In Spain, the term ‘cocido’, literally translating as ‘cooked’ is a term generally used to describe casseroles and stews. In certain areas, however, it takes on a more specific meaning, and refers to a rich, hearty meal consisting of the soup itself, a mix of chickpeas and local white beans (called ‘alubias’), vegetables in the form of collard greens or cabbage, and finally, the meat course (including up to 12 different cuts of meat). Traditional recipes date back to beyond the 17th Century and were likely used as a way of warming up folk working in the colder, mountainous region of Cantabria, Northern Spain. Head further down south, however, and you will still find regional variations on the family favourite.

Like any other type of stew, cocidos are a great way of using up ingredients – especially less standard cuts from a pig slaughter. As a result, modern day versions still include smoky ‘morcilla del año’ (black pudding), ‘tocino’ (bacon) and chorizo, although it’s not uncommon to add in a pig’s trotter or two! Pork ribs or chicken thighs are also a great way of mixing up the textures and flavours.

Because we’re talking about Spain, the home of long up-held traditions and customs, it isn’t enough to simply follow a recipe and call it a ‘cocido’. Indeed, the manner of serving and eating the dish seems somehow more important than what you put in! According to locals, the more general ‘Cocido Montañés’ doesn’t rely so much on a serving order, but the ‘Cocido Lebaniego’ from the Cantabrian region of Liébana (and most famous in the municipality of Potes), and the ‘Cocido Madrileño’ hailing from Madrid both lay great importance on how the dish is consumed. In a way of combining the starter and main course together, diners begin with a large bowl of the soup, or liquid component. When this is completed, the serving spoons again come out to fill the empty bowls with the vegetal elements (the beans, chickpeas and cabbage). Only when this course has also been finished does the final, larger serving of stewed meats appear. Potential variations include serving noodles with the soup, or serving the chickpeas in the same course as the meat, but the most important element in the ‘Lebaniego’ and ‘Madrileño’ cocidos is the starting with the soup.

But again, it’s not all as straightforward as you might think. A visit to Castilla y León, and particularly to the beautiful town of Astorga, shows the flipside of everything you think you have mastered about the cocido. In a reversal of tradition, diners begin with a hit of protein as they are served the meat course. Once they have had their fill, they follow with a portion of greens and beans before enjoying a smaller bowl of soup for those still feeling peckish.

The heartiness and relative cheapness of the dish has made it a popular main dish across Spain, but smaller portions can be shared between a group as a started before a meat or fish course.

By Leah

Leah Hendre is currently studying Spanish and Linguistics at Oxford University, but is using her free time to share her love and passion for Spain - and more importantly, Spanish food., @LeahHendre [Twitter + Instagram]