, if they are too salty, they can be soaked in milk for about half an hour, then rinsed and soaked in olive oil. Milder, white Spanish anchovies are cured in vinegar instead of salt – they too have a remarkable taste. Spanish anchovies can be found at upscale supermarkets in the United States.
Spanish cooking from the Mediterranean region is a romantic blend of flavors. The food from this area blends Arabic, Italian, and Roman flavors. Dishes range from robust seafood casseroles with honey, dried fruit and sometimes chocolate to filling stews that have a sweet flair to them. Rice dishes are quite popular, paella being one of the most famous. Almonds, peppers, and salted tuna are frequently used, as well.
Marcona almonds, grown along the coast of Spain, are used in everything from desserts to tapas. They are famous for their flat, round shape and crunchy texture. These almonds have an extreme nuttiness that people find irresistible. Bell peppers should be fleshy and colored deeply. In fact, the redder the pepper is, the sweeter the flavor. Spanish canned tuna is delicate and flaky – much better in quality than common canned tuna.
Spanish cooking in the South of Spain encompasses Spanish cured hams, olive oil, and spices, such as cumin. Sherry is also commonly used. Bottle sherry can be fino – dry and delicate. It can also have a salty tang, a sweet flavor, or even a creamy texture. The type of grapes, where the grapes were grown, and the sherry-making process all factor into the flavor of the sherry.