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Bean Stew (Cocido)

Beans-and-bones dishes are classic and staple peasant food in all Mediterranean countries. Recipes range from the simple cocidos  and ollas  of Spain to the stupendous cassoulet  of southern France. Small farmers grew, and in many countries still grow, their own preferred variety of beans and chickpeas which would be dried and stored for the winter. A peasant family in Spain rarely has a meal which does not include these vegetables in one form or another. The flavoring bones and bacon often came from home-cured pork. All but the most perishable parts of the family pig were conserved for the larder.
 Ritual surrounded the planting of all such important staples, as an Andalucian smallholder, Jesus Peinado, pointed out to Ronald Fraser in 1958: "There are plenty of crops you can't plant when the moon is waning. The May moon is bad, for example; if you plant beans then they make a mass of stalks and no fruit. You have to plant seedbeds of onions, lettuce, melon and pumpkins with the waning moon as you do vetch and alfalfa. If the latter is planted at any other time the livestock swell up and die when they eat it. That's the truth. I don't know why it is, but everyone here knows it."

Beans can provide treats as well as staple meals. Eliza Putnam Heaton observed the roasting of chickpeas at the fair of Sant' Alfio in Sicily in 1908: "On the other side of the narrow way there bally-hooed three or four vendors of roasted "ciceri", the chick-peas of Cicero's family name, and squash seeds, peanuts, dried chestnuts and roasted beans ... On a circle of lava stones rested a deep iron pan over a fire of vine cuttings. In the pan was sand, which she stirred with a wooden shovel until it came to the right heat; then she turned in her peas, stirred briskly till they began to pop, and then with bundles of rags lifted the pan - it was patched, for I counted, with nine pieces of iron nailed on - and turned the sand through a sieve into another big pan, delivering the hot peas to her husband, who acted as salesman."


Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking: 1 1/2 - 3 hours

Utensils: You will need a large heavy cooking pot with a lid.


500g/1 lb chickpeas or white beans
1/2  chicken, jointed
2 soft chorizos  or morcilla  (black pudding)
A thick slice tocino (salted pork belly, though streaky bacon will do)
1 or 2 short lengths serrano ham-bone
1 head of garlic
2 dried red peppers or 1 tablespoon pimenton
To finish
A handful of shredded greens - spinach, chard, spring greens, cabbage



Put the chickpeas or beans to soak in fresh water for 3-4 hours at least - overnight is best.  Wipe over and lightly salt the chicken joints.  Slice the morcilla into short lengths, cut off the rind from the pork belly or bacon and cut the rind into squares. Cube the tocino or bacon, and deseed the red peppers. Do not peel the garlics, but hold the whole head in a flame to char the covering and roast the cloves a little - releasing and enhancing its flavor.
    Drain the chickpeas or beans and put them in a heavy stew with enough cold water to cover generously (the beans should be well submerged), the ham bone, the whole garlic head, and the peppers or paprika (or fresh red pepper, seeded and sliced). Bring all to the boil, lid loosely and then turn it down to simmer.  Pulses are variable in the length of time they take to soften - they can take anything from 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours. When they are soft but still firm - this should take about an hour - put in the chorizos or morcilla, well pricked, and the chicken joints. After another hour - about 30 minutes before the end add the potatoes.When the potatoes are almost tender, stir in the greens.  Taste and add salt (the tocino will have contributed to the saltiness).  Finish with the olive oil.   The dish can be as soupy or dry as you please.
    Serve the cocido in deep plates with plenty of fresh bread. Accompany with a salad of sliced tomatoes, or a crisp green lettuce dressed with olive oil, wine vinegar, and salt.  Red wine, rough and young, will aid digestion.

SUGGESTIONS: Possible inclusions are red and green peppers, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, beef, pork - and the golden unborn eggs to be found inside the cavity of an old hen past her lay.

LEFTOVERS: Fry the leftover beans with their juice in a little oil - keep going steadily until all the liquid evaporates and the base forms a deliciously crisp crust. Stir the crust in several times and continue to fry until the mixture is dry and crumbly. This trick works with all bean stews (the Mexicans call it a refrito), and the result is quite delicious, particularly if served with a fried egg per person and a fresh tomato sauce spiked with a little chilli.


Recipe from European Peasant Cookery

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