Puchero is a soupy Spanish peasant stew. It’s also one of the earliest things I remember eating. My mother used to make it when I was growing up; a bastardised take, worked up from a half-remembered recipe with whatever she could find in 1980s & 90s Darlington.
You can find a lot of recipes for South American puchero, and the Spanish variants are multitudinous. Standard for those rustic dishes named after a stewpot a few hundred years ago. Elisabeth Luard tracks it back to Andalusia, making it as a simple broth of roasted chestnuts and whatever ham’s going spare. That sounds amazing, but it’s not what I remember.
No, what I remember is a vivid broth of tender pork belly and plump chickpeas, flavoured through with scant chunks of chorizo. They were always the best bits – an unusual ingredient in that time and place, a treat to be hunted out in any bowlful. The sausages were a finer-grained Lincoln, sometimes a Cumberland, giving a plainer offset, but with the pepper adding interest.
I’ll wager we ate it with a good deal less meat per head than I’ve allocated here, and likely more carrots and chickpeas. I’ve amped up the indulgence, but you can dial it back down and go in hard on the veg. A little fatty pork goes a long way after all.
Anyway, here’s my best guess. I think my mum’s old recipe notebook is still floating around somewhere. It’d be fascinating to compare.
- Pork belly, 400g
- Sausages (I use Lincolnshire or Cumberland), 250g
- Chorizo, 100g
- Chickpeas, 1 standard 400g-ish can
- Tomatoes, 1 standard 400g-ish can
- Onion, 1 large or a couple of medium
- Red pepper, 1-2 (I like 2, but it can be a bit much)
- Carrot, 1 medium
- Garlic, 2-3 cloves
- Vegetable or chicken stock, about 300ml
- Paprika, 1tsp
- Flat leaf parsley, about 15g
- A bay leaf
- Oil or fat for frying – I’ll confess, I like to use animal fat for this
Cut the onions into eighths or slivers. Peel the carrot if that’s your thing (I just scrub), and cut it into thick rounds. Core the pepper and cut it into slivers, too. Rough chop the garlic. Cut the pork into chunky pieces, and the chorizo into slices. Sherd the parsley, fine chopping the stalks.
Heat the oven to about 160c
On a medium to high heat and in a sturdy casserole pot, fry the pork pieces for a few minutes, turning occasionally until they’ve got a bit of colour. Remove and set aside. Then lower the heat and cook the sausages until just firm – probably a bit under ten minutes. Remove them, and when they’re cool enough to handle, cut them into thick slices.
Add the onions, peppers, and carrot to the pan, and on a low-ish heat, cook them until they’ve softened a bit. That’s probably 6-8 minutes. Make sure you stir periodically, not only to stop them catching, but to work in any delicious gooey bits from the meat frying on the bottom of the pan.
Add the garlic, paprika, and chorizo, and fry for another couple of minutes, stirring.
Add the reserved meats, get it all amalgamated, and add the tomatoes and stock. You may not need all of the liquid, unless you’re using a pretty big pan. Add the parsley and bay leaf and stir it all together. Get it back to a simmer, and put it in the oven, covered, for an hour.
After the hour, add the chickpeas, and return it to the oven uncovered to reduce a little for another 20 mins to half an hour. You’re done.
In its Spanish origins, Puchero often had a ham base. So if you happen to have a couple of ham bones lying around, toss them in with the liquids, and fish them out before serving. Or, you know, in the real world, just use a strongly-flavoured stock.
There’s no ham here because this is more of a big old personal nostalgia trip that an attempt at authenticity. But, y’know, if dogmatic essentialism is your bag, (or you just like ham) go nuts with the cured swine.
The result is, well, it’s a tasty amalgam of the things on the ingredients list. It’s succulent and piggy, and the tomato doesn’t dominate. I’ll serve it with basically any starch except potatoes, which I don’t think work. Good fresh bread, bulgur wheat, even rice if it takes your fancy. Like I say, this version won’t come out “authentic”, but it will give you the least harrowing glimpse into my childhood you’ll probably ever have.