Years ago, in a tatty bar in the grotty end of a small Andalucian town, I had for the first time a unique and memorable tapa – Chorizo al Infierno. Google translates this delectable and dramatic dish as “sausage to hell”; as so often with computer translations, these words don’t quite describe this mini barbecue of chorizo over burning alcohol.
When my Christmas Eve Tapas Feast 2012 was in the planning stages, this dish came once more to mind. How appropriate for the season of lights. I began an intensive and extensive research which ultimately led to the crowning glory of my Feast.
The Dish – the tatty bar served the chorizo in an ordinary round ceramic dish but Internet searches revealed that there are dishes made specifically for this Galician speciality (some say it is Andalucian, which I mention just for accuracy’s sake) but they had a pig’s face on one end and a pigtail on the other. Like this:
The piggy adornment was limiting as I had visions of elevating this dish to new spectacular, non-meat heights. I continued the search convinced there was something better. The key to searching is to know what you are looking for and when I finally hit on the right Spanish terminology, the perfect dishes fell into my lap. Ordering took a little patience, especially for such an impatient person as myself, but the happy day eventually dawned when they arrived undamaged from the pottery in Galicia.
The flaming inferno proved complicated. Based on my flambéing experience, I tipped some brandy into the new dish and tried to light it. It just fizzled damply and expired. We tried vodka and whisky, rum and other more exotic high proof liquors from our extensive bar. Same fizzle. Chef Google came up with a few brief recipes, all of which called for aguardiente orujo. When I found it in my local supermarket, I was jubilant. Now I had it. But no. It reacted the same as every other spirit. At this point, I decided we needed to seek out the tatty little bar and watch very carefully to see what they did.
The chorizo – every sausage lies somewhere on a continuum from tasty to foul. Naturally only the best would do for Los Castaños. We tried several, including a locally produced sausage, but I was not happy. Close to Christmas and close to giving up, a Spanish friend visited and, when I explained my dilemma, she immediately gave me the answer. She gave me the name of the store and the name of the chorizo. Another piece of this culinary jigsaw was on the table.
Time now to go back to the beginning. We revisited the little bar which has sadly become tattier in the intervening years. They still serve the chorizo al infierno and we waited with anticipation for the final secret to be revealed but panic set in when our server took the chorizo into the back room. At the end of the journey and we were to be denied access to the secret. But she came back! Picked up a bottle of pink – yes pink – liquid, poured just a little into the dish, and lit it with a match. It flamed briefly and was handed to us. This presentation bore no ressemblance to my first experience when we had lovingly turned the spit for about five minutes, cooking our own chorizo. The sausage itself was disgusting and I nearly gave up the whole idea thinking that, once again, my memory was distorted. But I casually inquired of our waitress what alcohol was used. Secret of the house, the waitress said.
The eve of Christmas Eve and I was despairing. I wanted to include this spectacular dish so badly. All the components were assembled but I just couldn’t put it together. And then I happened upon the queimada - a dramatic and magical ceremonial drink from Galicia. It was essentially flaming aguardiente with some magic and mumbo-jumbo thrown in with a little bit of sugar. This was the key. One last experiment. I added sugar, heated up a tablespoon of the liquor over the gas, poured it tentatively, flaming, into the casserole and Bingo! Eureka! It worked! It was phenomenal!
It was a simple matter to measure the amount of liquor needed to burn for 6 minutes by which time the chorizo was sizzling and smelling deliciously. Que aproveche!