This dish is a sort of over-the-top version of a boiled dinner. Piles of different kinds of meat are stewed together in a large pot with vegetables and garbanzos. Traditionally, Catalans eat this as the primary meal on Christmas day, but it might also show up for other special occasions during the cold winter months. You will quickly notice that this recipe calls for a large amount of meat - more than your family will eat in one day, even in an overindulgent holiday meal. The idea is to make enough extra to get several more meals out of it afterwards. You are going to need a really big pot (3 gallons or larger) to do this right.
A few details make this particular dish interesting. First, a pretty serious mix of meats are used. There is always pork, chicken, and beef or veal, bacon or pancetta, along with a couple of different traditional Catalan sausages. Some people also add lamb, as well. The specific cuts of meat vary from one house to another, and might include just about anything from pigs feet or beef cheeks to lamb ribs. As long as it’s a cut that makes sense to boil or stew, it might wind up in this dish.
Two sausages are almost always used for this dish, and, unfortunately, both are extremely difficult to find outside of Catalonia (even in Spain), let alone in America. The first is a botifarra blanca. This is a very mild, smooth, white pork sausage. As silly as it might sound, I have found that a good bratwurst, though obviously different, serves as a satisfying substitute that is close enough. The second sausage is botifarra negra. This is a type of blood sausage to which I have never really seen anything similar in the USA. I can usually find Spanish style morcilla locally, which is a rather different blood sausage. It’s taste, texture, and appearance are all different than that of botifarra negra, but it works well enough in this recipe.
Escudella i carn d’olla also always includes a “pilota” which is one huge meatball, typically rolled into a cylindrical shape before being added to the pot. The pilota is generally made from ground pork mixed with ground veal or beef. It’s often seasoned simply with just salt, pepper, garlic, and parsley, though many people will add a pinch of ground cinnamon, as well. Rosa’s mom never used the cinnamon in hers, but it adds a pretty interesting layer of flavor if you want to add some surprising depth.
The vegetables, much like the specific cuts of meat, change from one house to the next. Most people use carrots, celery, leeks, and potatoes, but from there it varies. Other common additions include parsnips, turnips, and cabbage. Regardless of what vegetables you use, you want to try to time adding them to the pot so that they cook through, but don’t disintegrate from being cooked too long. Regardless of the vegetables in the stew pot, I highly recommend serving this with a side of some other green vegetables, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, to help balance out all of the heavy meat.
Escudella i carn d’olla is always made with a lot of extra liquid, which turns into a beautiful, extremely rich flavored broth. This broth is then, in turn, used as the base of the sopa de galets, which is almost always served alongside the carn d'olla. This soup is quite special in its own right, and is certainly worthy of it's own discussion, below.
8 oz (about 2 cups) dried garbanzos
1 or 2 pig’s feet, split (optional)
2½ - 3 lbs beef or veal stewing meat, cut in 2-3” cubes
2½ -3 lbs of pork stewing meat, cut in 2-3” cubes
1 large pork bone or use a piece of bone in meat
1 whole chicken, cut into stewing pieces (bone in thighs, drumsticks, wings, breasts)
2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned, roots removed, and split in half
2 or 3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 2” – 3” lengths
2 or 3 large parsnips, peeled and cut in 2” – 3” lengths
2 or 3 stalks of celery, cut in 3” lengths
4 or 5 small potatoes, peeled.
1 whole botifarra blanca (substitute 2 or 3 whole mild bratwurst), a few holes poked in the skin with a sharp knife
1 whole botifarra negra (substitute 2 whole morcilla), a few holes poked in the skin with a sharp knife
Extra virgin olive oil to serve
For the pilota:
¾ lb ground pork
¾ lb ground beef or veal
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped finely
½ Tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
Salt and Black Pepper TT
1. Cover the garbanzos in cold water and soak overnight. Drain and rinse the garbanzos, then cover in cold water in a pot. Bring to a boil on a medium flame, then lower the temperature to simmer until cooked through. Skim off and discard any scum that rises while cooking. When cooked through, remove from heat, season the liquid with salt, and set aside until later.
Note: Many people like to just cook the garbanzos with the meat. You can do this if you prefer, but I find it is much easier to cook them to their proper doneness, separately.
2. In a very large, heavy-bottomed pot, put in the pork, beef, and bone, and cover with about a gallon and a half of cold water. Season with salt. Bring up to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 1½ hours, skimming off and discarding any scum as it rises to the surface.
3. While the meat is simmering, make the pilota: combine all of the pilota ingredients, except for the egg, in a large bowl, and mix until fairly homogeneous. Mix in the egg. Cook off a small piece of the pilota mix in a small sauté pan. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the pilota, if needed. Set aside and refrigerate about 1/3 of the pilota mix for use in the Sopa de Galets. Form the remaining 2/3 into cylindrical log about 2” in diameter (if you prefer, some people make 2 slightly smaller cylinders instead of one very large one).
4. When the meat has been cooking for about an hour and a half, taste the liquid, and adjust salt if needed. Add the chicken pieces. When the pan returns to a simmer, cook for another 45 minutes. While cooking, skim and discard any scum that appears on the surface.
5. After the chicken has been cooking for about 45 minutes, carefully place the pilota in the pot. Use a couple large serving spoons to lower it down gently into the pot in a resting place where it won’t break apart (once it cooks through, it will hold up much better – but raw, it is very fragile). Add all of the vegetables to the pot, except for the potatoes. If there is not enough water to cover everything, add a bit more water. Again, let things return to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes more.
6. Add the potatoes to the pot, and sit the sausages on top. Pour in the garbanzos and their liquid. Bring up to a simmer just long enough for the potatoes to cook through, 10 - 15 minutes.
7. To serve, scoop out and arrange all of the meat, vegetables and chick peas on a large platter. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve with a good crusty bread. The pilota and sausages can be sliced at the table while serving. The broth is used to make the Sopa de Galets which on Christmas, and other special occasions, is served on the side, or as a separate course. There will almost certainly be a lot of leftover meat, as well. The tradition in much of Catalonia, at Christmas time is to use the leftover meat to make canelons on Dia de Sant Esteve, the day after Christmas.
Sopa de Galets
The giant pile of meat from Escudella I Carn d’Olla will provide a very substantial couple of meals for even a pretty large family. The real star of the christmas dinner, though, is the very simple soup, sopa de galets, that is made from the broth. Really, there isn’t much to the soup. It’s all about the insanely rich broth from the escudella. The pasta is boiled in the broth. Some people stuff the pasta with the leftover pelota (my preference, as it adds a really special feel), while others use it to make little meatballs for the soup. In most cases, that’s it! Some people will add a little bit of cabbage to the soup.
“Galets” is the Catalan word for the pasta shape most commonly used to make this soup. They are also called “tiburones” in Spanish, but in America, you’ll need to look for the Italian name “lumaconi” in your pasta aisle. They are not the most common, easy to find shape, but we have found lumaconi at a couple markets in our area.
It is important not to boil the pasta in advance. Boil it in the soup broth itself as you are preparing to serve it. The pasta will become overcooked, floppy and soggy if you leave it in the broth. As soon as the pasta is cooked through, the soup needs to be served. The soup broth itself should also be very clear, so make sure you strain it well through a fine sieve before making the soup.
8 oz (about half a pack) of dried lumaconi pasta
1 gallon of broth, well strained, from Escudella i Carn d’Olla
Extra virgin olive oil for serving
1. Stuff the pasta: Place the pilota (meatball) mix into a piping bag with a very wide-open circular tip. Use the piping bag to stuff each pasta piece. You can push out with your top hand, and then use your bottom hand to squeeze and pinch off each piece as you stuff it.
Note: If you don’t want to stuff the pasta, you can make little meatballs instead. Some people omit the meat entirely.
2. Add the broth to a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Bring up to a boil, and taste. Add salt if necessary. Add the pasta and adjust heat to simmer. Let simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente. At this point the meat inside will be thoroughly cooked.
Serve immediately. Diners can drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on top, if desired.