The secret of the Iberians


“Quién corta el jamón en tu casa?” asked the butcher, his breath smelling of wine. “Who cuts the ham in your house?”

“Yo,” I said, raising my hand.

“Venga, entonces,” he beckoned. “Come here, then.”

I walked behind the counter of Santiago’s meat store in Lanjarón, Spain, and Santiago handed me the knife. As I’d watched him do, I began slicing thin sheets of jamón Ibérico, or Spanish prosciutto, and placed the pieces on a sheet of wax paper. Then I bought some wine, sheep’s milk Manchego, olive oil and a half pound of secreto Ibérico — Iberian secret.

I first encountered the Iberian secret at a restaurant in the nearby town of Órgiva, where it was used to flavor sautéed artichokes. It’s a secret I don’t intend to keep.

“Food is either fatty or sinful,” Santiago said in Spanish.

“You two are, like, the exact same person,” my wife observed.

Down the street, I bought a sack of raw almonds and a jar of local honey, two ingredients that seemed made for one another, from a man who ended the transaction with a sermon on the evils of plastic bags. We then walked up a steep hill to the central market for some avocados, onions, garlic, escarole and, of course, artichokes. Spain’s artichokes are smaller but meatier than the ones at home.

From the street food stand to the white tablecloth, my big mouth is an open door to all types of food in all contexts. But while dining out is a fun treat, it can divert you from culinary experiences that are a lot more meaningful. I consider restaurants to be gateways to new food scenes rather than the goal.

I hit a few restaurants to see what chefs did with local produce in order to orient myself to the possibilities of these ingredients. Then I got to work in the kitchen of my rental house.

Playing with local ingredients offers a ground-level view of a place that’s only available to those who dare to descend the pampered throne of being served by cooks and waiters. Whether I’m making my usual recipes with local versions of familiar ingredients or learning new ways to use them altogether, cooking on the road is my favorite way to explore. When you ingest particles of a new place into your body, that landscape — and the culture of the people who coax food from it — becomes a part of you. It’s hard to imagine a more meaningful communion. With your feet on the ground, you’re no longer a tourist but a local in training.


 Scrambled tortilla de huevo con secreto Ibérico

Tortilla de huevo is a Spanish-style omelet. It traditionally resembles a flat pancake, but since my flipping skills aren’t great, I make a Western-style folded omelet or simply stir it up like scrambled eggs.

Secreto Ibérico is cut from the front of the pork belly, also known as bacon. So, you could call this meal bacon and eggs and not be wrong. That said, this isn’t your mama’s bacon and eggs.

  • Two slices of bacon, minced
  • One clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of minced onion
  • One small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sheep’s milk
  • Manchego, crumbled
  • Two eggs

Makes one serving

Fry the bacon in an omelet pan, then place it on a paper-towel-lined plate.

If there isn’t enough bacon grease remaining in the pan, add some olive oil. On medium heat, fry the garlic, onion and tomato.

While that’s going on, beat the eggs in a bowl with the cheese.

When the garlic, onion and tomato are cooked down, about 10 minutes, add the parsley, mix it in and cook for one minute.

Remove the contents of the pan but leave the grease. Add more olive oil if the pan looks too sinful, as Santiago would say. Pour in the beaten eggs and let them cook for about a minute. Add the veggies and Iberian secret and fold or scramble the omelet.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us