Canary Island Cuisine
The Spanish often refer to the Canary Islands as the "Islas Afortunadas" as the sun shines practically throughout the year, their only borders are the sky and the sea, and because their fauna, flora and culture, at time so different to that of mainland Spain, are real treasures. However, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call the visitor to these islands "fortunate"; not only because he can enjoy the sun, sea and environment but also because he has been presented with the opportunity to taste their culinary delights.
The typical person from the Canary Islands is noble, kind, with deep-routed traditions yet a great sense of humour, all of which are reflected in the cooking - the simple, nutritive and appetising dishes are the result of the Canary Island tradition.
Canary Islands cuisine reflects Spanish, Portuguese, and North African influence as well as its role as a staging post to the Americas.
Tasty and simple
Simplicity is the key. The cooking is so simple that one of the main ingredients found in the majority of its dishes is the gofio. Gofio, roasted maize or wheat meal, can be served at breakfast, as an accompaniment to island stews and is even used to prepare a special variety of local nougat.
Their "mojos" are equally straightforward - piquant sauces which are served with the majority of local dishes. The "mojo picón" (pepper, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt and paprika) and the "mojo verde" (made based on parsley and coriander, and with a milder taste), have become real culinary institutions in the Canary Islands. But there are many more variations of "mojos": they can be made using coriander ; garlic ; saffron , ideal with fish; the cheese ; the goat's cheese and tomato paste; and for special occasions, the unique "mojo palmero" which is from La Palma.
The Canary Islands is on route to America and therefore in the past its cuisine became influenced by American products: the tomato and the potato or "papa". This tuber is the origin of which has undoubtedly become one of the most famous and typical dishes of the Canary Islands: the "papas arrugadas", small potatoes cooked in their skins in very salty water (if possible, sea-water) and are served accompanied by a piquant sauce, usually "mojo verde" or "mojo rojo".
Fish and piquant sauces
Fish is a vital component of the dishes of all islands and here the Canary Islands are no exception. The fish is of very high quality: wreckfish, damselfish, dentex, sea bass, white sea bream, bogue, mackerel... and most importantly, parrot fish. There are three typical ways of preparing the fish - in a casing of salt, lightly fried and baked, or "jareado" (dried in the sun and seasoned). Dogfish is the main ingredient of "tollos", a typical local dish...
The traditional "sancocho" is also made with fish (salted fish, soaked overnight and then boiled with partly-peeled "papas" and served with a piquant fish, normally "mojo picón" or "mojo verde"). As can be expected, apart from fish, shellfish is also abundant in an archipelago. The most typical type in the Canary Islands are the limpets during the summer months which are usually grilled. However, we must not forget the "burgado" - a type of marine snail - and the clam.
All types of meat are served in the Canary Islands. The visitor must not leave without tasting rabbit cooked in "salmorejo" - a type of thick gazpacho. But of course there is also kid or beef.
And to finish off the meal, the visitor can choose between "bienmesabes" - honey with ground almonds, yams and "truchas navidenas" - small pastries filled with sweet potato, almonds and raisons or pumpkin strands in syrup, "quesadillas" - small cheese-flavoured rolls from the island of Hierro, "torta vilana" - made from eggs, potatoes and sugar from La Gomera, marzipan and macaroons from Gran Canaria, "rapaduras" - a honey and almond sweet from La Palma, and many other exquisite desserts.
A fruit paradise
The climate in the Canary Islands, very different to the rest of Spain, is perfect for the cultivation of certain types of fruit which could be qualified as tropical. To only mention the banana, as it is the most representative product of the islands, is not sufficient. There are many other varieties of fruit. Papaya, melon pear, peach, mango, avocado and pineapple are some of the fruits that the traveller can find in the Canary Islands.
Wines and liquors
These islands also house ten wine Denominations of Origin: Abona, El Hierro, Lanzarote, La Palma, Tacoronte-Acentejo, Valle de Güimar, Valle de la Orotava, Icoden-Daute-Isora, Monte Lentiscal and Gran Canaria.
The islands also have their own local drinks which are worth tasting, such as banana liqueur, or its own rum concoction, honeyed rum. Other liqueurs made with fruits are currently being developed.
A typical Canarian meal could be a local fish split open and cooked "a la plancha" (griddled and dressed with oil, garlic and parsley ) served with Canarian potatoes and green mojo (mo-ho') sauce, preceded by a salad including bananas, coriander leaves and avocado, as well as the usual tomatoes and green salad (lettuce may be replaced by thinly sliced cabbage in the hotter islands).
Puchero Canario is a hearty stew made from pumpkin, cabbage, sweet potatoes, pork and beef. Similar to the well known Cocido Madrileno, the broth is drained off and eaten as a first course, followed by a second course of meat and vegetables. One of the most simple local dishes is papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes). This is made by boiling potatoes in salted water until tender. The potatoes are drained off and returned to the pan to leave a layer of salt when the water evaporates. Papas arrugadas are often served as an accompaniment to other dishes. Another popular accompaniment is mojo, the local sauce. The most common types are mojo picon, made from peppers and chilies and mojo verde, made with coriander.
A traditional Christmas treat is truchas de navidad a sweet potato filled fried pastry. Almond groves are abundant in La Palma, and is where almendrados, a almond based cookie is made. Almonds are also the base for the popular puree, Bienmesabe, made with egg yolk and cinnamon, which translates literally as tastes good to me. Majorero is a quality goat cheese made in Fuerteventura and goat cheese is also found in La Palma (queso Palmero) and El Hierro (queso Herreno). Sugar cane is cultivated in La Gomera and is used in the production of high quality rum, both white and barrel aged dark rum, and for the desert Miel de Cana, a popular palm syrup.
Prior to the arrival of European settlers in the fourteenth century, the native inhabitants, known as guanches, lived on a staple diet known as gofio. Gofio is made by grinding down toasted cereals which is then kneaded with water. It can be eaten either hot or cold, and is still used today as the basis for many local dishes. Gofio is used in soups, in savory dishes like gofio with tomato and for deserts such as gofio with honey and almonds. The ever changing currents in the coastal waters ensure a varied and bountiful supply of fresh fish. During the winter months the tuna migrate to the warm currents of the Canary Islands. Sea bass, swordfish, octopus are found as well as exotic species like parrot fish, alfonsino and the ferocious looking moray. Limpets, a mollusc found clinging to rocks, is a local delicacy often served with mojo. Pejines, small fish dried in the sun, and then grilled, is a popular tapa. Most fish is cooked pan fried (a la plancha) and served
- Canary Island Recipes
- Papas Arrugadas - new potatoes cooked in sea water and then baked. These "wrinkly" potatoes taste wonderful.
- Salsa Mojo - comes in two basic types, red and green. The red goes well with the potatoes while the green goes very well with fish. They are made with vinegar, a lot of garlic and oil, flavoured with red or green peppers.
- "Almogrote" is a hard cheese & garlic preparation, eaten with bread.
- "Gofio" a grain meal that replaced bread for the pre Spanish natives.
- "Puchero Canario" hearty stew made from pumpkin, cabbage, sweet potatoes, pork and beef. Similar to the well known Cocido Madrilleno, the broth is drained off and eaten as a first course, followed by a second course of meat and vegetables
- "Bienmesabe" almond cream.