You can’t talk to a Mallorquin about food without sobrasada being brought up. Every single class I have had has asked me, without fail, “Have you had sobrasada?” “Do you like sobrasada?”. It does not exists anywhere else in Spain, and it is a purely Mallorcan tradition. So here we go!
Basically, it’s like a sausage, but you spread it on bread with a butter knife. It’s similar to chorizo in that it’s made of pork and has paprika in it, but different in that it’s technically raw (though cured) and has the consistency of cream cheese. It’s also usually sold in a tub (not unlike cream cheese).
I guess, technically, it’s more of a pâté. Curing meat is a Spanish tradition, but it’s kinda hard to do on an island where the humidity is always sky-high. But the Mallorcan people found a work-around.
First they wait till it is the cold season. The coldest cold on this island is still just above freezing, but it works. Then they have themselves a little slaughter party. This party is known as fer matances, and happens sometime in December or January. If you remember our post about sospiros – you’re supposed to eat sospiros during the slaughter season.
In days past, just about every family would get themselves a pig and slaughter it in their backyard. Sometimes entire extended families would get together to do it, sometimes it was more like a block party. Either way, it was treated sort of like Thanksgiving – with everyone coming together to eat food.
Today the tradition is not as common as it was. Many people still get together for a pig slaughtering, especially in rural areas, but the vibe that I have gotten is that the tradition is on the wane.
The traditional method starts with killing a pig, draining the blood, and then butchering it. In the old days, just about every part of the pig was used to make sobrasada. Today it seems more common to just use the loins and the belly. The ratio of lean to fat meat that seems to be the most common is 70% fatty and 30% lean. I’m also sure there is a huge difference between what you can buy at the store, and what you get from your grandpa.
They take all the meat and “crush” it together with paprika and salt until it reaches a smooth consistency. Meanwhile, a second group of people are busy cleaning the intestines with salt, water, and vinegar. When everyone is finished they put the paprika flavored meat in the intestines, and tie the ends off with string. Sounds like a sausage, so far. But then these bags of meat are hung out in the open, and left like that for anywhere between 1 and 4 months. If done in the traditional way, the meat should last until June. If you have the benefit of a climate controlled room, or a refrigerator, the meat will last “much longer”, but I can’t get a definite answer on that.
While the meat is hanging, it is both drying out and fermenting. The cold, salty, and slightly humid winter air is apparently perfect for curing meat in this way.
When the meat is finished there are countless things you can do with it. Smaller intestines will yield smaller sobrasada, and this is apparently ideal for grilling or for frying. Larger intestines will give you a “juicier” sobrasada, and it’s idea for spreading on bread. If the bread is warm, the sobrasada will actually “melt”, so you can imagine what would happen if you tried to grill it.
The paprika inside the sobrasada gives it the majority of its flavor, which can be either neutral or spicy, but there is also a nice “aged” pork flavor. The fermentation also gives it a slight tang, similar to kimchi, which is to say it’s kind of like it’s been pickled. The first impression I had when I tried it was that it tasted like a Tijuana Mama. If you don’t know what a Tijuana Mama is, you are either not from the US or you have never taken a long road trip. It’s a terrible (delicious) pickled sausage that you get from gas stations. The big difference is that a Tijuana Mama is made with lots of different kinds of meat, and the tang comes from cheap vinegar. Sobrasada gets it’s tang from a delicate and lengthy fermentation process, and consists of high quality fresh pork and paprika.
You can buy sobrasada year round from any supermarket, or you can get some from your close friends and family. Every student and coworker has told me the same thing though, “don’t buy it from Mercadona, either get it from a friend or shop at Hypermarket”. If you want just a little, you can buy a small tub if it, similar to how you would buy cream cheese, but I know for a fact that this sobrasada is looked down on.
If you come to Mallorca, I am sure you will see it at least once on a menu. But it doesn’t seem to be that common of an ingredient in most restaurants. If you are having trouble finding it, and you don’t have enough time to polish of an entire intestine on your vacation, I recommend going to the deli-meat section of any supermarket, and getting a small tub of sobrasada, and a fresh baguette.
You can chow on this back in your hotel room, or take it for a picnic. I also like spreading it on bread with cream cheese, but I would never admit this to a local.
Locals usually eat it just plainly spread on bread (no extras like butter, oil or cheese). It’s a very common mid-morning snack that most of the kids eat as well. A truly Mallorquin tradition!
Any thoughts- have you ever had fermented meat?