Southern Seas – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
A Pepe Carvalho Investigation
translated by Patrick Camiller
An unconventional mogul plans to travel to the South Pacific, but then he is murdered and his wife hires private investigator Pepe Carvalho to find out what happened. This is the story of “Southern Seas” by Manuel Vásquez Montalbán, a very famous Spanish writer whose stories are set in Barcelona. “Southern Seas” (Los Mares del Sur) is his most famous story in the Pepe Carvalho investigation series.
What an investigation this turns out to be. I like the way the mystery unfolds. The book is full of interesting characters from all walks of life. The most tantalizing character to me is the investigator Pepe Carvalho who appears to have a zeal for good food a good drink. He’s intelligent, tough, and street-smart. He can also be gentle and caring for others in his life – like Charo, his long-time girlfriend (a career prostitute); Bleda, the puppy that he spots in a pet store window, buys, and brings home; and Biscuter, who cooks many of his meals.
I enjoyed the dialog in the storyline. It’s sharp, fun and witty. I found myself laughing aloud several times. Investigator Pepe Carvalho certainly held my attention throughout the book.
I also like how Spanish politics, history and food references are sprinkled throughout the story. Like this scene between Carvalho and Biscuter, when Carvalho is about to take off in search of a troubled young woman:
‘You’re not going, are you, boss? Aren’t you staying to eat?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I’ve made you some potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.’
Carvalho stopped, with one foot outside the door. Potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.
‘They’re hot,’ Biscuter insisted, when he saw him waver.
I’m not sure how potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja is prepared, but I was inspired to try my version. It sounded simple enough – potatoes and chorizo. Basically, I bought some fresh chorizo and removed the casing. I sautéed the chorizo in some oil; then I sautéed some onions and garlic, and added boiled diced potatoes to the cooked chorizo, onions, and garlic. Since the chorizo is already spicy and salty, I didn’t bother adding any salt, pepper or spices. It was tasty and filling. Now, I understand why Carvalho hesitated at the mention of the meal. I’ll have to find out how to prepare the real potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja, but overall, I liked what I’d prepared.
While I didn’t expect the solution to the mystery of the mogul’s death, the real shocker to me was the ending of the book, which had nothing to do with the mystery (or did it?). “Southern Seas” captivated my attention to the very end. I liked following the way Pepe Carvalho interacted with the people he met, as he solved his assignments. I plan on following Pepe Carvalho and the other mysteries that he will encounter and no doubt solve.
A few weeks ago, I received a free review copy of the newly translated “Southern Seas” from publisher Melville House. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to feature it as my contribution for Novel Food, the food blogging event that combines literary works with food. It is hosted by Simona of Briciole. You can find a lineup of other Novel Food submissions on her blog.
Ed. Note: A friend who lives in Spain sent me video link of a Spanish chef preparing potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja. It is totally different than what I prepared, more like a soup with the potatoes and chorizo and other spices. It looked very delicious. In the near future, I hope to be able to prepare it.
*You can find the round up of the 17th edition of Novel Food HERE.
Oh! When I saw Lululu’s paella the other day, I immediately had a hankering for some. I hadn’t eaten paella in a very long time. Her’s looked so appetizing and the best part of the recipe for me was that the ingredients were simple. I’d made paella a long time ago (a recipe by Tyler Florence), the ingredients were many (chicken, chorizo, saffron, clams, shrimp, lobster tails…) and I’d spent a fortune buying the ingredients. Although, the paella tasted really terrific and the recipe was tasty and definitely worth it, I was happy to see a simple, yet delicious-looking paella recipe.
Over the weekend, I went grocery shopping and bought my ingredients, mainly the shrimp and squid. The recipe called for arborio rice. However, despite going to three stores, I couldn’t find that rice. There was one more store to try but by then, I was too tired. It’s no fun lugging several grocery bags around the city. I had long grain rice at home and planned to use it, even though I wasn’t sure how that would turn out. Thankfully, Rosa’s Yummy Yums encouraged me to use what I had, although there’d be a difference in the recipe.
Feeling a bit tired
lazy tired on the day I prepared this dish, I found that it wasn’t as labor intensive as expected. The only part of the recipe that was a pain in the neck was shelling and de-veining the shrimps. Yikes! Next time, I’ll consider paying a little extra for shrimps already de-veined. De-veining more than five shrimps is NOT fun. It took me FOR-EVAH to de-vein the darned things.
At the last minute, I realized that I didn’t have any white wine. So, I used vermouth. *shrugs*
To my delight, my paella with chorizo and seafood turned out really well. I loved it. My dog loved it, too. We were the only two at home, which was okay. More for us.
Paella with Chorizo and Seafood
Lululu at Home
(serves 6 persons)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 to 3 pieces Spanish Chorizo hot sausage, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 28-oz can tomato
3 cup warm chicken stock
1 Tbsp dried herbs of your choice
1lb shrimp, deveined
1 squid tube, cleaned and sliced
pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas
In a large pan, brown sausages with olive oil over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.
Keep fat in pan. Sautee onion and garlic for 5 minutes until onion turns pale gold, but not brown.
Add rice and wine, and stir for 2 minutes. Add tomato, and keep stirring occasionally until 1/3 liquid is evaporated. Pour in 2 cups of chicken stock and herbs, cook uncovered until 1/2 liquid is absorbed by the rice. Add the remaining cup of chicken stock, stirring. Cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Add sausage (push them into the rice).
Preheat oven to 400F.
Tuck the shrimps and squid rings into the rice. Sprinkle salt and pepper on seafood with the peas. After placing seafood ingredients in pan, sprinkle them with peas, salt and pepper. Place pan in oven to cook for 5 minutes until shrimps become pink and squid is slightly brown at the edge.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top of each portion before serving.
After watching Tyler Florence on his food show called Tyler’s Ultimate, I decided to go for it and try his Ultimate Paella recipe.
His food show is interesting. He picks a themed ingredient or food and travels around the world to find out the history of the food and how it’s made it that part of the world. Then he returns home, to the U.S., and makes the dish with his own spin on the recipe.
In the episode of The Ultimate Paella, Tyler first traveled to Spain to watch the preparation of authentic Valencia paella (Paella Valenciana). I found the main ingredients very different to what I’m used to eating – snails, rabbit, and something else I don’t remember. The man from Valencia said that the locals there don’t use seafood because they are farmers and use meats around them.
Next, Tyler went to Miami, Florida to watch two guys make their version of paella –Cuban style (Paella Cubana), in which they included chorizo sausage and lots of seafood.
Finally Tyler came home, to New York City, to make his version of paella, which he called The Ultimate Paella.
When I first made the paella, I mentioned it to my friend Nancy. She’s lived over 20 years in Spain and told me that paella is very much a traditional Sunday family meal in Spain. There are different varieties of paella. The best is made along the Eastern coast of Spain, from Valencia to Alicante, a rice-growing region.
She enjoys a paella mixto (mixed paella), which is made with chicken and seafood like shrimps, clams, mussels and calamari. Recently, she tried arroz negro (black rice), which she said is delicious. Apparently squid is a part of the ingredients and its ink gives the rice a black color. Interesting. I think I’d like to try it.
Nancy also told me that there is a type of paella, which consists mostly of vegetables, including green beans and “habas,” which are like lima beans. A more liquidly and soupy paella version, called “arroz caldoso” is very good, Nancy said. She and her husband have their favorite paella places, which they like to frequent. Sometimes a few scoops of paella are given to the patron when he or she has a beer or wine.
I can’t wait to try some paella in Spain, but until then I plan on making some at home. So far, I’ve made it twice.
My paella came out okay for a first timer. I enjoyed the taste of the clams, shrimp, chicken and chorizo sausage, but I had a problem with the way the rice cooked. The recipe calls for short-grained rice, but I used a long grain Jasmine rice because that’s what I had in the house. Nancy confirmed that it’s important to use short-grained rice for paella.
The more I cook, the more I discover that the proper pots and pans make a big difference in the outcome of the food. The first time I made the paella, I used a deep pot to make it and realized that the rice would have cooked better in a large paella pan or a wide shallow (none of which I had.).
When I visit Spain, I plan on buying a nice authentic paella pan, but in the meantime, I decided to buy one from Amazon.com. The second time I made my paella, I used the paella pan and I cooked with short-grained rice. While the pan has served its purpose for making paella, it is a cheap, but it will do for now. Nevertheless, my paella tasted even better the second time around, and so I dedicate this post and my meal to my two friends in Spain — Nancy and Tattum. Paz
THE ULTIMATE PAELLA
Spice Mix for chicken, recipe follows 1 (3-pound) frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 1 Spanish onion, diced 4 garlic cloves, crushed Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserve some for garnish 1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed 4 cups short grain Spanish rice 6 cups water, warm Generous pinch saffron threads 1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined 2 lobster tails 1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed Lemon wedges, for serving Special equipment:
Large paella pan or wide shallow skillet
Rub the spice mix all over the chicken and marinate chicken for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the chorizo until browned, remove and reserve. Add chicken skin-side down and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.
In the same pan, make a sofrito by sauteing the onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on a medium heat. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Fold in the rice and stir-fry to coat the grains. Pour in water and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add chicken, chorizo, and saffron. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. The shrimp will take about 8 minutes to cook. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom, then it’s perfect.
Cook’s note: The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom called socarrat.
Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with peas, parsley and lemon wedges.
Spice Mix for chicken: 1 tablespoon sweet paprika 2 teaspoons dried oregano Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken; marinate for 1 hour, covered