Ricardo Migueláñez. @rmiguelanez
Huelva will be the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy in 2017. The amphibious city, located between the land and the sea, is a provincial capital boasting plenty of gastronomic treasures. Not only is it rich in fish and seafood (white prawns from Huelva are the most sought-after, as are its crayfish, squid, Norway lobsters and clams, as well as large fish from the cold Atlantic waters), but its mountainous areas are also home to Jabugo, Cortegana and Cumbres Mayores Ibérico hams.
Its fruits and vegetables are also increasingly popular, with the greatest demand for strawberries, asparagus and oranges. Huelva strawberries have become quite prestigious in recent years, along with other berries, mainly cranberries, redcurrants and also blackberries—a true red explosion.
Huelva province also has a very strong rice tradition. Not only does it produce rice in marshland areas, but it’s also proficient in soupy rices. Its delicious sole should be eaten fried or, even better, grilled, to best savor its flavor.
Paradise for fried fish lovers
Fried fish is very common in all Andalusian provinces by the sea. Fish in different sauces is also a popular dish. Examples include monkfish in crab or almond sauce, red snapper with potatoes, grilled sea bass or sea bass à la marinière, swordfish, sardines and turbot.
Choco from Huelva is a squid that’s smaller than the cuttlefish, and forms the foundation of many recipes. Examples include chocos with potatoes, grilled, cooked with onion, with noodles, and one of the city’s claims to fame, chocos with broad beans. Baby squid is another gem from Andalusia’s Atlantic coast.
This great variety of fish is used in soups, from clams in vino pálido from Condado de Huelva and fish and seafood soup to cream of crab.
Huelva also has an extraordinary and surprising wealth of mushrooms, in particular Amanita ponderosa wild mushrooms, which are not very common in other parts of Spain and which are delicious with scrambled eggs and asparagus, in sauces, and as a garnish for meat or game. Ceasar's mushrooms and saffron milk caps can also be found in Huelva.
The (never-ending) quartering of the Ibérico pig
There are very popular rural dishes, such as tripe with garbanzos (known as menudo), buche (a typical dish from the slaughter in Bollullos Par del Condado) and migas (a dish made with leftover bread, garlic, paprika and olive oil) with chorizo. Game and lamb stew from Almonte are also big attractions, although the main protagonist is the Ibérico pig, of which every last bit is consumed. This includes ham, loin, large blood sausage and chorizo sausage as well as grilled sirloin, special cuts like secreto, presa, and pluma, the jowels and, for example, loin in aged Condado de Huelva wine.
The day before the pigs in the Aracena mountain villages are weighed, prior to their slaughter, people typically eat sopa de peso, a very thick stew made with turkey, bread, onion, ham bones, spices and aromatic herbs from the mountains. Everything is prepared in one large pot and it's eaten in two rounds. It's topped off with artisanal goat's cheese, of which delicious options are available in Huelva province. The typical light dessert is fresh strawberries and fresh or dried figs from Lepe, followed by piñonates (a typical pastry made with honey and pine nuts), among other sweets.
Glorious Condado de Huelva wines
Condado de Huelva wines have a glorious history. Since the Middle Ages, boats loaded up with wine would leave Moguer and La Palma del Condado, heading for northern Europe, and later, for America. The boats traveled the Tinto River, which at that time was wide and fast-flowing, to get to the sea.
Wines from those bodegas were fortified, and they continue to occupy the oak casks in wine cellars today, although there are also new creations, such as orange wine (which is made after aging aromatized white wine with macerated orange peels, which is later aged using the solera system).
Huelva's greatest writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez, spoke about wine from Moguer: “Moguer is like a glass rod, thick and transparent, which waits all year long, under a blue sky, for its golden wine. Once September arrives, if the devil doesn't spoil the festivities, the cup is filled to the top with wine, and it spills over, almost always, like a generous heart. The entire village smells of wine (...) and sounds of glass".
The top restaurants in the province
Perhaps the best spot in Huelva, the Spanish Gastronomy Capital, is Acánthum (San Salvador, 17; www.acanthum.com), where the great local chef Xanty Elías holds court. He is a renewed enthusiast for Huelva's cuisine, and his favorite recipes involve coastal tuna.
Another option in Huelva is Azabache (Vázquez López, 22; www.restauranteazabache.com) headed up by Juan Francisco Martín, who focuses on using top-flight ingredients and has a very popular and well-provisioned bar. Prawn carpaccio and grilled vegetables are among his most requested dishes.
A classic locale in Hueva which uses excellent ingredients is Portichuelo (Vázquez López, 15; www.restauranteportichuelo.com), serving delicious Ibérico pork and sea bass à la marinière as its specialties. One last recommendation in the capital is El Condado (Sor Ángela de la Cruz, 3; Tel.: 959 26 11 23), a bustling restaurant where customers dine on quality ham and a range of tapas.
Aracena, capital of the mountains
Aracena is the capital of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park. In an area with lots of temptation, the main gastronomic attraction is Casas (Pozo de las Nieve, 39. www.restaurantecasas.es), whose menu pays homage to the Ibérico pig. Another great option is mushrooms from the mountains. Four kilometers from Aracena, in Linares de la Sierra, Arrieros (Avda. Arrieros, 2; www.arrieros.net) is a sure bet. The kitchen is helmed by Luismi López, who prepares "mountain cuisine" with his own personal touch, mainly featuring Ibérico products and ingredients from the garden.
A good alternative in Jabugo, which is known around the world for its Ibérico pork products, is Bodega 5 Jotas (Ctra. Huelva-Badajoz s/n. Tel.: 603 59 90 61). As a company as important as this one knows, it's best to let our culinary gem speak for itself, especially here where it's in its element.
In Bollullos Par del Condado, El Bodegón del Abuelo Curro (Avda. 28 de febrero, 97; Tel.: 959 41 21 29) serves not only charcuterie, but also excellent fish.
If we head to the coast, in the bustling town of Matalascañas, a great option is Bodegón Atalaya (Sector A, 23; www.bodegonatalaya.com), which serves modern cuisine, including a nice selection of fried foods and appetizers, and top-notch fish and meat.
Our journey ends in Isla Cristina, with a classic restaurant, Casa Rufino (Avda. Eucalipto, 1; www.restauranterufino.com), which offers a well-known menu of eight different fishes and eight sauces, as well as delicious dishes such as smoked tuna. With such an enormous selection of products, Huelva isn't just a province, it's a culinary continent.