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Sidra and Cabrales: Nacho Manzano’s Asturian Christmas

Sidra and Cabrales: Nacho Manzano’s Asturian Christmas

by Katie Smith 22 December 2015

Katie Smith uncovers the Christmas food specialities of Asturias by talking to three Michelin-starred Asturian chef Nacho Manzano, who reveals some of the culinary treasures of this green and fertile northern corner of Spain.

Asturias is a green and plentiful agricultural region dominated by the Picos de Europa on Spain’s northwest coast. This varied and bountiful landscape has gifted the province with its unique rich abundance of high-quality and equally diverse local produce, and is home to three Michelin-starred chef Nacho Manzano. ‘The geography and weather of Asturias is great for a vast variety of local produce with amazing quality,’ Nacho explains. Indeed, Nacho is dedicated to promoting the region’s wealth of gastronomic tradition through his formidable cuisine, ‘I try to respect the seasons in my food and the essence of the rural world where I grew up,’ he says. ‘I aim to expose these products and dishes in a tremendously respectful way and modify them as little as I can because, in my opinion, this is what produces the most emotion in the final taste.’

Winter is a particularly celebrated time in the Asturian gastronomic calendar as it heralds the start of the ‘pig slaughtering season,’ which coincides with St Martin’s Day on 11 November and supplies the locals with a delectable array of ‘meats and dishes’. The most revered of these delicacies has to be fabada, a classic Asturian stew made with chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), cured bacon and fabes (large white broad beans). ‘The real Asturian faba bean is a very delicate legume with a buttery complexion and almost see-through skin,’ Nacho explains. ‘The quality of the land and the climate of Asturias make it a unique ingredient that can only be found locally.’ Fabada is a true Asturian comfort food, encapsulating the meaning of what Nacho calls ‘casa de comida’. ‘It is that honest part of cooking that comes from love,’ he describes. ‘It is a way of cooking that is more traditional and austere, but full of wisdom where you naturally search for the best produce in the season.’ Simply put, it is ‘comforting, loving food’.

 Fabada, a classic Asturian stew

For Nacho, winter in Asturias is full of amazing produce – and not just from the lush fields and farmland of the region. ‘The Cantabric Sea, with its very cold waters, gives us amazing seafood and fresh fish,’ he says. ‘During the winter months, I particularly love humble seafood like sea urchin and crab.’ Indeed, this seafood is a ‘standard in most Asturian homes’ at Christmas, where you are sure to find ‘fish and seafood soup’ on the Christmas dinner table as well as freshly caught prawns. At Casa Marcial, Nacho’s two Michelin-starred flagship restaurant, the Christmas menu draws on the freshest seasonal, local ingredients from both the land and sea in recipes ranging from ‘sea urchin in acidulated and aromatic hollandaise sauce over yogurt,’ to ‘wild boar with maize gnocchi, chestnut, apple and truffle’, ‘limpets with cream of cider, onion and potatoes’ and ‘scrambled eggs on corn cakes with caramelised onion’, accompanied by the region’s infamous cave-aged ‘Cabrales cheese’.

Nacho Manzano outside his two Michelin-starred flagship restaurant Casa Marcial
Nacho Manzano outside his two Michelin-starred flagship restaurant Casa Marcial
Sea urchin dish by Nacho Manzano
Sea urchin dish by Nacho Manzano

Christmas in Asturias

Casa Marcial is Nacho’s ‘first project’, located high up in the Asturian mountains. The restaurant is particularly special due to its location. ‘It is where we do the most gastronomic and personal cuisine,’ he says. In addition to Casa Marcial, he also set up the Michelin-starred La Salgar in urban Gijón (‘the younger brother of Casa Marcial’), with cuisine that Nacho describes as ‘gastronomic and sophisticated’, but where ‘a lot of importance is given to traditional cuisine’. For a truly authentic Asturian gastronomic experience there is the ‘very affordable’ Gloria, casa de comidas in the region’s capital Oviedo. This eatery capitalises upon Asturias’ humble and forgotten produce, where the emphasis is firmly placed on ‘traditional dishes with more simple and respectful elaborations’. Nacho’s burgeoning restaurant empire has also extended to the UK with his series of ‘truly Spanish’ Ibérica restaurants. ‘We just do real Spanish food; we don't do adaptations or versions for the UK and they appreciate that,’ he says.

Nacho Manzano in one of his UK-based Ibérica restaurants

The Christmas menu on offer at the Ibérica restaurants has been developed by Nacho to showcase his favourite winter ingredients and the authentic flavours of Spain: ‘produce like mushrooms, game, chestnuts, apples and cider’. According to Nacho, it wouldn’t be an Asturian Christmas without sidra (cider). Asturias is famous for this beverage, which is made from Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) apple varieties and is served poured from a height to give the cider its characteristic fizz. Indeed, the Ibérica menus features four types of these PDO sidras de Asturias.

Back in Spain, ‘Christmas is a very good time for us,’ Nacho explains. ‘At Christmas, Asturias looks very cosy with people eager to celebrate; it is a very nice time of the year!’ Aside from the delicious festive meals of fish and seafood, ‘roasted meats and turrón’ there is the traditional ‘eating of twelve grapes to enter the New Year’. The twelve grapes are eaten one by one in time with the twelve chimes of the midnight bells to ensure good luck in the coming year. For Nacho, this is a time for family; as they enter the last weeks of the year and the restaurant season draws to a close, Nacho and his team look ahead with ‘illusion and excitement; on the one hand looking forward to our holidays as we close Casa Marcial for a couple of months, and on the other hand with creativity, excitement and hope for the new season and new menus in 2016’.

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Sidra and Cabrales: Nacho Manzano’s Asturian Christmas


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