The bean, the culinary rite of the colder months
It is the main protagonist of the winter pots.
The Enkarterri, Mungia or Gernika varieties, which hold the Euskal Babarrunak label, produce small, shiny dark red beans with a kidney shape and a tasty texture. They came from America, they have been cultivated for centuries, often together with corn, and they appear in the first recipe books.
Between November and those weeks when spring heats up, it is common in these lands for families and groups of friends to gather around a table topped with a stew of delicious red beans accompanied by a tray of ‘sacramentos’ made up of chorizo, bacon and pork ribs.
Nutritious, rich in iron and delicious, they are the stew par excellence in the homes, restaurants and taverns of Biscay. It is necessary to soak them beforehand, cook them with care, tenderness and time, cutting the boiling, add a potato, perhaps an onion, perhaps a leek and trust in the hand of the women and men who have selected the seed, the soil, the day of sowing and the day of harvesting. Adding it all up, the dish is filled with a reddish broth from which creamy grains appear with every spoonful. Delighful. Exquisite accompanied by a good wheat or corn bread, a bottle of red txakoli or a carbonic maceration rioja alavesa. No second course is needed. All that remains is to hug, talk and sing in the cold.
You will find taverns famous for their beans throughout Bizkaia: from Zalla to Gernika, passing through Orozko or Garai. In the capital, it is common for there to be diners that reserve one day of the week for the ‘bean’.
THE PUCHERA FERROVIARIA
The steam railway that linked the coal mines in the mountains of León, Asturias and Palencia with the blast furnaces of Biscay almost a century and a half ago generated a culinary current that is maintained today in the form of abundant gastronomic competitions. The red bean needs a continuous and slow fire. The factors, brakemen, engine drivers and stokers needed to eat on a long journey. Coal, ingenuity and necessity gave rise to the railway pot in Mataporquera, León. A cylindrical, two-part, three-legged metal tool, into which the burning charcoal was slid and into which a pot with a lid was fitted almost hermetically. The water, the good beans and the pieces of pork did the rest. Cooking with a pot is a tricky business. And the beans are simply delicious.
The train has been electrified, the coalmines have closed, the blast furnaces are languishing, but the railway pot is in better health than ever.
Every neighbourhood in Bilbao, and a large number of localities, especially in Enkarterri, organise competitions.
And many restaurants in the area set aside a day for the alubia en puchera.
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