Monday, 11 March 2013

Marmita de Bonito; a Cantabrian fish stew

According to an article published in the Guardian last week, the Spanish, despite the economic crisis, have the highest ‘healthy life expectancy’ in Europe.  You can read the full article here:

These findings, which were the result of a 20 year global study published by the The Lancet, are surmised to be the result of Spain’s excellent health care system, relaxed lifestyle, and Mediterranean diet.  

So, I decided it was a good time to write a blog post about Spanish food; specifically, a Cantabrian fish stew called Marmita that is a perfect example of the Mediterranean diet, uses all local ingredients, and is easy to cook.  Even for me.

This brings me to my disclaimer:  Cooking is a language I don’t understand.   Over the years,  I’ve learned to cook a few things, such as vegetarian lasagna and Spanish omlette (tortilla Española).  But, I’ve done it by memorizing a recipe and repeating the steps over and over again.  I 'get by' in cooking in the same way that a person can 'get by' in a foreign language by memorizing a few key phrases, but with no deep understanding of how the language ‘works.’

Nevertheless, one of my goals while in Santander was to learn to cook at least one dish using local seafood.  So I went to the library, got a cookbook featuring Cantabrian cuisine, and went straight to the section listed ‘dificultad:  baja.’  And, that’s when I discovered Marmita de Bonito.  It turned out to be easy, delicious, and 100% local, even the wine.  

Here’s the recipe (serves 4)

  • Fresh bonito 500 gm (1 pound).  Bonito is a ‘cousin’ of tuna, so tuna is a good substitute if you can’t get fresh bonito where you are.
  • Potatoes:  700 gm (1.5 pounds). 
  • 2 onoins
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 0.5 dl (2 ounces) white wine  
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cayenne         


(1)  Cut up onions and peppers into very small pieces, sauté in olive oil until soft.
(2)  Cut up tomatoes into very small pieces, add them, and cook slowly until reduced.
(3)  Mash up the garlic, mix with the wine, and add to the mixture.
(4)  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, simmer 5 more minutes.
(5)  Peel and cut up the potatoes into small-medium sized pieces, add and stir.
(6)  Add water until potatoes are covered; then leave to cook slowly until potatoes are almost fully cooked.
(7)  Add the bonito, also cut up into pieces, and simmer 10 more minutes. 

Vegetarians and vegans:  Suggested substitutes for bonito could be chick peas or your preferred soy-based product (tempeh, tofu, etc.)

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