Caldo Gallego is a tradition. It was born in the rural, northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. Bringing together dried white beans, potatoes, fatty bits of cured pork, and hearty greens, it is a beautiful arrangement of the area’s harvest and the farmer’s prescient attitude of using as much as that harvest as possible.
Each autumn, I prepare Caldo Gallego and freeze it through the winter. While I have thawed and eaten it in the spring or summer, it is never as satisfying as eating it on a cold night next to a fire’s flame. It is heavy, warming and full of flavor.
This soup has ingrained itself so much into my seasonal tradition that the last time I went to Spain, I made sure to purchase a kilogram of fabadas asturianas, the white beans I prefer to use. They are large and very creamy. You may use cannellini beans in their place and still produce a beautiful dish.
Prepare the Broth & Beans
- 400 g. Fabadas asturianas (or cannellini beans or white runner beans)
- 1 smoked ham hock (or smoked shank) (500 g.)
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and halved (200 g.)
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped (150 g.)
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled (50 g.)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. whole fennel seeds
- 1 star anise
- 16 cups water
Soak the beans overnight in eight cups of water. Dump them and rinse them off.
Over a high flame on a gas range or under a hot broiler, char the halved onions. Do not put anything on them. Cook them until they blacken, about a minute on each side.
Wrap the star anise and fennel seeds in a muslin cloth and secure with a tie.
In a stockpot, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 90 minutes, until beans are creamy.
Prepare the Caldo
In this, I use salt pork. Salt pork is pork belly that has been dry-cured in salt. I made my own. But you can buy it from a butcher. If you do, get it as a hunk of meat. If you can’t find it, you can use bacon, which is more or less the same thing. Buy the thickest slices you can find and just chop it up into chunks. Either way, make sure to use the pork belly. It gives this soup a delightful flavor and sumptuous texture.
As for the ham, any smoked ham should do. Some people prefer to use the dry-cured Spanish chorizo, instead. Personally, I don’t like the sourness of it. I prefer my Caldo Gallego salty, smoky and just a little sweet.
- 500 g. salt pork, roughly chopped
- 500 g. smoked ham, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped (200 g)
- 350 g. gold potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into unequal sizes, soaked in water to remove starch
- 250 g. turnips, peeled and roughly chopped into unequal sizes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Black pepper, to taste
- Sea salt, to taste
Remove the bones from the beans and set aside to cool. Strain out most of the broth. Pick out and discard the pieces of carrot, onion and garlic. When only the beans and any meat floating around remain, pour the stock back into the pot. When the hock/shank is cool enough to handle, pick off any meat and return to the pot.
Heat a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the salt pork. Cook for a few minutes until the layers disappear and the meat begins to caramelize. You may need to do this in two batch. Add to the soup pot.
In the same skillet over the same flame, cook the onions until they begin to caramelize. Deglaze with the wine. Scrape the pan with a wooden spoon and remove from heat. Add to the soup pot.
Bring the soup back up to a boil along with the potatoes, turnips and ham. Reduce to a slow simmer, skimming any impurities, and cook until the flavor has reached its peak, about 40 minutes. The soup should be chunky and brothy. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Prepared caldo
- Collard greens, amount as desired (or kale)
- Spanish smoked paprika, to taste
In the bottom of the soup bowl, put collard greens. Ladle the piping hot caldo over them. Sprinkle with smoked Spanish paprika.
Serve with crusty bread and red wine. Light some candles or start a fire. Enjoy. Or, as they say in Galicia, bo proveito!
Photos by Lori Paulson