Let’s start by saying that the title of this post hints to something very controversial. When talking about “cocido” (pork stew), as with many other things related to traditional Galician gastronomy, there are almost as many keys to the perfect recipe as there are chefs. However, there are some things you should know about the Galician “cocido” to appreciate the good ones and differentiate them from other “cocidos” cooked in other parts of the Spanish geography.
It is always worth reviewing Álvaro Cunqueiro when we talk about Galician gastronomy. He wrote in 1969 one of his most delicious works, a mixture of gastronomy, erudition and humour entitled The Christian Kitchen of the Western World. Never better described could be the traditional “cocido”, which is a whole poem to the pig and the innumerable culinary possibilities it offers.
The base for a good “cocido” is always pork, although sometimes chicken and veal are added to the menu. Salted meats (shoulder, ribs, spine, head) and bacon are mandatory in any recipe. All of them must spend several days in water before cooking, at the risk of being excessively salty. “Chourizos” (sausages), made of plain meat or with the addition of onions, must also be present. Depending on the Galician area, this hearty basic list is supplemented with the tongue, the tail, the ear…
Regarding the vegetables, the “grelos”, the top part of the turnip that can be savoured in few places of the world apart from Galicia, are essential, and they undoubtedly give the Galician “cocido” its distinctive taste; and potatoes, the New World’s great contribution to European cuisine. In many places the “cocido” is also served with chickpeas, cabbage or chestnuts.
As it was said before, the preparation of the Galician “cocido” begins days before it is consumed with the meat desalination. The chickpeas must be soaked the day before, and cooking begins about two and a half hours before lunch. First the pork is cooked, then the rest of the meat, and later the vegetables, in the same or in different pots according to the recipe.
Pork is the common base of many types of stew that can be tasted in the Iberian Peninsula, although the final result differs. The very famous “cocido madrileño” lacks “grelos”, but it does have carrots, cabbage, ham or “morcilla” (blood sausage). The “cocido montañés” is based on beans and cabbages, while the Portuguese can use beans and rice. The “cocido maragato”, for example, emphasizes the reverse order in which the different elements of the menu are eaten: first the meat, then the vegetables and later the soup.
And within Galicia, each cook has his own “hand”. As an example of the diversity of recipes, we can mention another great reference in Galician gastronomic literature, the Mayor of A Coruña Manuel María Puga y Parga, Picadillo, who in his classic book La cocina práctica (1905) described meticulously the necessary steps to make “lacón con grelos”, the reduced version of the “cocido”. The gourmet politician even mentioned the hours at which to start cooking: at nine o’clock washing and cooking the meat, at eleven boiling the “grelos” and “chourizos”, at twelve o’clock the potatoes and at one o’clock, eating. This schedule did not fit well to Cunqueiro, who wrote in his other great monument to the gastronomy of the country, La cocina gallega (1973): “Let’s assume that Picadillo eats at one […] civil European lunch time. But the whole turnip, which started cooking at eleven, will be overboiled by then if cooked along with the meat[…] Two hours to cook a “chourizo” is one too many. “