Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Brindisa - from saffron to smoked anchovies

Saffron strands

Brindisa has long been the place to shop in the UK for the best choice of ingredients from Spain.  Starting with a small warehouse in The Borough area of London, they would throw open the doors to shoppers on a Saturday morning.  Some weeks they would set up a tiny barbecue outside to offer free tastings of their cooking Chorizo.  These were the early days of Borough Market's retail trade, and how things have changed.  These days you can find Brindisa in a large retail space in the Market fronting Stoney Street, and you can buy a spicy barbecued Chorizo sandwich from the Chorizo grill.  At the London Bridge end of the street, on the corner with Southwark Street, you can find Tapas Brindisa.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings it does a good market breakfast with a Spanish twist before the tapas gets underway.  Jose Pizarro was the chef behind the launch of this great little tapas bar which has spawned a couple of offshoots.   Sadly Pizarro has moved on, but the good news is he is planning his own place - more of this later.  (See my Favourite Books section for a review of Pizarro's first book).

So, a photograph of saffron to head up this piece.  An obvious choice given the subject matter of a Spanish food shop and the name of my blog.  But there was a third reason for choosing to write on this topic now.  The market in this most expensive spice has been hit by scandal.  The Spanish newspaper El Pais recently revealed that although Spain produced around 1,500 kilos of saffron in 2010, it managed to export 190,000 kilos!  Most of the Crocus sativus flowers from which saffron is derived are grown in the La Mancha region and its quality is renowned.   Saffron is also produced in Iran, and some companies have been importing and passing off this inferior Iranian grown saffron as Spanish.  It is currently not illegal to do this - for labelling purposes it is where the product is processed that counts - but Spanish authorities are under pressure to act to protect their lucrative market.

Good quality saffron takes time to release its colour and aroma but when it does so your patience is rewarded with a golden glow and sweet taste.  Inferior saffron can sometimes contain more of the flower than just the essential stigma.  That's not to say carefully sourced Iranian saffron does not have its place.  As long as you are confident that what you are buying has been carefully sourced and labelled, a cheaper, lower quality, saffron may be adequate for what you want to use it for.  Brindisa keeps two saffrons - one I am assured is a carefully sourced Iranian grown one, and the other is a La Mancha grown saffron.  The Iranian one is labelled honestly (product of Iran, packaged in Spain) and sells for £2.95 for 0.5 gram, and the Spanish one bears its DO (Denomination of Origin) and sells for £9.99 for 1 gram.

In Brindisa's shop you'll also find Serrano and Iberico hams being hand-carved, cooking and cured Chorizo, a great range of artisan Spanish cheeses, Arbequina olive oil, Calasparra rice, salt cod, Ortiz Atun Claro tinned tuna and anchovies, Catalan Alemany honeys, almonds, delicious turrons and much more.  Whatever you do, don't miss the amazing smoked anchovies from Nardin.